Wilton rescue operation works to save horses
WILTON — Throughout history, horses have been by peoples’ sides — carrying soldiers to war, settling new lands, serving as essential transportation.
While their heyday in these endeavors is past, horses still figure prominently in sports, on open ranges around the world, in peoples’ backyards. And yet, many are thanked for their obedience and companionship by being thrown away to end their lives in a slaughterhouse.
A few lucky ones manage to find their way to Wilton, getting a new chance at Rising Starr, a private stable and horse rescue operation which moved last month from Redding to Silver Spring Road. Under the watchful eye of Kelly Stackpole, about a dozen horses and ponies — many of whom are rescues up for adoption — will live out their natural lives.
With an army of volunteers and a robust outreach program, Stackpole places a lot of stock in education.
“The way we can make the best impact on 110,000 horses that go to slaughter each year is education,” Stackpole said. “We are trying to get the horses before they go to the kill pens. If people can make better choices about their horses, we can prevent that.”
When a horse is rescued from a Midwestern kill pen — the last stop before the trip to the slaughterhouse — it means a compassionate soul has purchased the animal based on weight. This only opens up a new space for another doomed horse and does nothing to reduce the overall slaughter.
Stackpole said a good number of the horses that go to slaughter are racehorses but there are also many quarter horses, horses that aren’t the right color, right size, or able to do what the owner had in mind.
Pixie, for example, was originally purchased by her owner as a fancy show pony. She wasn’t fancy enough and she couldn’t be bred. The trainer involved was concerned what might happen to her and she wound up as a surrender to Rising Starr, suffering from stomach ulcers brought on by stress.
Now she is the organization’s ambassador pony, going to parades, schools and public events as part of the educational outreach program.
Buster is a four-year old pony who was on his way to the slaughterhouse. As a stallion he proved to be too much for his rescuer and so he came to Rising Starr. After being gelded, a middle-school volunteer has been making great strides with him.
Hinkley arrived in March “horribly beat, we couldn’t touch him,” Stackpole said. Volunteers worked with him and he’s since been adopted and is now boarded at Rising Starr.
“The volunteers are our lifeblood,” Stackpole said. “The more people that work with a horse, the more people they trust.”
Stackpole welcomes volunteers of all ages, although young children must be accompanied by an adult. Volunteer orientation programs are held each month. The next will be on Saturday, Feb. 8, at 11:30 a.m. For details, visit risingstarrhorserescue.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 203-257-8345.
When horses arrive at Rising Starr they are assessed for their needs and abilities. If a person pays attention, a horse will demonstrate what kind of “career” they want whether it is being ridden in one of many disciplines, driving a cart, or for something else. Willow, for example, is a 22-year-old Thoroughbred who was done on the show circuit. Her owner asked Stackpole to take her and she is now a lesson horse.
While Willow will live out the rest of her life here, 90 percent of the rescued horses are adopted.
Stackpole related the story of Faith, a 10-year-old quarter horse that came from a Kansas City kill pen. “She came into the kill pen with 20 quarterhorse broodmares and two were saved. Eighteen went to Mexico.
“We’re pretty sure she was untrained,” she said. “She was very sweet, very nice. She’s now a proud member of the Metropolitan Equestrian Team at the Jamaica Bay Riding Academy as one of their program horses for high school kids.”
Oliver, likely a quarter horse, came from Oklahoma. “He was very sick when we got him and so he was quarantined out there,” Stackpole said. “He didn’t get better so we sent a truck to get him, but he was still sick.
“We paid a lot of money to have him shipped here alone. He had scrapes on his face and infected lymph nodes,” indicating an equine respiratory disease called strangles.
“He was on a cattle truck to Mexico. He’d been unhandled. We think he was about three years old.
“It took a little while for him to warm up, but he was adopted at the Catherine Hubbard [Animal Sanctuary] butterfly party by a rider from the Governor’s Horse Guard,” Stackpole said. “He’s just a very lovely, sweet horse … he just wasn’t what someone wanted.”
Another pony, Chesapeake, is only three years old and is expecting her second foal in the spring. She, too, was rescued from a kill pen.
“The horses that were neglected … they’ll come around. The animals that were abused, it’s amazing to see the forgiveness they have for humans,” she said.
Rising Starr Horse Rescue started in 2016 with one horse. A few more stalls were filled with horses owned by boarders at Stackpole’s former barn in Redding, which was known as Moonlight Barn. The Wilton barn has 30 stalls, and of the 20 horses living here, five are boarders and four are lesson horses. The rest are rescues, most of whom are up for adoption.
Stackpole, who has taught riders and trained horses for the better part of 30 years, acts as executive director with adult and junior advisory boards. She expects Rising Starr “to be here a long time. We’re very youth oriented.”
To that end, she is working on putting together a school program. At present, there are programs with Girl Scout troops and Ridgefield High School students act as interns. Easton Country Day School comes each week with 10 to 12 students who do chores, get pony rides, and do mounted exercises. The cost is $350 per child for 12 weeks.
Stackpole is looking forward to getting acquainted with Wilton and having Wilton get acquainted with Rising Starr.
“We really want to be part of the community.”