The Horses’ Haven in Howell welcomes anyone who has ever been moved by the grace and nobility of a horse to volunteer their time to help the non-profit agency carry out their mission. Providing humane care for aged, abused, unwanted, rescued and neglected horses, ponies, donkeys and other large animals is the agency’s priority. This includes horses with owners who can no longer afford to keep them.
Founded in 1995 by Barbara Baker, Horses’ Haven depends solely on the generosity of its volunteers and supporters who share the same love and compassion for animals as do the people on the agency’s board of directors.
“Helping these animals gives you the utmost sense of gratification and purpose. We give them their voices and they give many people new direction, training and leadership skills,” said Diane Norman, intake coordinator, board member, and member of the inspection committee at Horses’ Haven.
Some of the horses are animal control seizures throughout various counties in the state of Michigan.
“A larger portion of them are owner surrenders for various reasons,” said Norman. “People usually run into financial problems, health problems, or something happens to the horse – they develop a medical or physical problem, or sometimes develop behavioral issues – and sometimes people move and can’t afford to take them.”
Horses’ Haven sees a lot of “off-the-track thoroughbreds” or OTTB’s that are discarded, similar to dogs that are no longer suitable for breeding.
“If they reach a certain age in their racing career, as young as 7, they are considered washed up and people get rid of them,” said Norman. But many horses can live well into their 30’s. A couple ponies, she said, have lived at Horses’ Haven until the age of 42.
There are about 68 horses, ponies and donkeys on the agency’s 21-acre farm where a maximum of 70 large animals can be taken in.
Nearing capacity, Norman stressed the need for more volunteers who are willing to commit to four and five hour shifts.
“They are going to get dirty when doing this work – going out to pastures to feed hay, dumping water in and cleaning troughs, administering medications and supplements based on the horse’s needs, exercising them, taking temperatures, monitoring respiration, eating and bathroom habits, and taking care of their hooves,” she said, adding that “It’s okay to not know how.”
And while more experienced volunteers are available to provide guidance, she said, “Volunteers are never obligated to work with a horse they are not comfortable with.”
Norman notes that some of their volunteers are women who are survivors of trauma from physical or substance abuse, for example.
“It’s very interesting. These women find something in these horses that gives them purpose and meaning. They connect with these horses and form a bond much like you would a dog or a cat,” she said. “Some of these horses themselves have been traumatized. Learning their body language, their way of communicating and developing their trust is special.”
Horses’ Haven has become a sanctuary for a majority of the horses that are under constant veterinary care in combination with massage, chiropractic treatments, and energy-based therapies to release their trauma.
“Some horses will never leave. There is a small population that come in to be rehabilitated and rehomed,” said Norman. More than 25 horses were adopted in 2016.
Although the number one request from adopters is a trail-riding horse, Norman said, “We are not a riding facility. Some of these horses have medical and care needs and can only be adopted out as a good companion pet. They just can’t be ridden. Their special needs require costly care and a home with a great level of horse expertise.”
Because the agency follows up annually on the care of the animal throughout its lifetime, Horses’ Haven generally adopts animals to homes that are 400 miles or fewer from the Howell area.
“We will do our best to learn the needs of the person adopting the horse, and what their skills are to pair them with the right horse,” said Norman, referring interested members of the community to adoption coordinator Kristine Dvonch.
Horses’ Haven adoption fees are much lower than the market value of the horse because the home is of the utmost importance. Expect the adoption fee to range between $200-750 based on factors such as the animal’s age and the level of training completed.
If adoption is not an option, volunteering is not the only way to offer support to Horses’ Haven. The agency has posted a wish list for specific donations on its website. A horse, pony, donkey, or other animal friend can also be sponsored for a minimum of $20 per month, which allows sponsors to visit their animal once a month on Sponsor Day to spend time with and even groom their animal.
“This part of our program eases the financial burden and allows us to properly care for the animals who are unable to enjoy a home of their own,” said Norman. “And it’s a great way to put your arms around an animal that really needs you.”
Visit with representatives from Horses’ Haven at the Michigan Horse Expo March 10-12 at the Michigan State University Pavilion, 4301 Farm Lane, East Lansing.