Racing to help save horses

Rescue: A mother and daughter in Bel Air nurse unwanted animals back to health and find homes for them.

July 18, 2004|By Artika Rangan | Artika Rangan,SUN STAFF

One glance inside the Taylor house says it all.

From the sign near the front door that reads, "I keep horses, not house," to the four horses trotting in a 6-acre back yard in a rural area of Bel Air near Deer Creek, it's not surprising to learn Nancy and Alyssa Taylor love horses.

But calling them horse lovers would be an understatement. The mother-and-daughter team does something the average animal lover does not: save lives.

The Taylors established the Royal Equine Rescue and Sanctuary Inc. in 2002 to rehabilitate and shelter horses that otherwise would have been sent to the slaughterhouse and sold for meat overseas. The meat, Nancy said, can be worth up to $1,000 per horse.

The Taylors currently care for seven horses, some of which were found at auctions and others that were donated.

Two years ago, when Alyssa was a freshman at Harford Community College, she bought her first horse from an auction. There, she saw hundreds of horses being sold. Many of the horses the Taylors find at the auctions are former racehorses, either too old or too sick to keep at the stables. Once someone buys the horse at the auction, the racetrack earns a percentage of the profit, with the rest going to the auctioneer, Alyssa said.

Nancy believes most racetracks do not seek auctions, but choose them because they are the most convenient alternative. "Most people on the racetrack take care of their horses," she said. "But if they're not winning, and they're just taking up time and space, then the track is losing money."

Since the sanctuary began, the Taylors have found homes for three horses.

"It's something we've always wanted to do, especially after I bought the first horse and found her a home," said Alyssa, 19.

After the animals recover, those interested in owning a horse can fill out an application and pay the adoption fee, which ranges from $800 to $2200, depending on the horse.

Karen Hagerman of Street knew Alyssa before the sanctuary was established. Although she hadn't planned to adopt, she found herself paying $1,000 for Cayenne, a quarter horse, two months ago.

"I went to the Taylors' house, rode her several times, and I just liked her," she said.

Racehorse injuries

Nancy said horses that are not former racehorses, like Cayenne, are often easier to adopt. Many people do not want to buy former racehorses, she explained, because of the expenses they would incur.

"We have the luxury of having our own place," she said, "but some of the horses have injuries. So why would a family pay $100 a month to board it when it would take months before they could ride it?"

Royal Angelica is an injured thoroughbred, former racehorse that was donated to the sanctuary. Alyssa expects the horse to recover within months.

A family donated Angel after Tropical Storm Isabel destroyed their barn.

Although the Taylors enjoy the donations, they often must turn down people because the cost to care for a horse exceeds the sanctuary's budget.

"We're trying to take this slow," Nancy said, "but we can't go bankrupt."

The sanctuary covers the food, shelter and veterinary costs. Nancy estimates the cost to keep one horse is nearly $1,000 per year.

"And that's just routine stuff," she added. "It doesn't include the medical costs if a horse has injuries."

Behavioral changes

But caring for the horses involves more than money.

When the Taylors bought Angie, a former racehorse, they were stunned by her behavior.

"She didn't understand that she could leave her stall. She would just stand there although the gate was wide open," Alyssa said. "After she strolled around one time, she started running and kicking her heels."

Such behavior is typical of racehorses, she said, because they are fed high-sugar, high-grain and high-protein diets.

"They spend 22 hours in a small stable and the remaining two running around the track," Alyssa said. "It's not a normal condition."

Seeing changes in the horses' personalities gives Nancy the greatest satisfaction.

"We start them slow, teach them how to work with us," she said. "But more importantly, we let them roam and experience what it's like to be a horse."

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