HN Blogger Contest Round Two: Save a Forgotten Equine, or SAFE

“SAFE has their work cut out for them with the mission ‘to rescue, rehabilitate, and retrain horses facing neglect or abuse and provide them with the best opportunity for a permanent home and a lifetime of safety.'”

Our finalists in the 2022 HN Blogger Contest are back with their Round Two submissions! For this round, we asked each of our finalists to highlight a business, entity, or organization doing good in the horse world. We’ll be sharing their responses this week — and we want to know what you think as a reader! Share your thoughts in the Facbeook comments section.

No one wants to be the last kid picked in class for dodgeball teams. For six years, Anderson, a 2003 chestnut Arabian gelding, waited for his person. As an owner surrender in 2015, Anderson came to Washington’s Save a Forgotten Equine, aka SAFE, as an unhandled stallion who was living in a field with a mare. Through his years of SAFE care and education, Anderson learned to love trail rides, sort cows, build a foundation for flying changes, and educate other gelded stallions on socialization. Still, Anderson waited. Like the passed-over, middle-aged, and overweight shelter cat featured on the local news, Anderson found himself the center of attention: Seattle’s Q13’s Limelight Pet Project interviewed SAFE staff and a volunteer in hopes of finding Anderson a home. Heartstrings were tugged as Anderson stood quietly for the camera and we learned he always yawns before bridling. Over the years, especially after his 15 minutes of fame, there were numerous applicants, but no one was quite right. But then, six years later, it happened! After several meet and greets, Anderson indicated with his forward, expressive ears that his adopter had just the right amount of patience to build the gelding’s trust and win over his heart. Anderson was no longer the last gelding standing.

Anderson. Photo by Jessica Farren, provided courtesy of SAFE.

Though late to the horse life, Executive Director Bonnie Hammond is responsible for SAFE’s beginnings. It was as an adult that Bonnie realized she could fulfill her dreams of riding. This dream snowballed from taking weekly lessons to leasing a horse to buying a horse to buying a horse property, and then buying a companion horse for the first horse. It’s a scenario of events that all of us can relate to! In searching for a horse buddy, Bonnie discovered the unfortunate reality of feedlots in which bail money is paid to rescue a horse from shipping to the foreign meat market. Bonnie and a few others quickly realized that there was a desperate need for an intermediary step to prevent horses from ending up on the feedlot in the first place. Thus, SAFE was born in late 2005.

SAFE has their work cut out for them with the mission “to rescue, rehabilitate, and retrain horses facing neglect or abuse and provide them with the best opportunity for a permanent home and a lifetime of safety.” Based in Redmond, Washington, SAFE depends on crucial connections with Animal Control agencies in the greater Seattle area to provide a safe landing spot for seized horses. A community outreach branch of SAFE also provides assistance to those in need with vet care, gelding, hay, and euthanasia. Since asking for help is hard enough, nonjudgmental kindness and education are key to securing the best outcome, whether it be an improvement in care or voluntary surrender. 

In 2017, SAFE opened SAFE Harbor Stables, a barn that houses around 25 rescues and includes indoor and outdoor arenas, a covered round pen, paddocks and pastures, and access to a local park. Fosters and trainers also take in horses. SAFE has five full-time employees and two part-time employees. Like many nonprofits, volunteers are the backbone of the organization. In 2021, there were 298 active volunteers who logged hours equivalent to nine full-time employees. Wow! 

Frosting. Photo courtesy of Kristina Oden

With almost two decades of experience, SAFE staff and volunteers excel at rehabilitating horses with groundwork, groundwork, and more groundwork! Bonnie is quick to point out that SAFE does not view these horses as victims. Granted, many have a past that involved trauma and/or neglect, but with training and boundaries, every horse deserves a future, whether as a riding horse or companion. And all horses should be welcomed as part of the family. SAFE’s rescues receive extensive vet and farrier care, groundwork, and, if possible, under saddle training. This lengthy process culminates in an assessment of skills to ensure that there is a clear understanding of suitability to make the most appropriate match for a forever home. 

On the flip side, SAFE also carefully and thoroughly screens potential adopters. With this level of thoroughness, there are more happy endings than not. In 2021, SAFE placed a record number of horses at 31 which enabled more room for intakes, 30 to be exact, a win win. (For comparison, in 2020, 15 horses were adopted out.) It’s not all puppies and rainbows, but those involved with SAFE at any level can rest assured that every avenue is exhausted to do right by the horses. Not content to rest on its laurels, in 2022, after an extensive application and examination process, SAFE received the honor of accreditation (link to the SAFE press release) by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. SAFE is one of only 209 worldwide animal welfare organizations to meet these high standards, impressive indeed. 

The reality is nonprofits come and go, but SAFE has stood the test of time. Though Bonnie hopes that there will come a time when SAFE and others of its kind are not needed, SAFE has everything in place to succeed for decades to come. As someone who has ridden at SAFE benefit shows, as well as provides a monthly horse sponsorship (isn’t Nova adorable!), the organization’s tireless compassion, advocacy, and positivity is beyond admirable. 

Nova at a Joel Conner clinic. Photo courtesy of Kristina Oden.

In the late 80s, I trailered across the country with my trainer and fellow riders to compete at the American Junior Quarter Horse Association’s Championships. On the road, we came across a pasture with two neglected horses who had bellies bloated with worms, curled hooves, and no food and water. I wish there had been a SAFE.

About J. Marin Younker:

At the tender age of 50, though she’s old enough to know better, Marin relishes exercises in humility and opportunities for growth: parenting, gardening, writing, bee keeping, and last, but not least, riding. As an adult amateur eventer/jumper in the Seattle area, Marin is a self-professed horse nerd who wishes there was more time in the day for actually reading and watching all of the resources she collects to become a better rider.