By Mercedes McCroryThe volunteers at Habitat for Horses strive to change the lives of horses and people. Habitat for Horses, a non-profit organization, is an equine rescue center located in Galveston County. The organization was founded in Oct. 1998 by Jerry Finch after he discovered a large number of horse abuse cases in Galveston County. The organization provides equine education, an equine adoption program, equine-assisted services to youth and adults, and equine rescue services to law enforcement agencies.
In 2005, Lone Star Equine Rescue Center merged with Habitat for Horses making it one of the largest equine rescue centers. They operate in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
Currently, Habitat for Horses has 45 horses at their location. The equine animals at the site have suffered all types of abuse including: starvation, physical and mental abuse, and neglect. "When we found Faith in a pasture left to die she weighed 580 pounds. She was supposed to weigh around 1,150 pounds, " Finch said. "She was so close to death, but it was just a matter of feeding her and she became healthy again."
The most common type of abuse is lack of education because some people do not know how to care for horses. Also, people may not realize how expensive it is to maintain a horse. Consequently, the horse suffers because it does not receive the essential care it needs. Habitat for Horses offers horsemanship classes for anyone that needs assistance.
"Right now there are a total of 300 horses located across the three stables," Finch said. "About half of them would have ended up at a slaughterhouse. " According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service, 91, 757 horses were slaughtered in the United States in 2005 for human consumption in foreign countries.
Once the horses are seized, they are rehabilitated by veterinarian volunteers. After the horses have recovered, they are re-trained using a gentle approach; no loud voices, whips or ropes are allowed.
The horses can be adopted, but first a property inspection and two reference letters from a licensed veterinarian and an equine professional are required. The volunteers and staff will check on each horse for one to two years after the adoption process to make sure the horse is healthy. "We try to make them as pet-like as possible and, if they can be ridden, we try to make them as much of a rideable horse as we can," said Jason, assistant manager.
There are few resident horses that live at Habitat for Horses and cannot be adopted. Finch owns a resident horse, Pete; his legs were almost cut off from barbed wire when Finch rescued him. "I always thought of Pete as the inspiration for Habitat for Horses," said Susan, investigative coordinator and volunteer.
The organization is funded through donations and accepts the work of volunteers. Volunteers don't have to work with horses; they can write thank you notes,perform electrical work, rebuild fences , or yard work. A person can also choose to just groom the horses.
"I was always helping raise money for charities, but this is more of a hands-on opportunity," said Hank Chesson, volunteer. "These folks need the help they're kind of outnumbered out here." Judge Michael Nelson of Galveston County sentences young adults to do community service at Habitat for Horses.
"I'm a real advocate of community service in lieu of jail time," Nelson said. "I send kids out there because it's a wonderful organization that benefits the kids as well as the community.
Since Habitat for Horses was founded they have rescued 1,200 equine animals. For more information, or if you want to become a volunteer, please visit www.habitatforhorses.org.