Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Saving the lives of unwanted horses

Published in the Current, the American Journal, and the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly

Cassie Fernald of Standish was on a mission. In January, she was calling farms and businesses around Maine, trying to find a place to house two dozen horses for a few hours.

She had no luck – people didn’t have the space, the time or the desire to help – until she called Hauns Bassett at Camp Ketcha in Scarborough. Bassett, the camp’s new program director, heard Fernald describe the plight of these horses and said he’d help. Fernald burst into tears, and Bassett “very nearly did too,” he said.

The horses were coming from Alberta, Canada, where they had been on a large farm, raised to supply estrogen to the pharmaceutical industry. Drug companies need estrogen to make hormone supplements for menopausal women. One way they get estrogen is from the urine of pregnant mares.

Fernald is part of FoalQuest, a group originally set up to help handle the “by-product” of the mares’ pregnancy – foals. The group links adopters from the U.S. and Canada with farmers who want to get rid of their foals.

Without the group’s help, many of the foals would be slaughtered, Fernald said.

The group has taken on a new mission in recent months. A medical study late last year called into question the safety of one of the drugs made with pregnant mares’ urine (PMU). As a result, demand for the urine has dropped, causing most of the farms to close or drastically reduce their stock.

The horses Fernald was hoping to unload were mostly pregnant mares, which would be adopted largely by people in Maine. Some horses in the shipment were adopted by folks from Connecticut and New York.

Bassett agreed to donate the use of one of the camp’s corrals, and to coordinate having hay and water on the site when the horses arrived.

The horses arrived Tuesday morning, after a 3,400-mile trip from Canada. People were there to greet them, and horse trailers streamed down Black Point Road for much of the morning, as adopters arrived at Camp Ketcha, picked up their horses and left.

Outside the corral, one spectator, whose friend is adopting a horse, said the gathering was like a meeting of “horse-aholics anonymous.”

“It’s such a relief to see them here,” Fernald said.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a couple of months now,” said Joyce Carney of Rochester, N.H. It’s her first mare from the PMU program, though she has adopted foals in the past.

The mare will be the 11th horse on the family farm, and when she foals in May or June, there will be 12. “I would like to fox-hunt her,” Carney said.

The group may have another shipment in coming months and is asking adopters to visit the Web site to look at available horses.