The Old Gray Mare, She Ain't What She Used To Be
For many, horses are best friends and precious possessions. For centuries, they have served the human race in many ways: in war, as transportation, and for field labor, in sport and competition, and as an object of beauty.
Like every other living thing, horses age, starting out as an immature, uneducated creature who might have the potential to become an athletic star, intellectual wonder or a dynamic beauty, as well as having a splendid personality.
Like the tear-jerking story of "Black Beauty," many horses change homes throughout the course of their life. However, as in a marriage, one at least hopes that the decisions have been good ones and that such a relationship will last "'til death do you part." But there are many horses who spend their entire lives with one family. It is believed that these changes are not cruelty to animals but often result in placing the horses in the circumstance most suitable for them to succeed.
The Ranger Foundation is such a place. They are a retirement home for horses that have given years of service to people. The horses come from a variety of working backgrounds. They are police horses, military horses, and therapeutic riding horses among others who are now too old or infirm to continue to perform their jobs and deserve loving care for the remainder of their days.
"Our guiding principle is to provide quality care to horses that have given most of their lives working in service institutions to benefit people. Carrying out this mission provides a wonderful opportunity for educational programs in horsemanship for all those involved."
"The horses are really what it's all about. Knowing that we are saving a few horses from an uncertain future is the best thing about what we do. These horses have worked hard for people and deserve a peaceful end of life home," says Ann Corcoran, owner of The Ranger Foundation.
Ann and Howard Corcoran, owners of Greenbriar Farm in Keedysville, MD, established The Ranger Foundation, named after its first retiree, in 2001. The Valley Forge Military Academy approached the Corcorans and asked if they would take an old military cadet training horse named Ranger. They agreed, and not long after, they were called again. Seeing a need for this type of facility, an idea was born. Since then many horses have followed, and are cared for by a dedicated group of volunteers.
"We greatly admire the work of horse rescues, but ours is a slightly different task. Ranger Horses have been well cared for and loved by the people they worked for. Our responsibility then is to continue that high level of care and attention."
Volunteers, who work on a regular schedule, care for the Ranger horses. Experienced volunteers may arrange other times to help with feeding and chores, as there is always something to do on a busy horse farm. These devoted individuals help feed, fill water troughs, clean stalls, wash feeding buckets, bathe and groom horses. They also assist at vet and farrier visits, up-keep tack, maintain a neat and orderly barn, work on fences, help with special events, and just spend some time with that special horse.
There are twelve volunteers now...more are needed!
If you're interested in volunteering keep in mind that new volunteers must attend an orientation and agree to the Foundation's volunteer requirements and safety rules. On The Ranger Foundation's website (www.rangerhorse.org) interested parties can find out more about the Foundation's mission, read about the horses who have retired there, and learn more about the volunteer schedule on the calendar page. You can also email Ann Corcoran to set up an appointment to get started right away or to attend their next orientation session. No experience is necessary. Just a love of horses and a desire to help is all that is needed. You will work along side seasoned volunteers while you learn the skills of the job.
"There are so many things to learn about horses, there are usually lessons on each scheduled day. Some of the subjects covered are safety, understanding horse behavior, how to halter and lead a horse, grooming, how to use and care for tack, manure management, and horse health. The Ranger volunteers keep up-to-date with horse care and are always looking for something new to learn."
A Few of the Horses
"My number one love is the horses themselves and all their different personalities. I am just amazed at how these older horses thrive with the special senior care they get," says Lynn DiCarlo, secretary and treasurer for The Ranger Foundation.
Currently there are eleven retired horses at the farm.
Admiral is a gray registered quarter horse who was a real cow pony before going to Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, PA. At Valley Forge he gave lessons and participated in military parades, but had hock problems that shortened his working life. He arrived at the farm in the fall of 2001 and is now 23 years old. He is one of those grouchy but loveable types.
Mount Pleasant Ebbtide, Ebby for short, is a 38-year-old Morgan horse who had a long career under saddle, first as a show pony then as a girls riding school mount. According to a former owner, Ebby was used at a camp where he would swim in a river with children on his back! Prior to coming to The Ranger Foundation in February of 2003, he was a good solid and reliable therapeutic riding horse at Hope Springs Equestrian Therapy in Chester Springs, PA. Sweet natured and easy going, he is one of the favorites among the volunteers.
Dots came to the farm in the fall of 2002 from Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, PA. He was ending a long career as a high-goal polo pony at the military school, traveling far and wide. From his name you can tell he is an Appaloosa and he is 29 years old. "Dots is one of the most challenging horses most of the volunteers has ever dealt with, as he is blind in one eye and extremely sensitive to movements around him. He has responded well to the patience of the Ranger volunteers," said Lynn.
Princess came to The Ranger Foundation in the fall of 2002 from Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, PA. A 22-year-old chestnut mare, she had a serious injury in a polo match that to this day keeps her limping. Medical records from her polo days reveal several leg injuries and a slight fracture of the frontal bone of her face. Valley Forge barn manager noted that when she arrived at Valley Forge years ago she was a nervous and "anorexic" horse. Today she is calm and easy to handle. She is a beautiful horse who loves attention.
Caesar is a big, almost 17 hands, gray thoroughbred gelding. He came to the farm in September of 2003. In his early to mid-20's he was a bag of bones. He came from a riding school where he had been purchased as a school horse. However, although calm and highly trained, he never could be used much because of his failure to gain weight. The volunteers took one look at him and knew they could do something for him. Within a couple of months of his arrival, hundreds of pounds were added to his big frame. He is now thriving well and has continued to maintain his weight.
The Ranger Foundation is located at Greenbriar Farm near Sharpsburg at 5564 Porterstown Road, Keedysville, Maryland. The farm is 300 acres of permanently preserved agricultural land adjacent to Antietam National Battlefield, and owned by Ann and Howard Corcoran who live on the farm.
The main horse barn has 8 stalls for working with horses or housing any that need to be stall kept. The majority of horses live in small compatible groups of 3 or 4 horses, with run-in sheds and acres and acres of pasture.
"Our hay is made on the farm," says Lynn DiCarlo.
There is a 100x200 foot-riding ring and a round pen, mostly used for hosting Ranger events, as few of the horses can be ridden.
Taking Care of Business
Every day the horses are brought in from their pastures and fed three meals a day in addition to their grazing. Lynn told me that special attention must be given to weight maintenance, a big issue in aging horses, who many times have trouble keeping weight on due to problems chewing and digesting because of their old teeth. "They all have a special recipe formulated to their particular need." This requires that most of the horses be brought into individual stalls to eat each meal and are put back out again.
But the work isn't done yet--water tanks in each pasture are cleaned and filled, stalls and run in sheds are mucked, feed buckets are cleaned, and horses are groomed and checked over and treated for any ailments.
At the end of each meal, preparations are made for the next meal such as measuring the different feeds and supplements into each horse's bucket and soaking certain things so it will be ready by the next feeding.
The work is hard and even harder during the winter, when there is little grass because the hay must be taken to each pasture.
The love given and the time taken to care for these retired horses is impressive.
"I enjoy farm work, it is gratifying work," says Lynn. "However, it is hard work and has to be done every day regardless of weather conditions, and takes about 5 hours per day for one person. In winter it is especially hard and more time consuming with draining hoses, cracking ice, and heating water."
Anyone and everyone is welcome to visit the farm. Past groups include: Boys and Girls clubs, residents from nursing/retirement homes, 4H-horse club, scouts, and "a retired law-enforcement motorcycle group does a fundraiser ride to benefit us." Each visiting group receives refreshments, a tour of the farm where they can meet the Ranger horses and volunteers. "They get to see what we do, and learn a little about horses. Sometimes, depending on the group, they might help groom some horses," said Lynn DiCarlo, secretary and treasurer for The Ranger Foundation. For more information about visitor groups visit rangerhorse.org, click on "About Us" then near bottom of page click on "Boys and Girls Club Day and Senior Day".
Donating, Sponsorship, and Fundraising
Donations are very important to this type of organization. Being that The Ranger Foundation is a non-profit, individuals, companies, groups, and local organizations heading fundraising events supply most of the funding. Fundraising events include: Lucky Horseshoe Fundraiser, Ranger T-shirt for Sale, Beautiful Artwork, New Horse Owner Class (set for April 29, 2006; details/registration form is on the website), Open House and Dental Fundraiser.
Or individuals, families, or businesses can sponsor a horse. The sponsorship program works like this: Either someone can sponsor a horse for $100 monthly, or half sponsor for $50. If a business or individual would like to sponsor the horse for a year a one-time donation of $1000 will be gladly accepted. Businesses and distant individual sponsors will receive letter and photos of their horse. Regular volunteers at Ranger who sponsor a horse will have lots of extra opportunities to visit and care for their horse outside of regular Ranger sessions. In that way, sponsors will really get the feel for owning a horse, for having a special horse in their lives, and the horse will benefit from the extra loving attention.
"Any monetary donations or items from our wish list are greatly appreciated and tax deductible," says Ann. For the wish list and / or information on sponsorship and donating, visit rangerhorse.org
Retiring a Horse
"We get about 5 or 6 requests per year from qualified institutions. They then need to submit an application for review by the board of directors to see if the horse meets our requirements. If so, they are placed on a waiting list for an opening. We have a limit of twelve horses and only get openings through death or adoptions. Only in very limited situations are horses adopted out, and the horses who are retired here thrive on the special senior care they get and they live well into old age. Sometimes it's a while before a space opens up. We usually add about 1 horse per year," says Lynn.
The decision of retiring a horse should not be taken lightly. The Ranger Foundation receives several calls a month, sometimes weekly, from private individuals who don't want to care for their horse any longer. Ann and Lynn would like to urge individuals who are considering purchasing a horse, to think the entire life of the horse and its long-term care needs through carefully. "It is a huge commitment," says Lynn.
"It is so sad to get these requests from private individuals, and have to turn them down," says Ann Corcoran. "There's virtually no place for these [unwanted] horses to go.
"I want to tell them to find a place with a reasonable boarding price or keep the horse at home and continue to care for the animal." But sadly, the horse, when it is no longer thought useful or saleable due to infirmity or age, is discarded and moved along like an old motorcycle.
Be sure to check out their "Horse of the Month" column in the fourth issue of every month of the Picket News.
A horse is believed by many to be a living creature that represents the Lord's patience, understanding, and love...His everything!