Oregon Horse Rescue saves last-chance horses

Alya Hall/For the Capital Press David Kelly, co-founder of Oregon Horse Rescue, and Lea Brayton, program director, pose next to Buttercup, who was neglected and is almost blind.

EUGENE, Ore. — The need was ahead of the plan for David and Jane Kelly when they established Oregon Horse Rescue in 2013. They were in the midst of buying their horse sanctuary when they came across their first case of four neglected horses.

With the property sale not yet completed, the couple bought a truck and horse trailer to pick up the horses, and boarded them at a commercial stable until they officially launched.

“Jane and I have always been animal lovers and cared about the sad fact that in any situation animals are left off to the side,” Kelly said. “We wanted to do something to help them out. We’ve said since we met that we wanted to have a rescue.”

The nonprofit gives a home to horses who are on their last legs. Many of their horses are elderly, blind, disabled or have been abused and neglected. While they also take horses that are surrendered and could be rehabilitated, Their focus is offering a forever home.

“Our priorities for the sanctuary is: Does (the horse) have a good quality of life? Could we offer that?” Lea Brayton, program director, said. “We take horses that would otherwise be put down and there wouldn’t be another option. The horses being rehabbed we don’t seek out, but if offered to us we’ll take them.”

At its highest occupancy, Oregon Horse Rescue will house as many as 60 horses on its 70-acre pasture outside Eugene, Ore. At the moment, to remain sustainable the numbers have gone down to 30.

“The need is there,” Kelly said. “We have so many neglected and abused horses in Lane County and the surrounding areas. We can’t help them all but we can make a start. Since our founding we have helped over 100 horses.”

There have also been around 12 rehabilitated horses that have been adopted to loving homes over the years. Kelly said one of those horses have gone on to competitions and won.

Horses will come to the rescue through surrenders or auctions. Brayton said horses are neglected for a variety of reasons, most of which are economical rather than malice. For her, some of the saddest stories are when a horse’s owners die and the animal is surrendered.

“This was someone’s family member,” she said.

In most cases, the history of the horse isn’t well-documented, and Brayton said it’s the bodies of the horses that tell their stories. “It shows the trauma and abuse, and where there’s been a tough past,” she said. One of her favorite horses is Earl, who has significant scarring on his body.

“He’s very reserved and timid, but we’ve seen him open up over the time he’s been here,” she said.

One of the biggest challenge Oregon Horse Rescue faces is financial. Kelly said the organization has “wonderful donors,” but the reality is majority of the financial support comes from Kelly and his wife.

“It’s not sustainable,” he said.

He said he hopes the addition of Brayton to the team will give the organization more opportunities. Brayton said she wants to upgrade their fundraising and find creative ways to fund the program. She said while grants are an important part of the nonprofit sector, as an equine organization they are at a disadvantage.

“When we think of nonprofit grants, the animal sector only has 10 percent of those grants, and the equine funds are even smaller,” she said. “It’s a very small portion of a large pie.”

Kelly said the need to help horses is more emotional than it is rational.

“But the rational part is that these are magnificent thinking creatures with personality,” he said. “They deserve respect and care. Each horse’s story is different. For the most part, these are all beings that were cared for and cared about. It’s a tragedy through combination of circumstances and evil intent that they’re no longer cared about, and they deserve to be brought back into that loving, caring place.”

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