The rescuers found 41 horses and ponies standing 3 feet deep in mud and manure, not a blade of grass in sight. The undernourished animals were infested with lice and worms, and some were suffering from pneumonia and heaves, or horse asthma.
"The condition of the horses told us more than anyone could say," Ellie Powers said.
Powers runs HorseNet, a horse rescue organization, from her home in Eldersburg. Mostly, she serves as something of an unpaid broker, putting people who want to buy a horse in contact with those seeking a good home for their horse. But too often, Powers said, she's called on cases like a recent one in New York.
After a riding stable in Catskill, N.Y., declared bankruptcy and closed, the owners of the complex needed to sell their horses to pay debts. The quickest way was selling them for slaughter.
Instead, Susan Wagner, founding president of the New York-based Equine Advocates Inc., began working the phones, searching for homes for the animals. "Ellie was one of the first people I called," Wagner said.
Thanks to Powers and HorseNet, 27 horses were placed with new owners who would be able to care for them. People paid $300 to $500 each for the animals. The fate of the 14 other horses wasn't known.
"People just came forward because they wanted to help. They didn't want to see these horses go to slaughter," Wagner said.
One woman drove more than 400 miles to pick up an ailing pony, she said.
The rescuers arrived at the stable to claim the horses only hours before the animals were to be loaded into a double-decked trailer on its way to a slaughterhouse.
In fact, it was a New York law forbidding the transport of horses in double-decked trailers that bought the rescuers enough time to save them. Local police threatened the slaughterhouse buyers with arrest if one horse was loaded on the trailer, Powers said.
Such buyers travel to horse auctions, purchasing animals for slaughter. The horse meat is shipped to Europe and Japan, where it is considered a delicacy, Wagner said.
Ten of the 27 rescued horses were sent to Maryland farms. Others were placed in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Canada.
"Ellie is a very good networker. We networked together and placed a lot of the horses through her contacts," Wagner said.
Horses come to Powers from many different places and situations. Some are no longer wanted by their owners because they are blind or have other physical problems. Others have been seized by animal control or have no home when their owner dies.
Powers is working now to find a home for a former Baltimore Police Department horse. After the horse was no longer able to patrol the city, the department donated the animal to HorseNet.
Denver, one of the animals rescued in New York, came to Maryland with Powers. He gained 100 pounds after being under Power's care for a week and a half.
"He's very happy to be with people that aren't abusing him," Powers said as she stroked the horse's mane.
Powers also takes care of Nifty, an Arabian that once sold for $20,000. The animal came to HorseNet after a divorced man said his former wife had neglected his horses.
Powers boards her daughter Sandy Hartman's cow, Norman, and their five horses at a nearby farm on Bennett Road in Eldersburg. Horses that are awaiting placement are often boarded there as well.
Powers says she is attempting to obtain nonprofit status for HorseNet so the organization can accept donations. In the meantime, she pays to board and care for rescued animals.
"If I can put a horse in a better situation, then I'm going to do it," Powers said. "We're very passionate about what we do."
Pub Date: 5/06/97