HOLLISTER, Calif. - California's drought and the soaring cost of hay have led to a glut of unwanted horses. Animal advocates say many of those horses are being illegally sent to slaughter in other countries. A rescue group south of Hollister is trying to save as many horses as possible and they are asking for your help.
A 4-month-old colt named Tiko is one of 70 lucky horses now living at the Equine Rescue Center and Sanctuary. Tiko was born just a few weeks after his mother was rescued.
"The mom was headed to the slaughter house. She would've ended up in a France grocery store in shrink wrap," Equine Rescue Center founder Monica Hardeman said.
But instead of being sold as horse meat, the mare ended up at the Equine Rescue Center and gave birth to a beautiful colt. This haven for neglected, abused and abandoned horses started five years ago and just moved to a larger home on 400 acres in San Benito County, south of Hollister.
Right now, the center is taking care of one donkey and about 70 horses. Many of the rescued horses are put up for adoption, but others, who are old or have serious health problems, will spend their golden years at the rescue center. The residents include a 37-year-old beauty named Sonny, who just loves having his back scratched.
Jacie Bradley of Hollister is adopting a blue-eyed horse named Rowdy. She said this is a wonderful place to find a horse because Hardeman knows so much about each animal's needs and temperament. Adoption fees range from $500 to $2000 depending on the horse.
The generous donation needed to buy the new ranch came from Atherton investor Craig Duling.
The horses come from all over. They include Pickets, an abused horse rescued in Modesto and two 4-year-old fillies from Golden Gate Fields in Albany. Hardeman says the horses did not make the cut on the race track, but "would be great horses for showing or jumping or dressage."
A lot of the horses at the center were rescued from auctions, where many end up being sent to other countries to be killed and eaten. That is illegal in the United States, but there is very little enforcement. So healthy, well-trained horses often get sold for next to nothing, then shipped to Mexico and Canada for slaughter.
Hardeman said the biggest reason people give up good horses is the cost. The price of hay has doubled in the last couple of years. "Especially in the Central Valley, people need to feed their families or feed their horse," she said.
Hay is so expensive the rescue center is also struggling. The hay bill is a minimum of $8,000 a month, according to Hardeman. So that does not leave much money to pay the constant veterinary bills.
The center has an urgent need for donations to build shelters to create shade for the horses. There are four wells on the new property. So if the center can raise the money to put in irrigation lines, they can save a lot of cash in the future by growing their own hay.
Hardeman runs the center with help from her boyfriend Gabe Pimentel, along with a string of interns and volunteers. The only pay is a great experience.
"You learn a lot about the horses' nature, how they act among themselves. I had no idea. I felt like I was waking up because I was blind before," former intern Annika Seidler said.
Hardeman started the Equine Rescue Center after her sister was murdered. Horses helped her deal with the pain she felt and now she is giving back to them.
The Equine Rescue Center is a non profit and depends entirely on donations. They can only take in as many horses as they can afford to feed. They have a big fundraiser coming up in Woodside on October 4.
For details about contributing, volunteering or adopting a horse, click here.
Written and produced by Jennifer Olney