Campers give horse greener pastures
By SAMANTHA FREDRICKSON
Bucks County Courier Times
If it weren't for a group of Upper Makefield kids, one local horse could be on a plate somewhere in Europe.
Instead, the brown appaloosa mare named Angel is spending her days training to become a therapy horse for people with disabilities.
Six young equestrians and the stable manager from Firecreek Farm in Upper Makefield bought Angel at a horse auction in New Holland, near Lancaster, in June. Firecreek stable manager Francine Gentile said Angel, like many of the horses in the auction, would've been slaughtered and sent to Europe for human consumption.
"At least we saved one," said 12-year-old Ashley Meister, one of the girls who helped rescue Angel.
Gentile runs a horse camp for kids every summer. This year, she said, she wanted to teach the kids they could make a difference. So, after holding fund-raisers and gathering donations, she and some of the girls traveled to the New Holland weekly horse auction to buy Angel for $400.
The six girls, ages 9 to 14, are spending the summer getting Angel ready to donate to Special Equestrians, a Warrington-based nonprofit group that provides horse therapy to individuals with mental and physical disabilities.
That's a much better life than becoming a piece of gourmet meat shipped to Europe, Gentile said.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, 55,000 horses from the United States became food for Europe in 2001. Much of that meat went to France, Belgium, Holland, Japan and Italy.
Slaughtering horses for human consumption is illegal in Pennsylvania, but horses bought here are sent to the country's only horse slaughterhouses in Texas. Most horses sold for slaughter are bought at auctions across the country, according to the Humane Society.
Many horses at the New Holland auction were sick or injured, Gentile said. The group bought Angel because she was one of the healthier- looking horses. But even she was suffering from pneumonia.
"It looked like all the horses at the auction were dying," said 13- year-old Emily Berenstain. "I just couldn't believe how cruel people could be to horses. You'd think they would care, but they just think of them as work objects. It felt good to save one."
Audrey Hartman, 13, also went to the auction.
"It was really scary," she said. "We found hidden horses that were
in really bad condition."
The Firecreek group has been nursing Angel back to health. She
recently stopped receiving antibiotic shots and is getting livelier,
Gentile said. Angel is quarantined at the Berenstain family farm;
once she's no longer susceptible to germs, she'll join the other
Gentile hopes Angel will be ready to be donated to Special
Equestrians by August. The girls spend several hours every afternoon
working with her.
Susy Berg, barn manager at Special Equestrians, said their horses
are used for people with a variety of disabilities, such as cerebral
palsy, muscular dystrophy, autism or paraplegia.
Many riders do exercises on the horse that are similar to those
they'd do in a physical therapist's office. Therefore, the horse
must get used to people switching positions on top of it or
stretching their arms to the horse's ears.
"These horses basically have to ignore that they are a horse," Berg
said. "They have to give up their instincts and get used to having
lots of people around them."
On a recent sunny afternoon, the girls slowly walked Angel in a
circle. They took turns guiding her through the grass. They
practiced mounting her from both sides. They talked loudly and
clanked plastic rings together to get her used to noises. All the
while, the girls and Angel were becoming closer and closer.
"Sometimes, she gets scared because she doesn't know we are trying
to do good," said Emily. "But when she's out in the field, she runs
up to us. I think she's getting attached to us."
Shannon Hinrihan, 14, agreed.
"She's not used to people caring about her," she said.
For Gentile, watching the girls learn from this experience has been
rewarding. She hopes she can rescue another horse.
"It's making such a difference in these kids' lives and in this
animal's life," she said.
Samantha Fredrickson can be reached at 215-269-5081 or