A fabulous job − making sad horses happy
PUBLISHED: 18:48 28 November 2017
Steven Russell asks staff at Redwings Horse Sanctuary how they keep going when some cases are such tear-jerkers
How many of us could do Julie Harding’s job, day after day, without wanting to hide under the duvet some mornings? Her role’s not easy, being pivotal in the rescuing of horses from neglect and making them safe.
“I’ve worked with horses from a young age, but working for Redwings has been a real eye opener,” she admits. “I’ve worked for the charity since 2000 and, while some of the things I’ve seen as a welfare officer are difficult to deal with, every day continues to be incredibly rewarding.
“As a senior field officer, I’m responsible for investigating reports of alleged mistreatment of horses, which come in via Redwings’ welfare line.
“You’re never sure what you’ll find when you go out. It could be a horse that’s starting to suffer health problems because their owner – for various reasons – is struggling to care for them, to the most severe neglect such as that discovered at Spindle Farm, Amersham, in 2008 where Redwings was involved in rescuing over 100 horses and donkeys from horrific conditions.
“For each case I have to work within the law, and my job isn’t about judging people but assessing situations objectively. Although I’m often involved in rescuing horses, a large part of my role is educating owners in looking after their horse to improve standards of welfare.
“Redwings is a charity which is 100% funded by donations. By helping owners adhere to their responsibilities, I play a role in preventing horses having to be brought into the sanctuary, so it can focus on providing care for those equines most in need.
“And this side of my job is becoming increasingly vital, as the ongoing horse crisis - where there are simply too many horses being bred and not enough homes for them to go to - continues to place pressure on the spaces available.
“Despite the sanctuary working at capacity, Redwings will always be there for horses who need help. I’d encourage anyone with concerns to call the welfare line on 01508 481008, and thank the public for their vigilance - we couldn’t do what we do without their support.
“Like most, I struggle to understand how people can let their animals fall into such states of suffering and, sadly, not all of those we rescue make it. But knowing that I’m part of a team that can bring them some justice and the chance of a happy new life makes those tough days worthwhile.”
Helping rescued horses find new loving families is one of the most rewarding aspects of operations and rehoming manager Rachel Angell’s role at Redwings. “I am part of the team which helps ensure our horses live in a caring and safe environment, either within the sanctuary or in loving ‘Guardian’ homes.
“Many of the horses we rescue will never be able to be rehomed because of the effect their poor starts in life has had on their long-term health and behaviour. So when you have the chance to watch a horse, who has been through a heart-breaking ordeal, be successfully rehabilitated and go on to find a new family who will treasure them, it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of what I do. Redwings has 500 horses living in Guardian homes and each is special, but it’s the story of little Oakley that has stayed with me.
“I remember the day he arrived at the sanctuary: me and my colleagues were in tears at the sight of him. On arrival, Oakley was emaciated and was suffering with a severe worm burden. He was so weak he couldn’t support his own body weight and needed to be lifted manually by the vet team day and night to prevent his skin forming sores.
“We thought he had little chance of pulling through but he amazed us all with his sheer determination to survive. In just six months he had returned to a healthy weight and went to live at our Aylsham Visitor Centre, north of Norwich, where he could make new horsey friends and enjoy plenty of fuss from the public. It was here that his lovable nature shone through and we knew we had found our next candidate for the rehoming programme.
“After he learned how to be ridden, we waved an emotional goodbye to Oakley this autumn as he travelled to his new Guardian home.
“Oakley has already become a beloved member of the family, not only as a companion for his Guardian’s own ex-racehorse but also as a first pony for his new 11-year-old rider, who is lavishing him with all the love he so richly deserves.”
Redwings Horse Sanctuary has five centres. Two in Norfolk, at Aylsham and Caldecott, and one in Essex, at Nazeing. (Plus one in Scotland and another in Warwickshire.) It began with the rescue of a single pony from a dealer. Her recovery inspired the formation of a sanctuary in 1984 dedicated to saving horses from a life of fear and neglect. Redwings is now a charity caring for more than 1,500 horses, ponies, donkeys and mules every day at its farms. It also has 500 horses living in Guardian homes through its rehoming programme. It says: ‘Many of our horses and ponies come from situations of terrible neglect or even cruelty. Others may never have encountered a human being at all. We use specialised training methods, based on the scientific principles of how horses learn, to train them in the most humane and ethical way possible, so they never have to be afraid of humans again.’
The centres are open to visitors, and entry is free. Check www.redwings.org.uk for full details of opening times.