By Valerie Jackson, OPEN president
On a cold Saturday morning in January, Diane Royall, our ranch manager and I left Sequim at 3a.m. with my horse trailer in tow, intent on making the long drive to Sunnyside, Washington, on the other side of the state.
We had a strict 9a.m. appointment with a kill buyer. If we weren't there in time, he said we would have to come back on Tuesday, and there was a chance the horses we wanted might have been shipped to a slaughter plant in Canada.
We had raised enough money to save two horses, and we brought more cash of our own to possibly save two more. We not only made the meeting in time but managed to stuff 4 horses into my 3 horse trailer. Two of the mares were pregnant, so in the end we saved 6 lives that day. Vannah was one of those mares, and she gave birth to a healthy colt in May.
ELEVEN YEARS HELPING HORSES GET A SECOND CHANCE
In 2002, I was living in Colorado and struggling with a bad situation involving domestic violence. I had stayed longer than I should have because of my animals. Domestic violence shelters help women and children but they do not have resources for pets, let alone horses and farm animals.
When I finally decided to leave and come home to Washington, I knew I had to remove all living beings from our 40- acre property before the 14-day restraining order ran out. I was lucky, because I had friends and family who helped me. Ever since, I have felt compelled to try to help others.
In 2006, Diane Royall, our vice president and ranch manger, and I began working together rescuing, rehabilitating and re-homing at risk horses. Diane worked rescuing horses for many years in California where she was a certified vet tech and bare-foot-trim specialist.
In the beginning, it was just one or two at a time, whatever we could pay for out of our household budgets. Many times we have had to purchase horses to save them. We did whatever was necessary to rehab the horses and then try to find them a new home. If any profit was made when the horse was sold, that went back into our kitty to help the next horse and buy supplies. Word got out about what we were doing and we started getting calls from people asking for our help.
We decided in 2012 that it was time to make it official and we acquired our nonprofit status. We regularly network with other rescue organizations and horse advocates across the United States, helping and promoting their work for literally thousands of horses in kill pens and in at risk-situations. We realized that in order to grow, we needed a facility but we couldn’t afford one, and no one was going to give us one. So in 2014 we decided to build one on a few acres we have been using in Sequim. First, we put up a perimeter fence. Then in 2015, we raised funds for a structure that covers three paddocks and a work area. In 2016, we raised funds for our hay shelter. And this year we built an office and tack store that enables us to display and sell our donated items and tack. We call our store Western Treasures, a place where you can find bargains on everything from jewelry and art to boots and saddles.
OPEN isn’t a Sanctuary program. We take in horses intending to eventually find new homes for them or place them in long term foster care if their riding days are behind them. We evaluate each horse, giving it whatever may be needed, feed, veterinary or hoof care, and time to recover from trauma or just finish growing up. We then try to find the best match for them in a new home situation.
Several times a year we host public Equine Vet Clinics in an effort to keep routine vet care affordable. At these clinics the vet provides care such as vaccinations, tooth floats, castrations, x-rays etc. The vet sets the prices, which are much lower than the fees he would normally charge for a private appointment. We don’t have a vet on staff so this is also how we afford routine care for our rescue horses.
We recently joined a group run by the Clallam County Sheriff’s Department called LARRG, Local Animal Rescue and Recovery Guidance Team. We are working to create a program to deal with large animals in the event of a natural disaster. We have contacts with three Back Country Horsemen groups across the Olympic Peninsula, and with their help, we could have a dozen horse trailers ready to go within hours in case of emergency. Since becoming part of this group, we have changed some of our plans. For instance we have the materials for a 120- by 60-foot lodge-pole arena, but we now plan to sell that material and buy panels so our arena could be quickly reconfigured in an emergency into 10 individual paddocks.
We have had a lot of success with our Golden Retirement program for our older and semiretired horses; once we feel they are ready, we look for long term foster homes as companion or light riding horses where they stay under our nonprofit umbrella. We don’t consider them available for adoption, but if any expenses are covered by the foster home they qualify as a donation to the rescue. As fosters, these horses go out for free and therefore no adoption fees come in to help cover their expenses. These horses can seriously deplete our resources but they are worth their weight in gold and deserve a retirement.
There are literally hundreds of stories I could tell ranging from animal hoarders to large scale neglect and abuse, to working with Animal Control on numerous cases, to just helping a family feed their horses for a month while they find a new job. We have helped a number of horse owners who had major health issues and could no longer care for their animals.
All of this work is done by volunteers.