Abused horses find a haven in Howard County Woman devotes her life to rescues

June 22, 1993|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

Kathleen Schwartz found the two horses standing in so much rotting hay and manure that their heads bumped against the ceiling of the average-size stalls. They had not been outside in years.

Mrs. Schwartz rescued the horses in 1991, rehabilitated them and eventually found them homes. They are testament to this Howard County woman's tenacity and devotion to her all-consuming task of saving abused and neglected horses.

Mrs. Schwartz runs Days End Farm Horse Rescue Inc. in the northwestern corner of Howard County. It's the only established horse rescue, rehabilitation and adoption operation in Maryland, she says, although a couple of others are starting up.

"Kathy is the most selfless person I have ever met," says Cathy Gaynor, who volunteers at the farm and is forming her own rescue service in Elkridge in Howard County. "She just loves horses. I know that sounds trite, because lots of people love horses, but not on the level Kathy does.

"She's devoted 24 hours a day, seven days a week and her entire life and financial resources to these horses. She wouldn't eat if it meant one of them wouldn't get medicine."

Mrs. Schwartz, 41, is more reserved about her accomplishments, although she gladly shows you photos and details the histories of some of the 50 horses she has taken in since starting the operation four years ago.

Most of the photos show emaciated horses. Their ribs protrude, and skin hangs over their pelvises and hipbones.

"It's not that we're miracle workers," Mrs. Schwartz says. "Some of these horses are just starved. They just need food and basic normal care to get well."

That's what she gives them -- with the help of numerous volunteers and donations from citizens and businesses. The nonprofit Days End Farm survives -- sometimes barely -- only with the public's help.

It survives to save horses such as Chester, who is 34 years old. He weighed about 550 pounds when his owners, under pressure from the Humane Society, gave him to Mrs. Schwartz in March. Now he weighs about 700. He should weigh 900 to 1,000 pounds, she says.

He lives in a stall and large pen next to Dustin, one of Mrs. Schwartz's own horses. Dustin is 22 and blind from glaucoma, although she prances along the fence as Mrs. Schwartz walks by.

"I still ride her," Mrs. Schwartz says. "You've just got to have a flat surface, that's all."

'Skin and bones'

Mrs. Schwartz took in her first emaciated horse in 1989. She rescued it from a farm where she was boarding her own horses.

"He was down to nothing but skin and bones and had parasite infestation and lots of chronic problems," she says. "The vet came out and said he probably wouldn't last a week."

That first week, she says, the horse collapsed nine times because it lacked the strength to hold itself up. But she nursed it back to health -- it took about a year -- and it eventually became one of the most popular riding horses among the children.

"It gave us such a good feeling when he came back that we decided this is what we wanted to do," Mrs. Schwartz says.

Her husband, Allan, owns an appliance store in Washington. He helps on the farm when he can. As Mrs. Schwartz found more neglected horses, she consumed much of his income, spent their savings and cashed in insurance policies.

Mrs. Schwartz, who has four children, built her operation from scratch. She accumulated volunteers, sought donations, investigated claims of abuse, educated people about horse care, offered riding lessons and devised rather ingenious programs for enriching the lives of the public as well as the horses.

She instituted a foster-care program in which people can select a horse at the farm for $50 a month, visit it, groom it and love it.

She also came up with an adoption program that provides homes for the horses that regain their health. For a tax-deductible contribution of $100 to $800, depending on the horse, people agree to take one home and care for it for life -- if they meet Mrs. Schwartz's strict guidelines and follow-up checks.

"Yes, I am strict," she says. "The last thing I want is for that horse to return to another abusive environment."

She says the word "neglected" might be better, because most people don't knowingly abuse their horses; they neglect them out of ignorance. But it's a fine line between neglect and abuse, she says.

"It is more widespread than I thought when I got into this," she says. "But when you compare it to the number of horses in all of Maryland, we're not talking about a lot of horses."

She gets about half the horses from people calling her to offer ones they no longer want. The usual refrain is: "He's old, and he's kind of thin."

The other half come from reluctant owners who surrender them under pressure from Mrs. Schwartz, her volunteers, humane societies or animal-control officers.

She got her first racetrack horse just last month, a 2-year-old stallion who broke an ankle bone during a race. His owner, Mrs. Schwartz says, wanted to save him so that he could eventually have a home.

'Very genuine'

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