Saving Fern: The Mare Nobody Wanted

Meet Fern, the Mare Nobody Wanted. She was purchased at an auction for $10 by a known kill buyer. Fortunately, she was saved by someone who thought there might be another option for her. We’ll be following along on her rehabilitation journey.

For those of living in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic/Rustbelt regions, New Holland Sales Stables (generally just referred to as New Holland) is a fairly notorious livestock auction. Especially when it comes to horses. We’re not here to speak to the existence of such auctions, good or bad (at least not in this article), but suffice to say that they move a large number of horses to a variety of outcomes. Not all end up on a meat truck — I have a mare from New Holland in my barn and you can read of another mare’s journey here — but some do. Per someone who has been to New Holland more than once and attends other auctions, “Some Mondays there are a lot of really nice horses. It is in a heavily Amish populated area, though, so you get a ton of Standardbreds and … Belgians.” Other days, you see a lot of horses that have seen better days — many lame and/or needing groceries — and likely don’t have a positive outcome in front of them.

It was on one of these days that Nicole Haas met Fern.

Haas was born and raised in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Like many of us, she had always wanted to ride and have a horse as a child. That dream was realized when, at 13, she and her mother began volunteering at Sebastian Riding Associates — Haas was able to work and ride at the therapeutic riding facility for approximately eight years. At the age of 17, she got her own horse — Shorty, a 17-year-old Quarter Horse with whom she grew and got into cowboy mounted shooting.

Haas is no stranger to working with rescue horses or training them. She has continued her volunteer efforts through working and training at other equine rescues. In fact, that’s where she got her current horse, Xena. Since adopting Xena, the pair have competed in cowboy mounted shooting, local fun shows, and gymkhanas. They’ve also competed in the Trail Champions Challenge at the Horse World Expo in Harrisburg, PA. Their first year they came in second in the novice class and eighth overall; their second year they won the non-pro class and took second overall.

Nicole competing on her rescue mare, Xena. Photo by Rebecca Smith.

On the day Haas went to New Holland, she was on the lookout for a lesson horse for a friend’s program. The previous Saturday, they had attended the Lebanon auction, but had no luck. So on Monday Haas went to New Holland alone, just to see what was there. She had no intention of making a purchase. She reports she had no trailer and was “not expecting to come home with anything, as I never have before. [I was] just kind of seeing what was there. Maybe some camp horses were being sold going into winter that would make a lesson horse for my friend.”

Walking through the pens, Haas was underwhelmed at the prospects: “I walked through all the horses, and it was a sad auction day.” She continued, “I just happened to snap a quick picture of a skinny chestnut mare in a loose pen to show my friend how bad things were that day. She was by far the worst body condition there.”

The skinny chestnut mare. Hip 319. Photo by Nicole Haas.

Haas happened to be watching when the chestnut and her pen-mate were run through the auction. They were sent through loose. The other horse was purchased for $250. The bidding for the chestnut began at $500, but her price continued to drop until a man sitting in front of Haas purchased her for $10.

Haas said, “I’d seen this guy many times. He buys the horses no one else wants. The ones that are broken down and rejected. Not to rescue, but a known kill buyer.”

Waiting in the pen at New Holland. Photo by Nicole Haas.

Haas watched more horses go through the sale, but she couldn’t get the chestnut mare out of her head. “I went over [it] in my head many times — surely her life is worth more than $10. She had a kind yet terrified eye. She had on a rope halter, so she must have been handleable and not completely feral. She trotted through sound. I just couldn’t let her go.”

Haas took it upon herself to see if she could save the mare from the buyer. She approached him and asked him what it would take to buy “the skinny chestnut mare with a bad eye” that he bought for $10. “He said $40 and I wasn’t going to barter,” Haas said. “Surely she meant something more than $40 to someone once in her life.”

So Haas bought the mare and brought her home.

It wasn’t that simple, of course. Because she had no trailer and no intention of bringing home a horse, she had to make arrangements to have a friend bring a trailer and pick up the horse. Once the auction ended and while waiting for her friend to arrive, Haas stood with the mare like an “overprotective mother hen … to ensure she wasn’t loaded onto the wrong trailer.” Fortunately, once Haas’s trailer arrived, Fern loaded up and traveled home without any problems.

Now that the chestnut mare that nobody wanted is home, it’s time for the real work to begin. Horse Nation will be following her journey and we hope to record the ups and downs as Haas brings her back to health and prepares her for a permanent home.

Of course, the first order of business once her safety and feeding plan were secured was finding her a name. The skinny chestnut mare from New Holland is now Fern. Stay tuned for more on her progress.

Fern. Photo by Nicole Haas.

Although Haas rescued Fern fully prepared and able to cover the costs associated with her rehabilitation, she is accepting donations from those who wish to offer them. If you want to aid in Fern’s journey, you can do so by contributing to her care via her GoFundMe page. Once Fern is permanently placed, Haas hopes to continue rescuing horses one at a time. Any leftover funds will go directly toward that endeavor. 

If you would prefer not to donate funds directly, Fern also has an Amazon wishlist