Horse rescuers in BC face rising costs as demand for help rises - petsitterbank

Horse rescuers in BC face rising costs as demand for help rises

More and more animals need help as the cost to feed and care for them rises with inflation

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The rain has stopped and sunlight streams through the trees. A chestnut horse finds a patch of light and stretches out in the dirt.

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The sleeping horse is a welcome sight for Kris Latham. It means the horse, rescued from a meat auction, is comfortable in his home. Horses can sleep standing up, but to get a deep sleep, they sprawl on the ground. Sometimes, it takes new arrivals to the Second Chance Cheekye Ranch several days before they’re able to rest.

“This one was pretty much a goner,” says Latham. He had a fractured back foot and she expected he’d have to be put down. But instead of ailing, the horse began to thrive at the quiet refuge on the banks of the Cheekye River in Squamish.

As Latham speaks to Postmedia about the horse rescue operation she began eight years ago, two horses amble up to her all-terrain vehicle for a mouthful of hay. Milwaukee and Dexter have the run of the place. The gentle retirees wander the paths that separate paddocks filled with small groups of rescued horses.

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The graceful scene belies the difficult situation many of the horses faced before arriving at the ranch, some straight from auction where they would likely have been purchased by meat buyers and sold overseas, and others surrendered by people who could no longer care for them.

Horse rescue groups across BC say they’re seeing an increase in animals needing help as the cost to feed and care for them rises with inflation.

Dexter (left) and Milwaukee enjoy their hay while Merle MacKenzie looks on.
Dexter (left) and Milwaukee enjoy their hay while Merle MacKenzie looks on. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Feeding a horse has grown increasingly expensive over the winter and spring, said Latham. BC hay has been hard to find. Last summer’s drought led to lower yields, while fall flooding destroyed some stored crops and cool spring weather delayed first cut.

Hay from Alberta and Washington is expensive. At one point this winter, a bale of Washington hay was $36. One bale will feed six horses breakfast, with two more needed around midday and in the evening.

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Latham said the increased costs are not only hard on horse owners, who might consider selling or surrendering their animals, but also on non-profit rescues. There are about 100 horses on the Cheekye Ranch, including 54 rescued horses awaiting adoption and 46 boarded horses.

Donations cover some of the costs, but not all.

Hannah Ezra rides a rescued horse that she adopted and boards at Cheekye Ranch in Squamish.
Hannah Ezra rides a rescued horse that she adopted and boards at Cheekye Ranch in Squamish. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
A trainer walks a rescued horse that was recently adopted.
A trainer walks a rescued horse that was recently adopted. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

“I didn’t start it on purpose,” said Latham of the decision to begin the rescue.

While she’s always loved horses, she also owns a successful landscape company. Her property is open for yurt camping, riding lessons and as a wedding venue.

Latham bought the ranch in 2014 and accepted three pregnant mares that needed a home. When the foals were born, the number of horses on the ranch grew to six. The “rest is history,” she said.

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The rescued horses come from across Western Canada. Many are from Northern BC and Alberta. “We could be bringing in horses every weekend if we wanted to,” said Latham.

With help from contacts at various auctions, the rescue outbids meat buyers. It also accepts surrendered animals.

When the horses arrive at the ranch they are sometimes malnourished or emaciated. “Their feet are just atrocious,” said Latham. A vet checks them over, including their teeth, which can be damaged and prevent them from eating properly.

Cheekye Ranch is a balm. Paddocks are scattered through an open forest of fir and cedar trees. Cottonwood blows on a light breeze like snow in June. There is the sound of rushing water, birds in the treetops and the occasional whinny of a horse. The snow-covered Tantalus rage looms over the ranch, which backs onto the Cheekye River.

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Happy horses at Cheekye Ranch in Squamish.
Happy horses at Cheekye Ranch in Squamish. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
A rescued horse at Cheekye Ranch.
A rescued horse at Cheekye Ranch. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Volunteers help with much of the work at the ranch, including riding and training.

Latham takes care of the “ground work,” including procuring hay. She loves riding, but is particularly gifted at assessing the horses as she walks through the paddocks several times each day, reaching out to rub their necks as she passes.

“I look at some of the horses that arrived a year ago and I see how they’ve blossomed,” she said.

Kris Latham.
Kris Latham. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Other BC horse rescues, including the SPCA, have also seen a surge of animals coming into their care over the last six months.

The SPCA has rescued 596 farm animals so far this year, compared to the same number for 2020 and 2021 combined.

There are several reasons for that, said Leiki Salumets, manager of equine and farm animal care. “It’s been a tough couple of years.”

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She said feed and hay prices have risen 50 to 100 per cent since 2020 due to drought, wildfires and flooding. There have also been serious supply chain problems affecting feed imports. Vet care is hard to find in some part of BC, with costs rising along with the price of fuel.

So far this year, SPCA officers have gone to 600 calls involving 4,000 horses and farm animals, said Sulmets.

Almost all of the SPCA’s rescued horses come in as a result of cruelty investigations. They are often malnourished, sick or suffering severe neglect. In the past six months, 19 horses have been seized as a result of cruelty investigations.

While the SPCA has three barns, they rely on a foster network to help care for the horses before they can be adopted. If an owner challenges the seizure, it can sometimes be several months before the issue is decided through a hearing.

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“The daily cost of care has gone up,” said Salumets. “Sometimes, it’s just a challenge to find hay.”

Horse rescues play “such an important role,” she said. “Our capacity is limited to situations where animals are in distress and our space is reserved for that.”

Leiki Salumets, manager of equine and farm animal care for the BC SPCA, says it's been a “tough couple of years” for horse owners as the cost of care has risen dramatically.
Leiki Salumets, manager of equine and farm animal care for the BC SPCA, says it’s been a “tough couple of years” for horse owners as the cost of care has risen dramatically. Photo by Andres Salumets /.jpg

At Freedom’s Gate Equine Rescue in Salmon Arm, there is a list of seven horses waiting to be accepted, said operator Carly Marchand. The rescue is already caring for 15 horses.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Marchand said she noticed an uptick in adoptions as people were off work and had more time. “But I think the challenges of the last year are hitting people now. They’re off work, so they have no money coming, and it’s expensive to care for a horse.”

During the pandemic donations also dropped off, as well as the rescue’s ability to fundraise at local events, with funds down more than $20,000. Limited hay and expensive feed forced the rescue to limit its intake for a time.

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At Circle F Horse Rescue in Abbotsford, they’ve decided to cut a new pasture for hay, although they’re uncertain about the quality, said vice-president Olivia Vachon. The plan, if successful, should save thousands of dollars in feed costs.

The rescue has about eight horses on its waiting list.

“We’ve really struggled lately,” said Vachon.

Many of BC’s horse rescues work together to find space for horses that need care, with different organizations specializing in different types of rescue.

Since Second Chance Cheekye Ranch began rescuing horses, about 300 have left through successful adoptions.

“That why we do it,” said Latham. “Each time I just bawl my eyes out.”


how to help

Second Chance Cheekye Ranch in Squamish accepts donations. Visit https://www.secondchancecheekyeranch.com/

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The SPCA is looking for volunteers at its Surrey barn and also accepts donations. Visit https://spca.bc.ca/ways-to-help/volunteer/farm-animal-volunteer-opportunities/

Freedom’s Gate Equine Rescue in Salmon Arm: https://www.freedomsgateequinerescue.com/

Circle F Horse Rescue in Abbotsford: https://circle-f.org/

gluymes@postmedia.com

twitter.com/glendaluymes

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