Welcome to Habitat For Horses!|Friday, September 19, 2014

Horse Sanctuary a Bastion against abuse and neglect 

Posted: 10/18/2012 5:51 PM – Houston Chronicle
Rebecca Williams and I are walking around the property, kicking up dust as we go, when suddenly there’s a huge black snout between us. It belongs to an immense black horse named Merlin, acting for all the world as if he wants to join the conversation.That’s how it goes at Habitat for Horses, a nonprofit horse-and-donkey sanctuary in Hitchcock and one of the largest such places in the nation. If Merlin could talk, he and the other 160 or so horses (and assorted donkeys) here would say the same thing: These people saved my life.

And they’d be right. Williams, the executive director, and Jerry Finch, the president, take nothing so seriously as the welfare of horses.

You can see their work. Here’s a paint horse who had wire wrapped around one of its forelegs so tightly the foot was almost severed. “Now he’s fat and sassy and happy,” Finch says. Here’s a hood-sporting horse that came within a whisker of being put down before a veterinary ophthalmologist figured out that a cancer was confined to an eyelid. (The hood keeps the sun out of the eye.)

You might want to avert your eyes from the two pale horses in their own pen, the ones with some horrible skin condition. No one knows their backstory, but their fear of humans is so great nobody can get near them. That will change, Finch says, with time and love. It pretty much always does.

The vast majority of the horses here come to the sanctuary through law enforcement, after being seized from owners who starve, abuse or neglect them.

You can count the ribs on many of these animals, and their hip bones jut out, but Williams has a standard response to that: “You should have seen them when they got here.”

Don’t get these people wrong. Though Finch is a Level 3 (the highest) equine investigator, they try to keep horses with their owners if possible, and they’ll educate an inept but good-hearted owner. “We don’t want anybody’s horse,” Williams says. “We’d love to put ourselves out of business.”

It’s incomprehensible to her that people starve their beasts. Growing up in Montana, she always had horses. “They ate before we ate,” she says. “We didn’t get breakfast until they got breakfast.”

Finch, a bluff and hearty fellow from Amarillo with a classic West Texas drawl, is a softy around the animals, but he’s tough. “My adrenalin flows when I work with law enforcement, go to court and see a bad guy go to jail,” he says. “The real satisfaction is taking in a horse, fattening her up and putting her on a trailer to her new home. That’s the dessert.”

Finch took home the first horse brought to him. Pete was 8 months old and had a horrible gash across his chest. And he has a favorite donkey, a little guy named Paco, of whom he says, “He’s going to take over when I leave.”

Williams has taken home 16 horses. “Horses are my passion,” is how she explains it.

They never yell. They never hit. Nor do the staff or any of the some 200 volunteers. Part of the property is rigged with a small hospital, an operating room and an ingenious sling to suspend a horse who can’t put weight on its legs.

The atmosphere at Habitat radiates peace and kindness, and all the animals seem to understand that. Of some 5,000-plus animals they’ve taken in since 1998, more than 4,600 have been adopted out. Some just couldn’t be saved.

But there’s a problem. The 27 acres here, plus a couple of leased properties, are overcrowded. More land is desperately needed. With land, the horses could walk on grass, not dust.

There’s going to be a fundraiser. Greener Pastures, Nov. 8 at Brown, the shop at Ferndale at West Alabama in Upper Kirby, hosted by interior designer Ginger Barber and lightHabitat for Horsesdesigner (and owner of Brown) Jill Brown. It will feature a live auction and a concert by singer-songwriters Shake Russell and Mark Hearne. It will be fun. Check the website, habitatforhorses.org., for details.

At Habitat, you could while away an entire day just watching the animals. I fell in love with Merlin and with two chocolatey donkeys who rubbed their heads up against me.

You could learn a lot. Finch still does. “I’ve been around horses all my life, and I’m just at the preface of the book.”

kyrie.oconnor@chron.com

PHOTOS BY MICHAEL PAULSEN/HOUSTON CHRONICLE


Habitat for Horses recently lost 100 acres of grazing land needed to feed our rescued horses! Your help is desperately needed! Without this land we can not rescue other abused and neglected horses. Please donate today. Find out more by clicking here.