September Featured Rescue: Rosemary Farm

Each month, Horse Nation partners with to shine the spotlight on a deserving horse rescue. For September, we introduce Rosemary Farm.


Tell us a bit about Rosemary Farm.  How it came to be, what you’re currently doing and what your plans are for the future.

We bought the farm while still living full time in NYC, four years ago. The original idea was an artist’s retreat. I soon realized, though, that functional heat, water, and decent bathrooms would need to be tackled first. As we spent time up here, we decided to fulfill that lifelong dream of horse ownership. I knew enough to know that our first horses should be sound and trained, but not enough to evaluate that myself. Of course, the first two horses were a huge learning curve! Both needed extensive physical and emotional rehab, and taught me a lot of lessons as I was chased out of the field day after day by an angry mare, bent on paying me back for the ills of my species. Ginger. Love that mare. She was eventually adopted by a skilled handler, and the OTTB gelding, Jack, has remained at the sanctuary as a mascot of sorts. He has medical issues that prevent him from being a successful mount, but he is a great friend.

Horses continued to arrive, broken horses with nowhere to go. I was aware that I was ill-equipped to handle them, so I set about learning. We have a support team that has evolved over our 3 1/2 years of horse ownership, and includes several natural trimmers, several vets, a chiropractor and a dentist, as well as a professional trainer who is here twice a week. This team continues to educate and guide us as we care for the horses.

While our efforts initially evolved spontaneously, we had reached a point where we were going to have to either curtail our numbers, or evolve into a recognized charity. Until this point, the horses were being supported on our salaries as well as the generous help of others. But as the numbers of horses increased, this was becoming more difficult. This year, 2012, we became a registered NYS non-profit, and several weeks ago we submitted our application for 501c-3 charity status. We are now awaiting that official status. Our hopes are many. We hope that RFSI will become a stable entity that will outlast the humans currently running it. We hope that our current location will remain as the ‘home base’ of sorts, but that other locations will evolve, in other areas of the country, primarily the east coast. So many children in the suburbs of cities don’t have access to horses. I think it would be wonderful if RFSI established smaller sanctuaries just outside of major metropolis areas, where school children could come to visit, to see horses living in a herd setting and learn about them. What future generations love, they will protect.

Your website says you had 27 permanent residents as of September last year.  How many do you have now?  How do you decide who stays as a permanent resident and who gets adopted out?  Why do you have permanent residents/why are these horses unavailable for adoption?

Did I say 27 permanent residents, or 27 current residents? The latter would have been more accurate; today there are 37 current residents at the sanctuary, and seven more that are out on ‘foster to adopt’ contracts; add to that 30 or so completed adoptions, and we are nearing 80 horses through our sanctuary in our short time.  The question of ‘permanent’ vs. ‘adoptable’ is an interesting one, and our most common. Perhaps it would be easier for people to understand our efforts if either we adopted every horse, or we kept every horse. Fact is, neither answer is best for the horse. We strive here to make decisions that benefit the horse first. That is not easy. It begins with evaluation and care of each one that we welcome. Many are abused, starved, frightened, and most we know nothing about. It takes time to unravel a damaged soul.

One way that we try to help them is by giving them an environment that will encourage them to ‘be a horse’. Horses are herd animals, and what a horse wants first, more than anything, is to be with other horses. So at Rosemary Farm, our horses live in herd groups and roam over large areas, with different terrain, to stimulate both their brain and their body. Most of our horses are not stalled and all are barefoot. When one visits, one can see several herds in different areas of the sanctuary. Getting a horse healthy enough to join a herd is the first step. Many do not know how. They introduced slowly and merged, and then watching them blossom is the fun part. Stress falls away as horses are able to freely run at will, learn to play, drink from a running brook, be outside all night under starry skies, roll in the rain, rear and play in the sunrise fog or gallop down a hill, building a strong body and mind. Building a herd family. This is what we seek for all our horses.

Determining who is available for adoption, and to whom, becomes easier once we get to know them. A horse may be listed as for adoption early on, but then it may bond deeply here and we pull it. More frequently, a horse is not immediately available until we find out more about the horse; what does THE HORSE want? Is it a lead gelding? Is is a follower mare? Does it want to ride? Does it like stalls? Is it healthy and to what degree? This takes time and we do not rush it. Most of my initial interaction is at liberty, so a horse can choose to walk away. And many do! Here, a horse has the right to say NO to what happens to its body. Learning that they have a choice here is profound, and learning to eventually choose to be near a human is equally significant. We may take a year or more, to restore physical and emotional health, before exploring riding as an option.  Fact is, most adopters want to ride, and not all horses are able to ride. In order to safely and accurately place a horse, we need to get it healthy enough TO ride, then determine if there is any training, and what the horse can do and likes to do. Basically, we ask, is there something that the horse wants, or needs, that we cannot provide? If we think that the horse might be happier elsewhere, we place it on the adoption list.

Most of the babies are available for adoption, because it is normal for a young horse to grow up, move out, to find its own herd and life. Few people bother to adopt babies. They are missing out! Babies are so much fun, learn quickly, and then all of your important work is in place for a possible riding future.

Young horses adjust better to moving then older ones. With older horses I frequently have the feeling I’ve inherited someone’s grandparent and I don’t even know their name. For the homeless older horse, the stress is extreme; familiar fields and routines are broken, their bodies are failing, and an awareness of being cast off haunts their eyes. But more importantly, any fellow horses that might have shown respect are gone. They are a finger without a hand. An old horse has to fight for rank in a herd when it’s new, just like any horse, and many times, they aren’t able to. It’s a humiliating experience for a horse, that used to be a leader, to be treated like an outcast. It hurts one’s soul. We work with the older horses gently, start in smaller groups, introduce to babies that they can be in charge of, find ways to carefully integrate them. Find ways to make it work. And when they have finally adjusted here, we do not risk breaking their heart again, so we do not generally adopt them out. But for every rule there is an exception; an older mare arrived 18 months ago, heartbroken after the death of her horse friend, and she was so bereft that I felt she needed a person and a home ASAP. We found one, with a neighbor, and that mare found again some measure of peace and happiness.

So I guess we try and match-make our available horses with what an adopter has to offer. A good home for one horse may not be suitable for another…it’s a matter of us knowing our horses and sharing that with our adopters.

Because a horse is desired does not automatically mean that it’s adoptable. We have a few herd leaders that are not available. I have learned that my herd leaders are crucial to herd happiness, as well as my relationship with the herd. I am very close to the herd leaders, they listen to me and respect me. I can call them and they bring the herd. That dynamic is so important. The leaders teach the new horses about herd dynamics, about manners and loyalty and trust, and that translates to my relationship with them. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the herd leaders want to be near me! So then the rest do, as well. And our herd leaders are so happy here, there is no reason to ever ask them to move. They are home.

What type of horses do you typically take in?  Are they surrendered or do you get them from the auctions?  If from the auctions, do you look for specific traits and/or characteristics? How do you select the horses at auction?

We have welcomed everything from mini’s, mules, to drafts, and everything in between. OTTB’s, Standardbreds, Irish Draughts, Pasos, Walkers, QHs, paints, Appys, Haffies, Arabs, Lippizans, Percherons, Hackneys, horses with one eye, blind horses, horses with severe founder and severe EPM, starved old horses and 5 month old babies. You name it.

Our horses are either purchased directly at auction if we are outbidding a kill buyer, or they are owner surrenders.  When I am at auction, I spend a lot of time in the dark aisle (a phrase I coined three years ago, because the aisle where the put the saddest horses doesn’t even have lights) and I meet who is there. I try as best I can to evaluate the condition and temperament, and whether it’s a horse that I feel I can handle and believe in. Truth is, the horse I choose may be here for life, so I’d better like it and I’d better think we can get along. I make my short list, based on who is likely to get sold to kill. And then we watch. It’s hard to tell sometimes who is bidding and I won’t bid against a private home. So we watch for any of the horses on our short list and if they sell private, great. If they are selling to kill, we bid to win. It’s an awful experience, watching one horse after another sell to kill, knowing that you only have one or two spots to take a horse home. But watch we do. And wait. Until you see your friend on the floor. Winning the freedom of a horse that needs you is one of those crystal clear moments in life where one knows that one did something good.

I would like to share something that most don’t realize about auction and slaughter. Many talk about it being a solution for the homeless horse problem. Fact is, there are many, many horses that even slaughter doesn’t want. The babies, the super skinnies, the lame, even white horses (frequency of cancer); sick horses that may ‘taint’ a truck, broken horses that will expect to fall and be trampled, or very pregnant mares that may give birth on the way. No one wants these. When we buy a horse for $5, $10, $20 we are saving it, because no one wants it. Opening up slaughter plants would still not be the ‘answer’ for them.

You have some great adoption stories on your website – what’s your favorite success story so far?

Choosing one favorite is impossible…! Finn of course was my first auction save and I was completely unprepared for a wild stud colt that night, but we survived, and he has grown into a breathtaking horse and proud young herd leader. Jed touched, and broke, many hearts as he struggled to live, and celebrated his life even as he was dying. Our more recent experiences with Razzle and Oberon, both so broken when we brought them home, but both found dignity here. Burying them is still a vivid memory, as is cuddling with them and being dazzled by their grace and beauty.

And now for the traditional crazy question: Your site says you have two new arrivals–if they had a choice, what type of sea monster do you think they’ d like to be?  The Loch Ness monster, a giant octopus or the Cracken? And why.

I think that the Standardbreds are listed as the latest? That’s already old news…:) I think that every horse would choose the Loch Ness, because every horse is already full of mystery and lore, every horse is bigger in stories, and every horse would like to have the power to disappear from human reach whenever desired.

For more information about Rosemary Farm, check out their website:

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