Dwight Jones and Jacquelyn Hill were watching an evening news program in January when the story of three frail ponies starving in an East Baltimore stable caught their eye.
"It just aggravated me that [Animal Control] would let this go on," Ms. Hill said about Baltimore City's response to complaints about the animal's safety. "If we had known about them, we would have gone and gotten them."
Now, the two Laurel residents have taken steps to protect other horses against neglect or abuse. On March 21, they opened Hidden Stables Equine Rescue on the 80-acre farm they rent from the Rouse Co. off Gorman Road.
The effort brings to three the number of horse rescue operations in Howard County, including one in Elkridge, north of their farm, and one in West Friendship, to the northwest. The Laurel rescue center has three horses, all of which were brought in before the center officially opened last week.
"You feel like you're doing something worthwhile -- taking care of God's creatures," Mr. Jones said.
A lifelong horseman, Mr. Jones said that many horse owners fail to provide the proper care for their animals.
For example, a horse owner should provide a quarter to a half of a bale of hay for each horse every day, have 1 1/2 to 2 acres of land for each horse and provide regular grooming.
If people are unable to do that, he said, they should take their horse to a boarding farm, where prices start at $160 for basic care and as much as $400 for full care.
"A lot of people think they can get a horse and put it in their back yard, and that's not the case," Mr. Jones said.
A Savage native, Mr. Jones had a horse when he was a child. The animal was kept for him on a boarding farm.
Four years ago, he started working part time on the farm in Laurel, taking care of horses.
Ms. Hill, who has known Mr. Jones since they were children, joined him on the farm about two years ago, and they now run the rescue operation together.
Mr. Jones and Ms. Hill rely on humane societies in Howard, Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties to identify horses that need rescuing. But they say they will travel "anywhere" to save a horse.
After picking up the horse and bringing it back to the farm, Mr. Jones and Ms. Hill may turn it over to would-be owners who are able to prove that the animal will be kept in stables that meet the rescue center's standards.
"You don't realize the abuse that goes on with horses," Ms. Hill said. "What we want to do is get them healthy and give them a home."
Since Mr. Jones moved to the farm four years ago, he has used it to house his three horses and about a dozen boarding horses for clients. He also has taken in the occasional horse that was either abused, neglected or slated for those the rescue center operators call "the killers" -- livestock merchants who pay 50 cents to 75 cents a pound to kill and cut up horses for dog food or other purposes.
Among the rescued horses at the farm is Casper, a full Welsh pony that is about 30 years old, who was starved for grain and hay.Casper, who formerly lived in a field with 10 horses, didn't get much food during the winter, suffered pneumonia and scratches all over his legs, and was 450 pounds underweight.
Another rescued horse is Pretty Polly, a 13-year-old Morgan/Quarterhorse whose previous owner acquired her from the Laurel Race Track and was ready to sell her to livestock buyers for $50.
A third is Tony, a 4-year-old Appaloosa whose 84-year-old owner died and left him without care.
Volunteers have donated hay and other supplies to help the rescue center. Others, such as Bill Romjue, a Laurel blacksmith, offer their time to help care for the horses. Mr. Runjue, for example, trims the horses' hoofs and puts shoes on their feet.
"I love animals, that's the only reason I do it," Mr. Romjue said.
More information on the Hidden Stables Equine Rescue is available by calling 301-490-3558.