Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

TOP STORY >> Couple gives home to abused horses

By JONATHAN FELDMAN
Leader staff writer

Along a dirt road on the border of Lonoke and Prairie counties, Saving Grace Horse Rescue is nurturing back to health some of the most severe cases of animal neglect in central Arkansas.

The nonprofit group is operated by Stewart and Melody Anderson with the help of their family and friends. They all work full-time jobs, with the exception of Stewart, to pay for the rehabilitation of the malnourished horses, most of which are hundreds of pounds underweight, overcome the consequences of years of neglect.

Saving Grace Horse Rescue near Butlerville cares for 11 horses, and that number grows by the week. The rescue horses are a sad sight, their ribs and backbones protruding from their skin. Their faces are emaciated, but their expressions are appreciative and emotional.

The rescue operation is as expensive to run for its owners as it is rewarding. “You swell up with pride when you get a horse fit and healthy,” Stewart Anderson said.
But satisfaction won’t cover the costs for the feed and numerous medical treatments that each horse needs to get healthy. The Andersons rely on donations raised at fundraisers, discounts from farm supply stores and the generosity of veterinarians to sustain the rescue.

“The last fund-raiser we did was great. We made $425, but I spent $50 on feed today,” Stewart said.

The Andersons are looking for grants that would finance the rescue of dozens of more horses. If a stable source of income does not come through, the family doubts that Saving Grace will continue.

“We’re not taking any more volunteer surrenders,” because it would just be too expensive, Stewart said. But that doesn’t mean that horses won’t be arriving at the 75-acre Saving Grace farm. Unfortunately, the group’s services are in high demand.

The White County sheriff recently seized four horses from their owner in McRae. The Andersons said the horses were eating only tree bark and had no grass to graze on. They were starving.

“Everyone there was so hurt by what they saw,” Melody said. The sheriff’s deputies and Humane Society representatives who confiscated the horses were appalled by the animals’ suffering.

What was worse, she said, was that the owners did not understand what they had done was wrong and they were furious about losing their horses.

Occasionally, Saving Grace will get a call from an area Humane Society representative asking them to check on a horse that may be neglected.

“What we do is scout the roadside,” Stewart said. If they believe that a horse is not being fed properly or is penned improperly, they will contact the horse’s owner and explain their concerns.

The Andersons said most of the horse owners they deal with are respectful and do want to take care of their animals, but they often need education. Many times, the Andersons don’t even take a horse to the Saving Grace farm, but teach owners how to take better care of their animals.

Most horses at Saving Grace were voluntarily surrendered by owners who couldn’t meet their animals’ needs. Few were taken by law enforcement.

The group tries to adopt out the horses once they have been rehabilitated. But their adoption process is rigorous and lengthy.

The Andersons check up on a horse for a year to make sure that a prospective adopter is capable of caring for the horse.

Adoption fees are meager and on a sliding scale. Saving Grace will never recoup its expenses.

Adopting horses is one of Saving Grace’s most difficult challenges, according to the Andersons.

More horses come to Saving Grace than leave. The Andersons expect another four horses to arrive this week.

“We have two more definitely coming from Vilonia, and another two from Jacksonville and Ward,” Stewart said.

So, why do they do it? Each horse needs a monthly visit to the veterinarian, several shots a year, almost constant hoof care, several pounds of feed a week, regular exercise and the list goes on.

It’s expensive, but it means a lot to the Andersons. Stewart and Melody have been around horses almost their entire lives.

Stewart grew up on a farm in Illinois where there were always horses. Melody discovered her love for horses on her aunt’s farm in the Florida Panhandle, where she is originally from.

They moved to Arkansas about six years ago, first living on a smaller farm outside of Beebe and they moved to the farm near Butlerville in early April. They plan to live there permanently and continue to run the horse rescue there.

“There’s not a bad horse, only bad people,” Melody said.

“We’re gonna save the ones that we can,” Stewart said.

Only generous donations and grants can help sustain the Andersons’ mission.

For more information or to make a donation, call Melody and Stewart Anderson at 501-779-1728, or visit their Web site at www.savinggracehorserescue.org.