Happy trails

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Bonnie was lucky to be alive. The caramel-colored draft pony with scraggly blond bangs arrived at Circle P Sanctuary hobbled, bony, blind in one eye and without an owner who could afford to help her. She recovered quickly and now resides at the nonprofit horse rescue - it's an option many unwanted horses don't have.

"You could have a rescue every five miles apart and it still wouldn't be enough," said Lynne Petitti, founder of Circle P Sanctuary.

Petitti's shelter, like many others, is running at brimming capacity. The rising cost of owning a horse, overbreeding and the U.S. ban on horse slaughter, enacted last year, are contributing to an abundance of undesired horses.

Just a few years ago, Petitti and her husband Phillip never imagined parenting displaced horses. The city-dwellers knew little about caring for horses then, but they jumped at the chance to save two horses from slaughter in 2003. The spirit became contagious.

"This is something I pictured [doing] as a little girl, not a retirement plan," she said.

Using their retirement nest egg, the couple moved to the 95-acre Marengo farm to start the shelter. The Petittis removed the farm's cattle facilities, constructed horse-friendly aluminum-sided barns and put in two miles of fencing for pastures. The project cost several hundred thousand dollars.

"We didn't know how much work had to be done 'til we got into it," Petitti said.

From the winding country road nearby, herds can be seen galloping in the fields or simply lying down together - an unusually relaxed spectacle for horses. Circle P Sanctuary is now home to nearly 20 horses; many of them will come up for adoption, but a few special-needs horses will spend their 30- to 40-year life expectancy there.

The long-term, high-cost commitment of keeping a horse often results in neglect or abandonment when owners no longer have the time or money to care for them.

"I've had six horses this year from owners that just drove to another town and let them go," said Victoria Goss, founder of Last Chance Corral in Athens. Her 2.7-acre rescue was one of the first in the country and saves several hundred horses each year. She's seen a rise in horse rescues in the past 10 years, but said it's still not enough.

Unlike some shelters, Circle P Sanctuary has plenty of room for expansion, but like others, they rely on donations to make that possible. Taking care of the shelter's current horses is already an all-day, every-day feat for the Petittis and Bridget Whetnall, the farm's young equine specialist, who all live on the property.

"It's like running a day care here. Chester is the bully, Sally will throw tantrums," Whetnall said.

Working with these mighty creatures is dangerous, and both Petittis have suffered serious injuries in the past. Horses coming from backgrounds of neglect - like Captain, the farm's creamy draft horse that had open wounds and a bulging rib cage - require special time and care to readjust.

For caretakers intertwined in the animals' new lives, though, the reward is seeing once-battered equines return to being happy as a horse.