Horse rescue ranch overwhelmed
Kathy Hamm is getting used to the phone calls, like one particularly urgent call last week that came from the neighbor of an elderly Grand Junction woman.
The neighbor, horrified by the sight of the older woman’s three emaciated horses, had been feeding the animals, but she couldn’t keep up with the work.
Could Hamm help?
“People call all the time and say, ‘Can you please take my horse?’ ” said Hamm, who runs a nonprofit horse sanctuary and therapy center in Olathe. “It’s happening a lot more lately. The problem is I’m running out of donations.”
Horse owners across the nation are increasingly turning out horses into the wild, but horses can be starved and neglected while in their owners’ care. During a recession that has dealt a cruel round of job losses and a skyrocketing home foreclosure rate, some horse owners are scraping to feed and care for animals as they have in the past.
This past year more than ever, Hamm said, she is fielding calls from horse owners around the Western Slope and Colorado’s neighboring states asking whether she will accept horses whose owners can no longer afford to care for them.
“People are going to choose who they feed: the animals or themselves. I can understand that,” she said. “The only problem is a horse eats a lot more. People forget they took this animal on for a lifetime.”
Hamm operates End of the Trail Horse Rescue & Sanctuary along Colorado Highway 348, a 36-acre spread a few minutes west of Olathe. She has 12 neglected, abused or abandoned horses, five of which are now used as therapy horses. She has placed eight in foster homes after working with interested individuals in a horse adoption program.
The same hard times that horse owners blame for neglecting their animals has sapped funding, Hamm said. She cannot take on any more horses without additional funding.
Last year she counted 23 sponsorships from businesses or individuals, but that number has dipped to six sponsorships this year. Sponsorships are $500 a year, a price that merely covers the cost of ferrier work, spring and fall vaccinations and some hay.
Hamm’s yearly operational budget is $150,000 to $175,000 she said, but Hamm and her husband, Bill, often chip in to make ends meet. Hamm recently learned that $10,000 in grant funding she was accustomed to receiving won’t be available this year. She may have to more heavily rely on the three annual fundraisers, such a five-kilometer run, a casino night and a golf tournament.
Without funding from the horse rescue side, Hamm is unable to offer the same level of services for children and war veterans through the Dream Catcher Therapy Center. Hamm started the therapy side of the operation after her daughter was born with Down syndrome. Work with horses helped her daughter’s development.
Clients are led through equine assisted psychotherapy, which can help mental health patients develop skills such as confidence, assertiveness and creative thinking while working with horses. A licensed clinical professional leads the groups, and a therapist works with individuals after the sessions. The center also offers hippotherapy in which patients with disabilities develop muscle tone and increase cognitive abilities by riding horses. Some health insurances cover costs for clients, but others in need aren’t as lucky, Hamm said.
“Because of donations I’ve had to turn away veterans and kids,” she said. “Therapists don’t want to work unless they get paid a lot. It went from ‘How can I help?’ to ‘How much can you pay me?’ “
A shortage of volunteers on weekdays hasn’t helped, either, and the situation has been compounded because Hamm had to let some paid staff go to save money.
Next month, Hamm said, the rescue operation will earn the distinction of becoming a member of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. Her ranch can serve as a guide to help other sanctuaries aim for the standing. Hamm is a qualified equine investigator through the state of Missouri, a service she’s willing to offer local law enforcement officers who often aren’t trained in animal cruelty and neglect cases.
Hamm’s work is evident in 6-year-old Hercules. She watched the health of the miniature Olathe-area horse spiral downward for three years. The horse’s owners said the horse was no good, and they would probably put it down soon. Hamm persuaded the owners to relinquish it to her. The horse was in constant pain, having never had its feet trimmed. It could hardly stand or lay down, Hamm said, but now it’s a welcome addition to the herd.
“It’s frustrating because the animals are suffering,” Hamm said. “The only thing they want from you is food, water and love.”