Some of you may remember the horrifying footage of the ‘Bulla horse rescue‘ that made Australian headlines back in 2016: skeletal horses standing spiritlessly in barren yards, receiving emergency veterinary care, and being loaded onto trucks bound for Horse Shepherd Equine Sanctuary. The 20 surviving Bulla horses have lived out their lives in well-deserved peace ever since thanks to the efforts of Anne Young, Belinda Goyarts and a dedicated group of carers and adoptive families.
At any given time, over 100 horses and ponies call Horse Shepherd Equine Sanctuary home, not to mention various dogs, cats, goats, donkeys, sheep, cows, chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, alpacas, llamas, and even peacocks! We can’t imagine caring for that many animals, let alone having a constant stream of horses needing hefty amounts of TLC and preparing as many as possible to find their forever home.
So let’s hear how it’s done, straight from the horse’s mouth!
In a nutshell, what is Horse Shepherd’s mission?
Horse Shepherd Equine Sanctuary (HSES) is a specialist rescue and rehabilitation centre for all equines located in the rolling green hills of Gordon, Western Victoria, at Horse Shepherd Park. We believe that it isn’t always enough to just ‘rescue’ a horse: rather, we strive to restore both physical and mental health. We prioritise horses and ponies that need help with human hardship elements in the background – for example, illness of owners. We have a number of horses permanently ‘retired’ to the sanctuary for various reasons that we believe make them unsuitable for rehoming, but the vast majority of our horses are, or will be, available for adoption.
We strongly advocate the benefits of adoption from the sanctuary, including ongoing support and the option to return the horse if circumstances change.
What was the moment that made you decide to create Horse Shepherd?
Along with Belinda Goyarts, we operated a Facebook page called Horses At Auction Preview, where we photographed all the horses available at the Echuca Saleyards and then attended on sale day to purchase for buyers unable to attend. Over 900 horses, ponies and donkeys found homes through HAAP and the many volunteers that helped. However, there were often beaten up, hurt or old horses that would break your heart – so in the beginning, we developed Horse Shepherd Equine Sanctuary to help these horses. Belinda remains an integral part of HSES today.
Tell us about the first horse you rescued.
HSES Joey (pictured above and below) was a malnourished Standardbred – he had raced just months earlier as Deanoman. Joey had been hurt during transport to the saleyards. He was hurt, angry and confused, flying at people over his pen. Unfortunately for Joey, he was going to be withdrawn from the sale and sent straight to the knackery. With discussion between the auction team and his owner, he was purchased by a dog rescue group with minimal horse experience. While that should have been the start of rehabilitation for Joey, we were called six weeks later to see if we would take him, as he was aggressive around feeding and they weren’t managing him. So finally Joey arrived at HSES, still in the same malnourished condition. We started him on his road to recovery, and once he was gaining weight and recovering he spent time in foster care, but he got too bossy for the foster carer’s older horses and came back to the Sanctuary to continue his rehabilitation. We needed to get on top of his food aggression – not unusual in malnourished horses – especially to give him a chance of being rehomed. So we paddocked him with small ponies, who he adored and even shared his food with over time! Small ponies don’t worry about their size and while confident, they don’t seem to threaten horses in the same way that another horse of similar size does. HSES Joey now has a wonderful home with long-time supporter Lyndsey.
What’s the biggest lesson that your rescue animals have taught you?
Forgiveness – it brings you peace.
What does a typical day at Horse Shepherd look like?
It starts with mixing hard feeds for all the oldies (on any day this ranges from 28 to 40 feeds) as well as feeds for the various other characters that call the Sanctuary home: goats, sheep, pigs, cats, dogs and various birds. Horse Shepherd Equine Sanctuary is fortunate to be based at Horse Shepherd Park and the team are responsible as part of their duties to care for the Sanctuary horses. In essence, this means that the charity does not have to fund wages or agistment costs – we are fortunate to be in this position. In the coming weeks, an equine treadmill and equine spa will be installed at Horse Shepherd Park, both funded by a Victorian Government grant. We are so excited! Our proposal was for the equipment to be operated by Horse Shepherd Park for the usage of both the Sanctuary horses (the spa in particular will be super for laminitic ponies) and external clients, with all profits to go towards the Sanctuary feed bills.
Tell us one of your favourite rags-to-riches success stories.
Seth was part of the largest RSPCA seizure ever, here in Victoria six years ago. Over 100 horses, mares, stallions and colts (pictured above) were seized, along with nearly 100 cats. Fortunately, we only took on the horses – initially, all of them came to Horse Shepherd Park, other than those in the RSPCA hospital. The horses in the RSPCA’s care soon followed, including the remaining stallions. The majority of the herd were unhandled and had all been running together, so you can imagine the effort involved in gelding, fixing their teeth, scanning the mares for foals, etc. Seth was born here in the months afterward to a Thoroughbred mare, HSES TeeCee, who remains retired at the Sanctuary. When he was old enough, he was green broken here, and since then Sophie, Seth’s lovely little rider, has done all the work to train him up. They are now out competing, flying the flag for rescue horses.
A decade from now, what do you hope life will look like for Horse Shepherd – and more broadly, for domesticated animals in Australia?
Our wish is that there will be way more common sense applied to the amount of animals being bred that end up unwanted. We love the Netherland’s model, CNVR: Collect, Neuter, Vaccinate and Return, a nationwide government funded sterilisation program. We often get requests to help unhandled stallions that have been left or unmanaged herds inbreeding.
Further, the Netherlands set up an animal police force monitoring crimes against animals including rescue animals in trouble. There is a government-led belief that there is a strong correlation between how society treats their animals and their people, supported by a strong link between violence against animals and violence against humans. Our own experience with the sad Bulla horse rescue highlighted this. Several of these horses carry the trauma of the cruelty inflicted – beyond the starvation – to this day.
How can readers get involved with Horse Shepherd and support the incredible work you’re doing?
Of course donations help us continue our work, but equally important is sharing our work, liking our posts, words of encouragement and considering a horse or pony from Horse Shepherd for your best friend.