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Yass rescue shelter Heavy Horse Heaven at capacity as drought takes its toll

Elise Fantin, Thursday November 14, 2019 - 10:15 EDT
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Karen Hood with Diesel, a horse taken in by her rescue organisation. - ABC

Eight years ago, Karen Hood's dream came true.

To her delight, she became the owner of a Clydesdale — one of the most beloved breeds of horse.

But her contentment didn't last long; she wanted to do something more.

"There was extra room in the paddock for another one to keep her company so I thought I'd take on a rescue," Ms Hood said.

"I couldn't find anywhere that actually rescued big horses so I mentioned that to a girlfriend and she said 'Well, start one'.

"I thought, 'You're crazy' — but here we are eight years later."

Ms Hood went on to establish the rescue organisation Heavy Horse Heaven, based in Yass, just outside Canberra.

"We take in horses that need help, from backgrounds [where] they can no longer be kept at the family home, right through to slaughter-bound horses, abused, neglected, abandoned horses — we're getting quite a few in of those," she explained.

But with 16 horses on site and a further eight out in foster care, the organisation has already reached capacity.

Rescue shelter forced to turn away horses

As drought conditions and high hay prices add further strain to those living on the land, the organisation has been getting calls to rescue horses from around the country.

"We've taken horses in from South Australia, northern NSW, Victoria and we do the whole east coast and south coast," Ms Hood said.

"But we've been turning away horses quite a lot lately, it's so sad."

They are developing a horse welfare education program to help minimise the neglect and poor treatment of horses upfront.

"That's our next step, to put a program together just to teach people the basics of horse welfare," Ms Hood said.

It would benefit horses like Diesel, who came to Heavy Horse Heaven a year ago and could not walk properly.

He was assessed by a vet, put on a tailored diet program and coaxed back to optimum condition.

"We have some really bad days where it's just gut wrenching and it's really hard to deal with, but then we see the success stories and it's really fantastic," Ms Hood said.

"That's what it's all about."

Donations and volunteers keep things afloat

Heavy Horse Heaven relies on donations to keep going, and will be fundraising in the coming weeks to cope with the increase in demand.

"The price of feed has gone through the roof, we don't really have much on the ground, so it's a bit of a struggle all round," Ms Hood said.

Volunteers also help to manage the workload, including grooming, feeding and farm maintenance.

"We're very lucky to have some really good volunteers who lend a lot of elbow grease," Ms Hood said.

Volunteer Karen Dykhoff said she loved the atmosphere at the paddocks and "just being out here, being around the horses, meeting new people, the scenery".

Mary Beneforti is another regular volunteer.

"It's awful to know horses are mistreated," she said.

"It's just beautiful to see them come good again and to know that they've got a good life here."

Despite the toll caring for the horses takes, Ms Hood is quick to point out the affection they give her in return.

"I went through tough times myself a few years ago and they helped me through that — I'm not quite sure where I'd be without them," she said.

"They give back just as much as we give them. They're pretty special."


© ABC 2019

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