Many U.S. horse owners send their steeds to slaughter in brutal conditions outside the country, but one Sebastopol organization provides an alternative to give horses a second chance.
Located about five miles from downtown Sebastopol, Well Trained Horses is an organization dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming horses who have been abused, neglected, abandoned or would be sent to slaughter in Mexico, according to Susan Jan Hornstein, the director for the nonprofit who founded it in 2008.
In 2005, legislation passed outlawing the slaughter of horses in California and federally in the entire U.S. the following year, except for New Mexico and Missouri, according to Hornstein.
“We can't send these horses to legal slaughter, where they are controlled and regulated, and the amount of water and methods for putting them down is legal and humane,” she said.
Instead, horse owners were now sending steeds to Mexico, where methods of killing horses were brutal at best, according to Hornstein.
“Horses were tortured, basically. About one-third of the horses are dismembered before they are brain dead,” she said. “There was no control over water or transport or the method of putting them down. It was really, really horrific.”
According to the Humane Society of the United States, the USDA also documented similar conditions in the U.S. before the last domestic slaughter plants closed in 2007.
Hornstein had taught horse riding for many years and felt the call to do something about the problem. She now takes in horses whose owners have not taken proper care and put them in dire situations or from owners who don’t have the means to take care of them. She rehabilitates, retrains and finds new homes for the horses to be placed where they will be looked after properly.
The organization, which has its home base located on Icssoma Farm, is run exclusively through the help of volunteers, many have ended up taking home the horses once they have been rehabilitated.
Tanna Drapkin started volunteering on weekends with her daughter after sending her there for riding lessons nearly a decade ago.
“Whereas other rescues have very stringent policies about what volunteers can and can't do, Susan Jan is very open to people learning, and being involved, you know, in a safe way of course, but to all aspects of what it takes to run a rescue,” Drapkin said.
Whether it's mucking, grooming, repairing and building fences to social media posts and fundraising, Well Trained Horses volunteers do it all.
“I've always felt that her openness to all kinds of volunteers from all walks of life and all levels of experience is really different than most other rescues I know about,” Drapkin said. “Susan Jan is willing to make it a sanctuary both for people as well as for horses.”
Well Trained Horses, which currently has 10 horses, has done work with youth experiencing incarceration, and other volunteers have used the work with horses to help them with struggles like depression.
“I’m as much moved by people whose lives have changed by volunteering, and it's easy for them to get out of bed and feel motivated, as I am, by saving the horses themselves,” Hornstein said.
Well Trained Horses became a perfect place to volunteer during the pandemic safely as the property is about four acres. The number of volunteers has increased so much they are looking to hire a part-time volunteer coordinator.
However, their fundraising did take a hit as the annual 700 visitors from school field trips, luncheons, and wine tasting events could not venture out due to COVID-19 restrictions.
To get involved as a volunteer or to support Well Trained Horses, including sponsoring a horse for $15 a month, email email@example.com or visit their website at welltrainedhorses.com.