Frederick's Farms: Rescue buys new life for gentle giants

By Samantha Hogan for The Frederick News-Post

When the call came in from animal control in York County, Pennsylvania, of a large Percheron draft horse caught in a severe neglect situation, the volunteers at Gentle Giants dropped everything to drive to his rescue.

The horse was a shell of what he should be. Weighing just 1,000 pounds, he was well below the 2,200-pound healthy weight of a draft horse his size.

The volunteers had a decision to make: euthanize him to alleviate his suffering or try to take him back to their 135-acre farm.

“He looked like he wasn’t done yet. As thin as he was, he still had a lot of fire in him,” said Dawnn Double, development director at the rescue.

On Thursday, she walked up to the barn where some of the rescue’s sickest horses are kept. The white Percheron — now called Tonka — was standing in the far stall.

Standing was an improvement. On his sickest days, he lay on the ground and pressure sores opened on his rear hip and ankle and near his front shoulder. Now that he was standing again, a veterinarian could begin to address the damage the neglect had done inside.


An extensive blood panel would soon show if Tonka’s organs were damaged by starvation, which is hard to see externally, Double said, even as Tonka’s ribs gave his sides a rippled appearance.

Double has volunteered with the rescue for 12 years, and Tonka is the worst case she’s seen in her year as development director.

In the past, she has traveled with volunteers to auctions in Pennsylvania, where Gentle Giants Draft Horse Recuse outbids slaughterhouse purchasers for draft horses they believed could be trained and rehabbed.

The history of horse slaughter and horse meat sales in the U.S. is long and filled with controversy, as Susanna Forrest wrote for Object Lessons and was published in The Atlantic in June 2017. At times, it has been outright barred, or Congress and the president have defunded U.S. Department of Agriculture equine inspectors, making the slaughter of horses functionally illegal in the U.S.

In other countries, however, horse meat remains a delicacy and a lucrative market.

At an auction, the rescue raises the bid so it’s no longer economically feasible for the meat buyers to purchase the horse, Double said. The rescue’s founder and president, Christine Hajek, has been traveling to auctions for years, rescuing draft horses and taking them back to her Mount Airy farm in Howard County. Over the years, she’s learned who are the buyers and who are the families.

“If we see a private family ... if it’s a family bidding on a really good horse and they want it as a pet, we’ll back off,” Double explained.

Sanctuary in Mount Airy

Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue has about 117 horses in its care. For neglected, abused or lost draft horses, it is one of the few places equipped to care for them.

“We would love to save every horse we can, but our main mission is to save [horses] from slaughter or neglect,” Double said.

Most will be trained at trail riding horses and rehabbed so that they can be adopted. Shelby Piovoso, 23, is the lead trainer at the stable and picks from the list of horses every day to clean, saddle and work.

One of her recent success stories was Kanin — a draft cross — who had been at the farm for nine years, was labeled “dangerous” and believed to be unfit for adoption.

“We were kind of sure he would never find someone,” Piovoso said.

Then a volunteer named Jim found Kanin and together they worked through Kanin’s extreme fear of people. His adoption is being processed, and Kanin is expected to go home with Jim in August.

The rescue’s reputation for care and success stories has made it a resource to animal control agencies in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

“They are definitely a go-to rescue for draft resources,” said Frederick County Animal Control Director Linda Shea.


Frederick County is lucky to have few loose or neglected draft horses, Shea said. However, the rescue’s good reputation has made Animal Control comfortable using the rescue if a situation should arise, she said.

Since 2010, Animal Control has re-homed only one potbelly pig in September 2017 to Gentle Giants, Shea said. An assortment of barn cats, goats, and rams also live on the farm, and founder Hajek is forming a second nonprofit called Gentle Friends Farm and Wildlife Sanctuary for its other residents, Double said.

None of it would be possible, however, without the volunteers.

Hanna Ruark, 22, has been volunteering at the rescue since she was 12 years old, and she considers the farm her second home and workplace. She will soon go to veterinary school, but she has already learned a lot from hands-on experience.

The rescue is known for its work with canker — an inflammation in the hoof wall — that pushes the coffin bone in the ankle through the bottom of the horse’s foot and eats away at the hoof. It can be deadly, but the farm has been working to provide better canker care.

Madison, a former New York City carriage horse who developed canker, was re-homed to Gentle Giants, after her bone shifted in her foot and went lame. Her care was hour-by-hour as the staff weighed her pain and improvement to see if they should euthanize her or keep fighting. Madison hung on and today is sound-footed.

The volunteers and staff say their farriers — Precision Horseshoeing — deserve the praise. In Madison’s case and Ezekiel’s — a rescued Belgian whose front hoofs are cracked and dissolved up to the fur line — the farriers have designed individual care plans.

It may take a year or more for Ezekiel’s hoofs to regrow. The situation could be likened to a bad fingernail injury, except more than half of Ezekiel’s body weight is being held up by it, Piovoso said.

The farriers drilled special screws and wires into the hoof to keep it from splitting further, and at night they pack the wound with medication and turn him out to graze. The women were hopeful Ezekiel’s story would turn into a happy one.

“I love everything about this place; the peace it brings. I don’t like having to look at the Tonkas, but knowing we’re helping them — levels it out,” Double said.

Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue find homes for animals who 'constantly see the best in us'

By Emily Chappell, Contact Reporter, for the Carroll County Times

More than a decade ago, Christine Hajek began looking for a draft horse rescue to volunteer at.

After searching online, she was shocked to find that not only were there no organizations in the state of Maryland, there were also none in the country.

“So that started a hobby,” Hajek said. “If no one else is doing it, I shall do it.”

Draft horses are large horses bred to work on farms doing tasks such as plowing and other labor.

Hajek began going to auctions and began purchasing some of the best horses that were being sold for slaughter. She’d ride them for a few months, and then after checking buyers out, sell them to a good home.

Hajek’s hobby got to the point that there would be four or five horses available to adopt out at any given time, she said, and she had to make a choice.

“Either I have to tone down my hobby, or we have to form a rescue,” she said. “And here we are.”

The Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue, located at 17250 Old Frederick Road in Mount Airy, was formed in 2005. The original vision was to one day have seven horses at any given time for adoption. As of mid-July, the organization has 119 horses.

For Hajek, who is the president and founder of Gentle Giants, it’s more than just a job. As she walks through the 135 acres of land — between barns and pastures — she stops to love each animal.

She paused to rub the face of one horse, scratches behind the ears of another. She pets the goats, sheep, cats and other animals that have found their homes at the rescue too.

“[Horse are] so forgiving and they’re so emphatic and they constantly see the best in us,” Hajek said. Choking up as tears formed in her eyes she added, “It really deeply upsets me to think about an animal that’s been raised alongside people being butchered as its thank you after a long life. It’s just not OK.”

Since its formation all those years ago, the organization has just grown, Hajek said. The ultimate goal?

“We facilitate the rescue of draft and draft cross horses from slaughter, abuse and neglect,” she said.

Hajek said the horses they rescue are often coming from the sale auction or are being brought in after having been abused or neglected. But the rescue is just the beginning.

Hajek said they attend sales and pay attention to the horses who are being bid on by kill buyers on behalf of the slaughterhouses. Horse meat is considered a delicacy in some countries such as Japan, and draft horses are popular for meat because of their sheer size.

On occasion there are some buyers not purchasing a horse for slaughter, she said. What they do is bid against the kill buyers until they stop bidding or they bid the horse past the point of being profitable for them.

If someone else is bidding, and they’re bidding past the point of it being profitable for slaughter, they assume the bidder is reputable, she said.

When a horse comes in from slaughter, Hajek said, they typically have to work with hoof neglect and retraining. These horses were more often than not plow horses prior to the sale, she added.

The issues are different when a horse comes in from animal control, she said. In that case, the problem is usually physical neglect, and the horse goes through a whole process of physical rehabilitation before they can even think about training.

“Often with those horses they have a slightly longer process,” Hajek added.

If a horse has been surrendered, the problems can be a mix bag, she said, The animal may be slightly neglected, or, she said, sometimes wonderful owners have unfortunate things happen and can’t keep their horse.

The first step when a horse comes in is a minimum 21-day quarantine.

The horses have often been in very crowded environments if they come from auction — it’s like an airport — with horses from all different areas coming in and out, Hajek said. This means that viruses, bacterial infections and airborne diseases are very common, she added.

Second Chances: Horse farm offers inmates opportunity to learn job skills, life lessons
After the quarantine, horses go into an assessment program to see if they need more rehabilitation or if they can move into training.

“We start all of our horses with a reevaluation from the ground up to retrain them for riding if they’re able,” Hajek said, because almost all adopters want to be able to ride the horse.

Trainers also work on manners, like if a horse leads politely, is able to let someone pick up it’s feet, if they’ll stand for shots and more.

Often, she said, even if horses have had previous careers, they have some gaps in their knowledge.

If a horse is too sick, Hajek said they have to instead euthanize the animal. It’s a hard topic, she said.

“Of course, it’s sad,” she said.

But, sometimes it’s necessary, and the rescue is stepping in — and stepping up — for a horse because someone else has failed to do so, Hajek added.

“Our ultimate plan for every horse is for it to find an absolutely loving, perfect adopter that’s just going to cherish them for who they are,” she said.

They want to find an adopter who is in it “for the long haul” — it’s more about what the adopter can do for the horse, not what the horse can offer the adopter, she added.

Most horses at the rescue find this. But, Hajek said, they don’t give the horses a timeline. There’s a horse that will finally be adopted this summer who has been with the rescue for nine years, she said.

Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue is 100 percent donation based, Hajek said, and is consists of a number of small donations.

While there are 13 full-time barn staff, Hajek said she considers the organization volunteer based. They have 175 active volunteers, but a core group of about 40.

And they’re always looking to add more, she said.

“We need volunteers,” she said, adding, “We will train people.”

If someone has farm experience, they may go through two trainings before being set loose. Someone with less training will likely go through four or five trainings.

But, from the beginning, everyone is working with horses.

“From the first day, you’re feeding horses, you’re walking horse to pasture,” she said.

A volunteer works with the animals, mucks stalls and more. The experience is very hands-on, she said.

Rick Blatchford is one of those volunteers.

He said via email that while he started riding horses at the age of 12, he realized his knowledge of horse health care was lacking.

“I stopped riding when I went to college, and haven't sat a horse (until last month) in over 50 years,” Blatchford said. “At age 77, I feel ignorant on the subject, but am working to learn. The sad part is, because of my longtime love for horses, I'm still shocked that some (a minority) horse owners can be so uncaring/neglectful of the animals which rely upon them.”

Hajek said if someone can commit to 20 hours a month, they can be involved in a partner program, where a volunteer is paired with a horse and comes in three or four times a week to spend one-on-one time with the animal.

“Partner programs are a great way that some of our retired horses that don’t get a lot of attention still feel important,” she said.

The horses look forward to having someone special come in and see them, Hajek said, who focuses on meeting the horse’s emotional needs.

Its physical needs are always met at the rescue, but that’s not enough.

“Just having hay and water thrown at them and grain twice a day, you know, isn’t necessarily a whole life,” Hajek said. “They still need that one-on-one connection. They like us as much as we like them.”

For more information on volunteering, email the volunteer coordinator at or call 443-285-3835.

For more information on Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue, visit

Rodricks: Gentle giants put out to pasture in Howard County after a life of hard work

By Dan Rodricks, Contact Reporter for The Baltimore Sun

Now here’s something I did not know (nor think much about) until a recent trip to a farm in Central Maryland, self-prescribed as a break from the daily distress of Donald Trump tweets and Baltimore crime: Those big-shouldered horses that pull wedding carriages and beer wagons, those brawny drafts that pull plows and harrows across Amish farm fields — some of them get a nice retirement.

They are put out to pasture. Or they take a little part-time work. Or they develop second careers.

Clydesdales, Percherons, Belgians and other wide-body breeds are known mostly for hauling rigs of pleasure and industry. But in their retirement, they can serve as mounts. People ride them. Who knew?

“Oh, yes,” insists Christine Hajek. “Drafts are sought-after for trail riding. They’re calm. They just plod along. You get a comfy, cushy slow ride. It’s like riding your couch.”

Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue to expand with help of memorial gift
Hajek counts on the aftermarket demand for wide rides because she is the founder and president of a horse rescue that specializes in saving drafts from slaughter and finding them new homes. She claims more than 500 adoptions since establishing her operation 11 years ago, and many of the new owners acquired their drafts for trail riding, some for jumper competition.

Who knew?

Well, some knew.

Ross Peddicord, a long-time horseman who serves as executive director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board, points out that the Baltimore Police Department’s mounted unit uses drafts or draft crosses. “People do use them for trail riding,” says Peddicord, a former Evening Sun reporter, “even fox hunting with the slower hunts.”

Snowman, the legendary show jumper of the late 1950s who was minutes away from the slaughterhouse before a New York riding instructor rescued him and turned him into a champion, had a previous life as a plow horse.

Harry de Leyer famously paid $80 for Snowman at the century-old livestock auction at New Holland, Pa., the same place Hajek goes to picks up horses for her rescue operation in Howard County.

Her operation is called Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue, and it sits on a 139-acre farm at the end of a long, tree-lined lane off Old Frederick Road in Mount Airy. A donation from the Gretchen B. Mobberley Family Trust led to the recent purchase of another farm six miles away, in Woodbine, providing Gentle Giants with an additional 105 acres for a sanctuary — a long-term retirement home for drafts unlikely to be adopted.

The nonprofit’s mission is based in a belief that no horse should be slaughtered for the international meat market. Hajek watches constantly for drafts on the block at New Holland in the hopes of saving them from bidders who intend to have them butchered. She’ll even make an effort to acquire a horse in poor health.

“We’d rather have them euthanized on the farm than see them go to slaughter,” she says.

Many of the drafts come from Amish or Mennonite farms after a hard life of pulling plows. Hajek buys them, then she gets them to the farm, where her staff of 13 hands and numerous volunteers clean, feed and evaluate the horses, then place them in a paddock for new arrivals. A veterinarian and blacksmith visit each Tuesday.

Farrier Zach Shoop, left, works on the hooves of Roger with the help of barn staff members Leslie Forcino, center, and Lauren Bognovitz, right, at the Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue in Mount Airy. (Michael Ares / Baltimore Sun)

Farrier Zach Shoop, left, works on the hooves of Roger with the help of barn staff members Leslie Forcino, center, and Lauren Bognovitz, right, at the Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue in Mount Airy. (Michael Ares / Baltimore Sun)

At any given time, Hajek says, there are more than 100 horses on the farm. There were 112 in residence on Friday. Thirty-four of them are sanctuary horses, the remainder in pastures or stables, awaiting adoption. Sixty percent to 70 percent of the Gentle Giant horses come from New Holland, Hajek says. The remainder come from individual owners who, for various reasons, need to give them up. The actor Charles “Roc” Dutton, who has a farm in Howard County and once owned 12 Clydesdales, gave Gentle Giants a Gypsy Cob named Sainte.

Gentle Giants occasionally takes in abused or neglected drafts rescued by humane societies or animal control units.

And over the years, several have come from the carriage trade, including the one in New York City. The horse-drawn carriages of New York became a hot issue in the 2013 mayoral election, with an animal rights group calling for the trade’s abolition and throwing its support behind Bill de Blasio, the ultimate winner. De Blasio had promised a ban on the carriages, but the New York City Council and the public pushed back hard. The abolitionists gave up their crusade this summer, according to the Daily News.

Hajek is opposed to horses being slaughtered, but she’s not opposed to horses working.

“If they don’t work, they don’t exist,” she says. “I think most carriage horses get treated well by their owners. When they’re ready to retire them, they contact us or another rescue. The carriage horses are great to have in your barn. They are really well-behaved.”

And, Hajek says, many of them are still capable of a “lighter career” in retirement, pulling a cart or wagon maybe once a week — you know, a little part-time work.

Carroll County farm gives draft horses a second chance

By Megan Pringle for WBALTV11

Such horses are called gentle giants for their mild disposition and size.

But just like race horses, there is concern about what happens when a draft horse’s working days are over.

There is a farm in Carroll County that shares a similar concern and is working to make sure these horses have a second chance. The Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue in Mount Airy bring in those horses that are at the end of their working career.

"Oftentimes the owner of the horse will dispose of that horse through an auction or sale, and the biggest market there are the horses who are being offered for meat," Gentle Giants founder and president Christine Hajek said.

Hajek said they buy the horses before that happens, and that's when the work begins. The farm relies of donations and volunteers.

"It is a lot of work," Hajek said. "We have about 108 horses on a 130 acres right now. We only have about 10 barn staff so that's a lot for us to handle on our own and volunteers free us up to do other things like special treatments, which most of the horses need."

From hoof problems to neglect, the medical needs of the horses can be challenging.

"When they come in here, they are in quarantine that's when they have to take it slow and gradually build them up again," Gentle Giants farm manager Erica Raum said.

Avalanche is among the horses at the farm. He's only been there two months, but is already considered a success story. In his time at Gentle Giants, he has gained 300 pounds and has about 300 more to go. He is considered a pretty incredible success story.

Gentle Giant’s staff said that stories like Avalanche’s are incredibly gratifying.

Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue Society in Maryland, Earns Accreditation from Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries

(Mount Airy, MD) – The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), the only globally recognized organization providing standards for identifying legitimate animal sanctuaries, awarded Accredited status to Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue Society,  effective February 20, 2014.

Accreditation means that Gentle Giants meets the criteria of a true equine sanctuary/rescue and is providing humane and responsible care for its animals.  To be awarded Accredited status, an organization must meet GFAS’s rigorous and peer-reviewed animal care standards, which are confirmed by a site visit and adherence to a demanding set of ethical and operational principles to ensure its integrity, accountability, and long-term success.

“We are very happy to announce the recent Accreditation of Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue Society,” said Jackie Beckstead, Director of Accreditation and Field Operations for GFAS.  “This organization demonstrates broad expertise in the welfare of equines, and in particular draft horses.  Gentle Giants is committed to educating the public on the special needs of the large-breed equines and on the important issues of horse slaughter, equine welfare, and animal rescue.  They consistently provide high quality of care for all their animals.  Gentle Giants’ dedication to integrity and their long term strategic vision will ensure leadership in equine rescue and welfare for many years to come.”

“Gentle Giants has long prided itself on providing the best possible care and training of its rescued horses, and works continuously to improve the public perception of horse rescues in the US,” said Christine Hajek , President and Founder of Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue Society. “GFAS accreditation provides us with a lengthy and demanding set of benchmarks to assure donors that our organization is providing good care to our animals, is reputable, and is using precious donor funds appropriately.  We are honored to be accredited by GFAS, and we encourage other horse rescue groups who are serious about their work to consider joining the list of GFAS-accredited and verified organizations.”


Herd of Morgan Horses in Lebanon County, PA at Center of Dispute

By Suzanne Bush for East Coast Equestrian

The story is becoming depressingly familiar. Horses, lots of horses, neglected and in trouble, living in squalor. In plain sight. Passersby are shocked. Police are called. Humane officers investigate. Still the animals seem no closer to rescue and safety. Doesn’t anyone care?

The answer is, yes. Lots of people care, and lots of people are frustrated, angry and profoundly saddened by the sight of animals in distress. But the path from problem to solution is not always straight. Nor is it obvious. That fact marks the beginning and leads to the ongoing resolution of what appears to be a stunning case of equine neglect in Pennsylvania. It’s a nightmare of a case in which the truth is as elusive as a dream.


In December 2012 five horses—reportedly severely malnourished--were taken from Rebecca Roberts’ farm on Laudermilch Road in Palmyra. In January the remaining 24 horses were removed. Amy Kaunas, Executive Director of Harrisburg Humane Society says that the conditions were horrific. “Most of the horses, when it gets to this point, they are actually wild, they can’t even be touched.” The case was made even more controversial as a result of the misinformation surrounding it, adding a lot of overheated accusations against the farm owner, the Humane Society, and the police—suggesting that the people who should protect these animals were ignoring their responsibilities. Kaunas says that the United States Constitution, specifically the Fourth Amendment, affords many levels of protection to the owners of animals in these situations. “The laws are constitutional rights. A person has a right to their property. You can only enter a person’s property when there are exigent circumstances, when the animal is dying in front of you.”

Roberts’ attorney, Tom Beveridge, says that the Humane Society misplayed their hand right from the beginning. “From a practical perspective, the mission of the Harrisburg Humane Society is not just to prevent cruelty to animals,” he says. “It’s also to educate the public. If there were problems here, why didn’t the Humane Society offer assistance in order to correct these concerns?”

Horses Suffering in Plain View
In Facebook posts, concerned citizens expressed outrage that horses in a pasture in Palmyra were starving, sick and apparently ignored by the agencies meant to protect them. Commenting anonymously under the names “Justice for Route 743 Morgans” and “Neglected Horses,” posters questioned why nothing was done to help this herd of horses for more than two years.  They cited instances where investigators allegedly failed to process warrants properly. They stated that police were called frequently. The misery of the horses, according to the posters, went on for two and a half years before the horses were finally seized by the Humane Society.

“We got a referral mid-December,” Kaunas says. “We visited the defendant on December 28.” As for the assertion in the Facebook posts that repeated calls to the police did not result in any action, Kaunas says that’s just not true. “The state police have no records of multiple phone calls and complaints. They received one phone call two years ago from an anonymous caller. There were absolutely not multiple calls.” The State Police said that they could not comment on the case—or on the assertion that many calls had been made—since an active investigation was ongoing, and a court hearing was scheduled.

Kaunas says that when they got the call from the local State Police troop, the Harrisburg Humane Society officers “took a drive out and immediately we could clearly see from the road that there was a horse with a body score of 1.” The Henneke Body Scoring system measures a horse’s body condition, and a score of 1 indicates that the horse is “extremely emaciated, with no fatty tissue.” The system is used by police and humane investigators, because it is standardized, requires no special equipment, and the animals can be assessed visually.

Once they were able to see an animal in obvious distress, Kaunas says, they began their protocol for resolving cases. Their first step is to try to get the owner to get veterinary help for the animals, and to educate the owner about proper care for the animals. “We always try to do an education. We ordered vet care within a finite time frame,” she explains. Since they could not see the whole herd, they didn’t recognize how desperate the situation was.

“We have to have probable cause to even begin an investigation,” Kaunas says. “And there has to be probable cause for us to get a warrant. Even if you tell me there are five sick dogs in someone’s house, I can’t just bust into their houses and take the dogs.” She said police officers operate under the same standards.

Roberts, according to Kaunas, failed to get veterinary care for her horses. When Humane Society officers returned to check on the situation, they saw a dead horse, and that’s when the investigation began. Beveridge says that the dead horse had been euthanized by a veterinarian. “The horse was still there when they (the Humane Society agents) went back to seize the horses, because Rebecca couldn’t get the service to come out and pick up the horse,” Beveridge explains. “I know that Rebecca had a vet who regularly cared for the horses. I believe there was a herd evaluation done shortly before this began. When I visited the farm the horses were together and they were fine.”

Referring to the volume of posts on Facebook and other blogs, he says that this case has been unfairly and untruthfully characterized. “It appears that we have a situation where this has unfortunately been tried in the court of public opinion without Rebecca having an opportunity to be heard.” He says there are posts with gruesome photos purported to be horses on Roberts’ property. But they are not even her horses, and the property is not hers. He says one of the pictures even has the Rocky Mountains in the background.

He believes this case could have been handled better, and says that Roberts has a good reputation in the horse industry. “She has been in the horse industry for many, many years and has bred and sold Morgan horses. With the recession the market is not what it used to be. We look at this and say, in this circumstance, this could have all been handled so much more efficiently with some understanding from the Humane Society. Rebecca has lost the economic value of her horses, not to mention the emotional value of her horses.”

A Feral Herd of Desperate Horses
Kaunas describes the roundup of the herd as a frightening, wild event. “There were seven stallions.  When you get horses that are this reactive, they’re going to do things that domesticated horses won’t do.” Christine Hajek, who operates Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue in Mount Airy, MD assisted with the collection of the horses on the Roberts property. “It was really challenging to be able to move them safely, because they hadn’t been handled and it was stressful for them,” she explains. “We had to move them in groups. It wasn’t possible to cut stallions from mares, because they had been running in a band for so long.” And then there was the mud. It was everywhere. Hajek says that there was incredibly deep mud all over the property. The humans trying to herd the horses into chutes were struggling just to move around in the mud.

Beveridge disputes implications that Roberts’ farm was disorganized and dangerous for the horses. “Was she able to provide care for the horses at a level sufficient for the horses? Yes,” he says emphatically. But he points out that there’s no such thing as perfection. “Could she have provided better care? The farm needed a lot of work.” He said when he visited he noticed things that needed repair.  “I looked at some of the fencing that could be replaced and some areas that could do with some grounds keeping and some roofing work that needs to be done on the barn. Things like that.” But he says there was nothing that was dangerous for the horses.  “The turn in the market has really taken a toll on her. She doesn’t have the market to sell the Morgans that she used to have, but her economic situation did not result in neglect of the horses.” 

Twenty-one of the 29 horses are still at Gentle Giants. The others are on farms in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Hajek says it’s going to take time to rehabilitate them all. “We actually have all but six of the horses in our care are now in halters and are able to be led around. They’re very intelligent horses. But we have our six remaining holdouts. They’re quite feral and suspicious of humans. We’ve tried to win them over with food. They understand now, when they see us coming they nicker.” Little by little, she and her staff are wearing the holdouts down. “Now we’re working on ‘will you eat with me 50 feet away? How about 40 feet away?’ This is the portion where we win by inches.” Those six horses, Hajek says, need hoof care, but it’s out of the question until they can be handled safely.

She already had 60 horses on her property when the horses from Palmyra arrived, and she knows that the Morgans will gradually blossom into very adoptable horses. But she sees the failure to socialize horses properly as its own form of neglect. “In a way, to me, my personal opinion, neglecting to handle your horses is a form of abuse in itself.” She understands that owning a horse brings responsibilities that many people don’t want to think about. “It’s difficult for me, even as a horse owner, while I never have any intention of ever selling them, I am not so arrogant to think that something couldn’t ever happen to me, and if it did happen, I want my horses to be valuable in the world. Part of that is to make sure they’re well trained.”

She says that one of the challenges right now is to get all the horses socialized enough so that they can go to foster homes. “There are not that many safe places in the world for a feral horse to fall,” she says.

Beveridge says that his aim is to get the horses back to Roberts as soon as possible. “What we’re really hoping is that Rebecca can get her horses back, and if there are concerns (about their care), they can address them,” he says. The situation has been exceedingly difficult for Roberts. “She misses the horses terribly. It’s such an integral part of her life that has been taken from her. She’s been very upset.”

Humane Organizations Overwhelmed
The state’s website lists about 230 humane officers that serve Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. Some counties have none. And many of the officers are counted multiple times, because they’re responsible for 10, 15, even 20 counties.  They investigate incidents of cruelty, neglect and abuse of all animals—from cats and dogs, to pigs, cows and horses. It’s a daunting numbers game and too often humane officers are blamed for abuse that is not discovered and prosecuted quickly.

When animals are seized from farms or homes, the humane organizations that take them have to figure out a way to pay for their care. As in the case of the horses seized from the Roberts farm in Palmyra, the care can quickly add up to tens of thousands of dollars. Veterinarians, blacksmiths, qualified handlers and trainers are responsible for ensuring that the animals rescued from abuse are not neglected.

Beveridge takes issue with some of the ways the Humane Society is approaching this funding dilemma. “The Humane Society is having a benefit for the horses, which we think is great, but they wanted to bring one of the horses out to meet the public.” He points out that the seized horses are evidence at this point, and should not become some sort of display for the public.

Kaunas says that a bill pending in the state legislature could offer some relief for organizations like hers. HB82, sponsored by Representative Brian R. Ellis (R., Butler County) would permit organizations like the Harrisburg Humane Society to seek costs from the individuals whose animals were seized. “Unfortunately restitution can already be granted under the law,” Kaunas says. “The reality of restitution being granted is that it’s okay, but most of the individuals we’re dealing with are not solvent.” Despite that, Kaunas believes that if the law passes, it will provide some incentives. “It’s one more tool we can use, to help defendants understand the seriousness of the situation. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether they’re solvent or not, the law makes it clear they’re digging themselves deeper and deeper” if they fail to take responsibility for the situations they’ve created.

Representative Ellis was not available to answer questions, but his bill did pass in the House and on January 25 it was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.