SANDOWN, N.H. — Patch Wood Farm is a 14-acre wooded haven for horses purchased from auctions in various states and brought back to be rehabilitated and loved, primarily by the horse-loving youths of 4-H club Hooves, Paws and Claws.
The young members not only love horses for recreation and for competition, but also just want to bring some love and care to animals finding themselves up for auction and facing an uncertain future, due to illness, age or injury.
Rain, a 17-year-old, gentle horse was one of about 20 rescued horses who is now living a fulfilling life at Patch Wood Farm, Laura Ciarletta, a 4-H member who is involved in the horse rescue program, said. Ciarletta said Rain was rescued about two years ago and “loves her life” at Patch Wood.
Ciarletta said it's not just about coming to the farm, climbing on the back of a horse and learning to ride or compete. It's about the whole package for these rescued animals — from auction corral and uncertain future, to a new, healthy life.
"I think it's an awesome way to give them a second chance," she said. "People just throw them away, but we get to enjoy them."
Kathleen Dixon co-owns Patch Wood with Rhea Vendt and said the club recently raised money to buy horses from an auction in Pennsylvania and then immersed themselves in bringing the animals back to a healthy life.
"They now have a purpose," Dixon said, of the rescued horses.
The farm in southeastern New Hampshire offers riding lessons, training, boarding, a summer camp, where some of the rehabilitated horses are used. Others are adopted out to new owners once they are rescued and rehabilitated.
"If they fit in the program, that's great," Vendt said, "and some horses don't want to be lesson horses."
Some horses have never been ridden and need training to help with the animal's comfort level.
"There are all types of horses," Vendt said, from a big, lumbering farm horse that once pulled an Amish wagon or plow, to a former race horse that is aging and no longer needed on the track.
Some are ill, injured or failing in other ways. Vendt said they often bid against dealers who buy the horses to take them over the border to Canada or Mexico for slaughter.
"If we didn't buy them, they'd be in the slaughter trucks," Vendt said. "They are in rough shape, for the most part."
Once a rescued horse arrives at Patch Wood, the animal spends time in quarantine away from the other horses while medical care and treatment is given, if needed. After that, horses are cared for by many of the youth that volunteer or take lessons at the farm.
Little Pongo wasn't feeling well when he was rescued from a horse auction in Pennsylvania. Emma Tanguay, 15, said the horse came to Patch Wood with pneumonia and an eye infection.
"And he was really skiddish. I'm teaching him to behave," Tanguay said.
Sleek and shiny Hope came to Patch Wood Farm last October after being purchased at auction, said 16-year-old Abby Bouler of Haverhill, Massachusetts. She said dealers come from all over to view available horses and other animals that are put up for auction. Information on available horses is also posted on online auction sites.
In Hope's case, it was a weight problem and lack of muscle tone that needed attention once she arrived at Patch Woods.
"You couldn't tell she had shoulders, and she was very furry," Bouler said. "Her weight caused problems in her feet."
Hope is now on the road to becoming a great event horse, Bouler said, and doing well in training sessions.
"She's teaching little kids, too, in beginning lessons," Bouler said.
It's all about saving the lives of these horses and bringing them to a safe haven where there is abundance of love and care. That, according to Gabby Costa, 15, of Londonderry, is the mission of those who love the farm and its animals. Costa said she always found horses to be beautiful and she knew she wanted to get involved and help.
"As long as I could save an animal, help it, rehabilitate it, it's good enough for me," Costa said.
Penelope was called an "Amish throw away" according to her young supporter, 12-year-old Allie Paquette of Windham. For $300, Paquette was able to bring the horse back to the farm to be treated for various injuries including a kick wound.
"She's still in the rehabilitative stage," Paquette said. "But they always have another chance and you don't give up. Once you get to know them, you can't let them go."
Dixon said her farm and its mission is growing, and someday would like to expand the property to make way for more success stories.
Huss writes for the North Andover, Massachusetts Eagle Tribune.