Just because a horse can't be ridden doesn't mean it isn't adoptable, according to the SPCA for Monterey County.
The SPCA has 32 horses on its hands, surrendered by owners or seized after animal neglect or cruelty investigations, said Stephanie Nicora, senior barn technician at the SPCA shelter across Monterey-Salinas Highway from Laguna Seca Recreation Area.
The herd ranges in age from a 2-month-old filly born at the shelter to a 23-year-old thoroughbred mare named Brooklyn.
"We have three off-the-track thoroughbreds right now," Nicora said, including Persephone, who ran 12 races under the name Time Passages until her career was ended by a bowed tendon.
Many horses come in emaciated, starved, suffering from a variety of illnesses or crippled because of abuse, neglect or ignorance. Some recover and are sound and healthy, she said. Others don't fare as well.
Most horses in recent years were rescues from abuse, Nicora said, but in the past year, owners have been surrendering them because they can no longer afford to keep their animals. In addition to the ongoing economic recession, the lack of rain has dried up pasture grass and driven up the price of hay.
Horses that are rideable are easy to adopt out, she said, but "companion horses" that can't be ridden because of lameness or temperament shouldn't be overlooked or dismissed as "pasture ornaments."
"Horses serve all sorts of different purposes," she said. "Even if you can't ride them, it doesn't
In addition to being company for people, an unrideable horse can be company for a rideable pasture companion, Nicora said. Horses are herd animals and need company, preferably that of other horses.
Terry Ritenour of Corral de Tierra found herself adopting a companion horse almost by accident 18 months ago from the SPCA shelter.
She was loading her adopted quarterhorse mare Aspen in the trailer when Aspen's pasture buddy, another quarterhorse mare named Cloud, began whinnying anxiously.
"She kept calling for her," Ritenour recalled. "I said, 'OK, just put her in.'"
Cloud was an older mare, and lame.
"I knew she would not be adopted and I couldn't stand it, so I brought her home too," Ritenour said.
Aspen and Cloud had been in the same pasture when they were rescued by the SPCA.
"They were both skin and bones," Ritenour said. "Both are doing really well."
Ritenour said she is due to undergo surgery and hopes to get back into riding with Aspen when she recovers.
"Aspen's so wonderful, so huggy. She snuggles right up to you," Ritenour said. Joe Dean and his wife owned two goats on their Prunedale property and when one of them died in 2010 the other "was heartbroken," he said.
The Deans went to the SPCA with the idea of adopting another goat to keep theirs company, but none were available.
Instead, they adopted India, a 24-year-old mare rescued from South County, who was crippled in her hips and couldn't be ridden. India had been in the shelter for two years.
"No one wanted to adopt her," he said. "She was old, blind in one eye and unrideable. We got her as a companion for the goat and they get along great. They sleep together, hang out together. India is such a nice, mellow horse that my 4- and 6-year-old granddaughters will go into the corral with her with no fear at all."
The horse shelter program is supported entirely by donors, Nicora said.
The shelter charges a $400 release fee to owners who bring in their horses, "but we don't always get it," she said. Adoption fees are $600 and up, depending on the horse.
All horses are vetted, treated for diseases or conditions, and vaccinated. Those certified as rideable have undergone training and been ridden by SPCA staff.
The shelter maintains eight open paddocks and five barn stalls for horses undergoing treatment, Nicora said, and the rest graze in a 218-acre pasture or go to Prunedale for training. There is no time limit for horses at the shelter, she said, and they are only euthanized for medical conditions if there is no other recourse.
Last fiscal year, the shelter spent $371,534 for all its barn animals, most of it for the horses, said Beth Brookhouser, director of community outreach for the SPCA.
"In addition, many of our horses come to us through humane investigations cases," she said. "Our humane officers spent an additional $75,400 for veterinary care, feed and farrier services while the horses were still in protective custody last fiscal year."
Kevin Howe can be reached at 646-4416 or firstname.lastname@example.org.