New North County group rescues miniature horses from slaughter

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In 2018, Savanah Stuart suffered a career-ending injury while competing in show jumping. While recuperating at home, she finally had time to fulfill her unfulfilled childhood fantasy of owning a pony by becoming the adoptive mother of a miniature horse.

Today, the 25-year-old San Elijo Hills resident retired from the show ring, but with her longtime friend, Taylor Loew, she now runs her own equine non-profit, Little Hooves Rescue in Rancho Santa Fe. Over the past two years, Stuart, Loew and Loew’s mother Terri have rescued, rehabilitated and adopted over 150 miniature horses, mini donkeys and mini mules. The majority of these animals were rescued from US paddocks, where approximately 100,000 horses are sold by the pound each year for slaughter in Mexico and Canada.

Savanah Stuart with miniature horses Pip and Squeak at Little Hooves Rescue Farm in Rancho Santa Fe.

(Brittany Cruz-Fejeran/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Stuart said Little Hooves’ priority is to rescue injured, malnourished or sick minis, and care for them for new families. Sometimes they saved minis that were no longer saved, just to ensure a quicker and painless end to their suffering through euthanasia. Stuart said helping these animals recover for a fresh start resonated with her personally.

“It was a really big mental hurdle for me to realize that my dream of becoming a professional show jumper and staying in this world was over when I got injured,” she said. “I see how in the rescue, seeing them overcome their own struggles was the most rewarding part for me.”

Stuart said minis only make up a tiny fraction of the horses sent out to cull paddocks every year, but mini horses, donkeys and mules often have very tough lives. Stuart said most families who buy Minis as pets for their young children usually get rid of the animals once their kids outgrow them. Because minis can live 30 to 40 years, this means these pets rarely live out their lives with just one owner. Most families don’t realize that when they send their animals to a horse auction, a slaughterhouse may be their final destination.

Savanah Stuart with Squeak, a miniature horse at Little Hooves Rescue Farm.

Savanah Stuart with Squeak, a miniature horse at Little Hooves Rescue Farm in Rancho Santa Fe.

(Brittany Cruz-Fejeran/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Stuart grew up in Las Vegas where she fell in love with horseback riding and got her first horse when she was 10 years old.

“What I love about horses is that unspoken connection and bond you create with each animal,” she said. “They are such unique and intelligent creatures. With the strength and power they have, the fact that they allow us to ride them shows the kind of character they have.

In 2007, his family moved to San Diego, where his younger sisters followed in his footsteps and started riding ponies when they were 4 years old. During his teenage years, Stuart traveled extensively to compete in hunter-jumper contests across the country. won the National Championship for 15-17 year olds at the US Hunter and Jumper Association’s Capital Challenge Horse Show in Maryland.

In 2018, she was competing in Sonoma when she fell off her horse and broke two vertebrae in her back. Warned that another fall could lead to permanent paralysis, she stopped the competition. And when even riding for fun made her chronic back pain worse, she quit riding altogether and sold her last horse a year ago. Three years ago, she earned a degree in marketing and economics from the University of San Diego. She now works full-time in commercial real estate.

Savanah Stuart with Atlas, a horse at Little Hooves Rescue Farm in Rancho Santa Fe.

Savanah Stuart with Atlas, a horse at Little Hooves Rescue Farm in Rancho Santa Fe.

(Brittany Cruz-Fejeran/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Stuart met Loew, 19-year-old co-founder and longtime friend of Little Hooves, many years ago when they were on the hunter-jumper circuit. In 2018, they both fostered miniature horses for a rescue group in Ramona, and a year later agreed to start their own nonprofit.

Their plan in March 2019 was to start small by adopting a single mini from a killing pad in Texas – where horses sell for around $500 and up – but when they discovered there were three other minis there -down facing slaughter, including a pregnant mare, Stuart and Loew bought them all. In 2019, they rescued 40 animals. In 2020, they relocated 75 others. So far this year they have rescued 35. There is a waiting list for adoptive families.

Most of the rescued minis are kept at the Loews’ ranch in Rancho Santa Fe, where Terri Loew provides all of their care, as Taylor is leaving for college soon. Each month, Little Hooves welcomes about five new animals. Some can be adopted quickly, others require extensive care before they are ready. Some donors cannot keep a mini at home, so they support the organization through monthly horse sponsorships.

In 2020, the organization raised around $90,000 in donations and adoption fees, which nearly matched its expenses, although Stuart said she had to occasionally dip into her savings to cover unexpected vet bills. . Although most of the animals Little Hooves works with are minis, they have occasionally taken on full-sized horses and donkeys in dire straits, including four Belgian draft horses heading for the slaughterhouse, one of them seriously injured.

Stuart said the plan for Little Hooves is to continue to grow and expand the types of animals it can accommodate. Although he cannot accept help from volunteers at this time, as all of his animals are housed on private property, they are looking for donations. and adoption homes. For more details, visit littlehoovesrescue.com or instagram.com/littlehoovesrescue or facebook.com/littlehooves.ca.

Savanah Stuart with Squeak, a miniature horse, at Little Hooves Rescue Farm in Rancho Santa Fe.

Savanah Stuart with Squeak, a miniature horse, at Little Hooves Rescue Farm in Rancho Santa Fe.

(Brittany Cruz-Fejeran/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

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