Standing Ovation: Seriously Big Glow Ups At Gentle Giants Rescue

Gentle Giants, a Draft horse rescue in Mount Airy, MD, loves to show off its seriously big glow ups! Read on to find out about good they’re doing in the horse world.

At Gentle Giants, a Draft Horse rescue located in Mount Airy, Maryland, rescue, rehabilitation, retraining, and rehoming shape their organizational goals and daily activities. The process creates literally enormous glow-ups. Through proper care, nutrition, and attention, Drafts and Draft-crosses gain a new lease on life in the rescue, and once adopted out to a qualified and well-vetted individuals, they get a chance to bond and thrive (and Gentle Giants staff check in regularly to make sure this remains the case). This year alone, Gentle Giants has placed 124 horses.

Gentle Giants volunteer, Carolyn, and her adopted Clydesdale mare, Penny. Photo Courtesy of Christina Hajek and Gentle Giants

Deacon was one such horse. According to Gentle Giants Founder and President, Christine Hajek, “Deacon was a rack of bones and sore on both heels. It didn’t take too long to return him to his former glory and 100 percent soundness.” When I asked how long it took for Deacon to be adopted, she laughed, “Oh he was snatched up so fast!” Deacon is now a beloved trail horse and part of the Gentle Giants Alumni Drill Team.

This is Deacon when he arrived at Gentle Giants. Photo courtesy of Christina Hajek and Gentle Giants.

On one side of the Gentle Giants story are the results, like Deacon – the equine makeovers that make it all worth it. The other side of this story, the side that continues to drive the need for the rescue, is slaughter. At Gentle Giants, approximately 70% of their more than 150 horses rescued and rehabbed per year are saved from slaughter. The other 30% of their horses arrive predominantly from owner surrender and the humane arm of law enforcement.

This is a recent image of Deacon after his rehabilitation. Photo courtesy of Christina Hajek and Gentle Giants.

Deacon was rescued from a run-down auction barn for an auction fee of only $400 — that adoption fee was a dangerous one. That’s easily within kill-buyer rates, and as Hajek explained, Draft horses, seeing that they are large animals, are a big return on investment in the slaughter world. “With auctions, we don’t pay the online fees or adopt from video or the like,” she explained. “No, we physically go, and we bid directly against the kill buyers.”

Hajek is adamant about that aspect of the rescue process, as the auction and the bidding floor is where the concept for Gentle Giants took root. That is where, almost two decades ago, she met Elija and maxed out her tiny credit card to get home. Hajek reminisced, “That horse was just amazing. He lived until he was 36 and no one ever fell off him, he never stepped on any toes and was never less than perfect – well, except with the farrier.” Elija became the founding horse of the rescue and one by one, Hajek would go back to the auctions, looking for other “Eli’s of the world” to acquire, rehab, and rehome.

Healthy, happy Drafts in turnout at Gentle Giants. Photo courtesy of Christina Hajek and Gentle Giants.

16 years ago, she founded the Gentle Giants Rescue. “Back then,” she continued, “It was harder. We couldn’t take a risk on a horse. If there were 50 available, we had to find the right one. They had to be sound, have a good temperament, and seem like they would be easy to place. That way we could roll some of the profit back in to keep going and get another.”

The main side of Gentle Giants farm in Mount Airy, MD. Photo courtesy of Christina Hajek and Gentle Giants.

Today, Hajek and her team of 26 full-time employees and nearly 200 volunteers no longer have to be as a careful about their selection. Their 340-acre farm sports a rehabilitation center as well as ample arenas and spaces for retraining. At this point they can take on most any of the issues the drafts might have – from soundness to illness, to weight, to nutrition.

The medical rehabilitation barn at Gentle Giants. Photo courtesy of Christina Hajek and Gentle Giants.

On a given day, Gentle Giants has around 150 horses on their property and between 90 and 100 of them are available for adoption to riding homes. The adoption process is not a one-off donation and pick up the horse, however. Rather, to do the best they can to guarantee that these horses never again see the auction pens or a situation of owner surrender, Gentle Giants limits adoptions to within four-hours of their facility. They also require adopters to ride their chosen horse on three different occasions in different situations – the indoor, outdoor, and on a trail. Hajek knows that “some good horses have bad days, and bad horses can have good days too,” thus making sure that the adopters and the horse are a solid fit. The organization also conducts site visits and checks in regularly as the horses settle into their new careers.

While a majority of the graduates from their programs go on to be family riding horses and trail companions, others are actively out competing in dressage and making waves in the sport world. Liz Hill and Nimbus, a Clydesdale-Dutch Harness Horse cross, make an excellent example.

Liz Hill and Nimbus in competing in dressage. Photo Courtesy of Gentle Giants.

Hill explains, “I adopted Nimbus in August of 2019 to be a friend to my PMU rescue gelding, Cairo. Not only did they become best buddies, but shortly afterwards when Cairo was laid up to recover from a ligament injury, Nimbus stepped up to fill Cairo’s shoes and be my dressage show mount. He’s been improving show after show, and at our last outing he broke the 70 club with scores over 73% at Training level 1 and 3, and over 71% at Training level 2.”

Hajek loves the sporty side of some of the rescues like Nimbus, but her passion for the Draft Horse came when she realized that while she might have fallen off all the hotter breeds, “The Drafts do a great job of keeping themselves between me and the ground.” This hard-to-fall-from concept and their generally good demeanors has made the Drafts excellent husband horses as well. “Men who are often not jazzed about riding, are like, oh, yeah, I’ll ride that.”

Overall, “Draft Horses might not be for adrenaline junkies,” Hajek explained, “But if you want to mosey down the trail with a glass of wine, they are the perfect fit.”

For more information visit Gentle Giants at

Here at Horse Nation we love to recognize individuals and organizations that are doing good work in the horse world. If you know someone who deserves a Standing Ovation, we would love to recognize them in a future post. Email the name of the person or organization along with a message about the good work they do to [email protected]. Photos/videos are always welcome, and include a link to their website if applicable.