Local Horse Rescue Needs More Regular Volunteers as Winter Encroaches!

By Sylvia Benavidez
Contributing Writer

Albion-

Imagine having 50 to 60 hungry mouths to feed that on average weigh anywhere from 800 to over 2,000 pounds and all wanting to eat at once. Robin Walters and her husband Randy, who own and operate the non-profit Hoof & Heart, face this challenge on a daily basis. Their horse rescue is located on 2932 Eaton Rapid Road, Albion, Michigan just North of I 94. Hoof & Heart is an equine rescue and their intake can consist of all types of horses, mules, donkeys, and miniature horses. Their mission is to rescue, rehabilitate, and rehome unwanted and slaughter-bound horses.

Usually, the owners have open houses on Sundays beginning at 1 PM for the public to discover what offering sanctuary means to horses. For the months of September and October; however, Walters explains that they are having project days to prepare for winter. Every week volunteers will focus on different needs on the grounds. Tasks include: mending fences, cutting lumbers, painting, watering the animals, feeding, grooming, raking, etc. One very important project will be to build four emergency stalls in the new shed so that if there is a problem with a horse who needs care, an older horse won’t be displaced. Volunteers who are carpenters or know how to build or who can donate lumber are especially encouraged to help winterize the stalls.

The need is urgent not only because the snow and ice are coming, but also because of the number of animals under their care.  Says, Walters, “Now I am basically full. I am an attorney by trade. My whole salary goes to this. We live on my husband’s salary, which also goes to this in a certain part. The ownership and upkeep of the property is a donation by the couple. According to Walters just paying for feed, veterinarian services, and farrier costs can easily go over $110, 000 a year, so their operation depends on volunteers for assistance in caring for the animals. She also credits the support of the organization’s volunteers for making the lives of the horses comfortable and healthy.

Although Hoof & Heart’s volunteer list roughly consists of 60 people, there are about ten volunteers that come in regularly to help care for the equine family. Walters and her husband appreciate the current help, and still, they need at least five more committed volunteers. Walters explains what her operation can handle by saying, “I know what my limit is. I cannot go over 60 and responsibly care for them, and I really like to be under 50 to make it a little easier to care for them.” When the rescue is full, Walters explains that herd management is of consistent concern because horses that don’t get along well can hurt each other. The standard, Walters shares, is that if you have 50 to 60 horses you need to have anywhere from 40 to 60 regular volunteers. At present, they don’t have that amount, and they recently acquired more special needs horses. Walters now has six blind horses on-site that need someone to talk to them, so they know where the food is and can feel that they are safe while eating.

Volunteering on project days offers the public an opportunity to see if they want to become a regular volunteer. Hoof & Heart offers all their training for free and is appreciative of anyone with expertise in horses. But if all a person can do is volunteer occasionally that offer certainly won’t be turned away. Local, regular support is vital for the health of the organization and the equines. Coming out for events at the rescue gives everyone a chance to meet other horse lovers and helps everybody volunteering to become better at managing horses. In addition to the project days on Saturdays, other events coming up in October include volunteer appreciation day and trunk or treat the Sunday before Halloween.

Current volunteers include students from Albion College and Spring Arbor University. Some people have come from as far away as Iowa to work the weekend. Two local, regular volunteers at Hoof & Heart have different reasons for giving of their time.  Kandra Bramble from the Springport area shares, “I love the horses. I think they get the bad end of the deal; especially, these racehorses that make these owners so much money and in the end it’s all about dumping them. We’ve made enough money, but we’re not going to give you the life you deserve.” Dale Bruckner who lives within the Albion city limits and Clarence Township volunteers regularly. After five years of working with the horses, Bruckner has gained a feel of their personalities, needs, and physical limitations. And, he understands physical limitations in a personal way. Bruckner is disabled with multiple sclerosis and volunteering at Hoof & Heart is his way of giving back. The disease limits his movements, but he has good and bad days. As his disease progresses, he rarely gets visitors. Said Bruckner, “I love the mares. I will go out in the woods and sit with them.” Bruckner reports that they encircle him and nudge him lovingly during his visit.

According to an ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) 2016 article on their website by President and CEO Matt Bershadkur, the year 2015 saw 125,000 American horses shipped to Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered for human consumption. And that is a top reason which drives Walters to maintain the three year old non-profit. Being raised on a cattle farm, she knows what takes place when slaughtering an animal and in her opinion, they are not cruelty-free. Then, later in her life, the unthinkable happened. “My sister trained professionally, and she passed away after a short battle with cancer, and many of her horses went to auction. After she was gone, I tried to find some of those and really became aware of the high proportion of more than 75 percent and up being exported for slaughter. So we work really hard to keep the horses out of the auction house and the slaughter pipeline.”
Walters finds value and joy in older horses and hopes to share that with others at Hoof & Heart. And she certainly has accomplished that with one of her long-time volunteers: Dale Bruckner. As shared earlier, he has his challenges, but Bruckner says, “I can feel so bad and come out here, and walk away feeling like I never had a problem in the world.”
To volunteer this weekend, please arrive at noon or text 517-304-0837 with your questions. Texting is the best way to reach Robin Walters about volunteering anytime as she has a full-time job as a lawyer during the day and can not answer the phone.
All pictures by Sylvia Benavidez
Photos and story copyright, The Recorder