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Horse troubles

El Dorado Hills equestrian rescue group seeks help
By: Bridget Jones, The Telegraph
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Tough economic times are not only hurting people, but horses too. Local stables, boarding facilities, and feed and tackle shops are seeing an increased number of El Dorado County residents having to sell or give away the horses they can no longer afford. The Grace Foundation of Northern California, an El Dorado Hills non-profit livestock rescue organization that also offers horse-riding lessons and interactive programs for community children, is taking in more horses than ever before. “The business of people looking to place their horses has more than tripled,” said Beth DeCaprio, chief executive officer of the Grace Foundation. “We used to get a couple calls a week – we’re now up to 30 calls a week from people wanting to place their horses.” The organization is also experiencing something new – the abandonment of horses. “Before we had never seen the abandonment of horses,” DeCaprio said. “It’s kind of one of those things we never really gave a lot of thought to.” Recently the organization has rescued about 18-20 horses that were left in area fields, DeCaprio said. Bill Granados, owner of B and B for Horses in Placerville, said because of the rise in feed prices, he’s had to raise his boarding rates. As a result, he’s lost some of his customers and has seen many people struggle to keep their horses. “Last year because there were a couple (customers) who either got laid off or, to keep their jobs, got transferred, they had to sell their horses or figure out some financial resources to help them move with their horses,” he said. Granados said if owners can’t sell their horses, they usually try to find shelters for them. However, if owners don’t like how shelters are run, they might end up keeping their horses and making other sacrifices to ensure they can still pay for them. Jackie Ellsworth, manager of Lee’s Feed and Western Store in Shingle Springs, said customers are now only buying the bare essentials for their horses. “They’re cutting back on all their extras,” Ellsworth said. “A lot of horses they’re not giving supplements to now. They’re just buying the necessities, which is pretty much food.” DeCaprio said there are several major issues horse owners are currently facing including the cost of feed, which has doubled. Owners pay more than $100 a month to feed one horse on their own land. “The cost of feed is your biggest one,” she said. “That’s the one that’s killing everybody.” Another huge issue is when people lose their houses and the land they kept their horses on, and then can’t afford boarding rates, DeCaprio said. Horse slaughter is illegal in California, but DeCaprio said this doesn’t stop many unwanted or abandoned horses from being purchased at auctions and shipped to Canada or Mexico to be destroyed. “The whole process is so inhumane,” she said. The Grace Foundation has seen several cases of owners who loved their horses, but simply couldn’t afford to take care of them, DeCaprio said. About two weeks ago the foundation, which often works with animal control, seized a horse from a woman who couldn’t pay the veterinary bills for her horse’s eye infection. “She couldn’t afford an extra $500 in vet bills,” DeCaprio said. “It’s gut wrenching for the animals, and it’s gut wrenching for the people.” In an attempt to provide assistance to owners and prevent malnourished and abandoned horses, DeCaprio and the Grace Foundation began the Horse Emergency Response Operation, or HERO, project. “We go into communities and offer services (to owners),” DeCaprio said. “If someone can’t afford their veterinary costs and if they make a certain amount of money, we help them.” On top of providing on-site medical care through the foundation’s staff veterinarian and food vouchers in order to prevent neglect, the HERO project offers shelter for horses in need at the Grace Foundation ranch and a chance for horses to be placed with qualified adopters. The project also provides educational outreach programs to owners on how to better care for their horses. DeCaprio said one topic the project focuses on in their educational programs is gelding, or neutering, because this will help ensure that the already-booming horse population does not get any larger. The current horse crisis is taking place all over the United States, and the Grace Foundation is hoping to eventually take the HERO project to a national level to provide assistance, medical aid and education to all horses and owners. “Our HERO project, we’re pretty excited about it,” DeCaprio said. “Our hope is not only that we’re helping people currently, but we’re looking at it as … kind of trial and error, so this HERO plan can be taken to different parts of the country and be utilized. Our hope is that we can kind of be a liaison. The HERO project kind of addresses the needs of people and animals and the need of help for both.” The main goal of the HERO project is to be able to keep horses and owners together, DeCaprio said. “If there’s any way to keep them in their homes, that’s the best thing,” she said. DeCaprio said it’s been hard for the foundation to ask for monetary support for the Grace Foundation and its HERO project during a time when many people are struggling financially. “About a month ago we got a whole bunch of cases in at once and the last thing we wanted to do was burden the public,” she said. “The community is also suffering – it’s not an easy time to donate. So, we’ve been doing a $5 (donation) campaign. It’s at a point where if we don’t see more funding, we may have to start turning people away.” The members of the foundation are thrilled with how the community has reacted to this campaign so far, DeCaprio said. “We’ve been very fortunate with the community support,” she said. “People have been very generous. It means so much to know that these people are doing what they can right now … It means a lot because you know everyone’s having to cut back.” Bridget Jones can be reached at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at edhtelegraph.com.