Whispering Hills Horse Rescue

In the Catskills of New York, the owners of a small stable called Whispering Hills pursue a noble task--saving doomed horses and giving them a "job" teaching people to ride.
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In the Catskills of New York, the owners of a small stable called Whispering Hills pursue a noble task--saving doomed horses and giving them a "job" teaching people to ride.

Whispering Hills Horse Rescue & Rehabilitation Farm has an enviable setting in shadows of some of the highest peaks in the Catskill Mountains of New York. There is an atmosphere of peace and tranquility which must seem like horse heaven to the horses who arrive at the farm.

Rescue Foals

They come from a variety of situations, having suffered starvation, neglect or physical abuse. The farm specializes in hard core behavioral problem horses, the ones that nobody else wants. Turned away by rescue agencies, horse sanctuaries and governmental groups, the owners of these horses are forced to euthanize them or ship them to slaughter houses.

Anita Martin, one of the founders of the farm, has made it her life's work to help "rogue" horses and their owners. Whispering Hills Horse Farm is often the last stop for a horse when everyone else has given up on him.

Not all of the cases are behavioral problems. In the midst of one of the area's harshest winters two 5-month-old foals were dropped off in advanced stages of malnutrition. They were not expected to live. Swollen joints and twisted legs were harsh evidence of the damage done by the starvation. Their ribs and hipbones stuck out grotesquely, and they were unable to hold up their heads or walk more than a few steps.

Anita and her colleagues set to work, careful not to overfeed and cause colic, dispensing love in every touch. In the spring, a pair of spunky, healthy young fillies romped in the pasture.

Whispering Hills tries to take any horse that comes to the farm, with the hopes that horse can either be cured and returned to its owner or can have a useful life with another owner or as a lesson horse. Many horses that were "unmarketable" have been rehabilitated into lesson horses for the stable's riding program. Even horses labeled vicious and untrainable have become dependable lesson horses.

When problem horses arrive at the farm, they are put in with the herd, where they are subjected to the natural hierarchy. The rogue will usually fall in line among his kind, a lesson that can eventually lead to not charging, biting or kicking humans. The horses in the herd will not tolerate such behavior. As they show their trust in the humans who care for them, and those humans lavish kindness on the new recruits, a transformation takes place.

When new students are introduced to the herd, they are often overwhelmed by horses seeking attention. Among them is a little Paint pony with a delicately chiseled face. Her name is Banshee. As a young filly, she and another pony were physically beaten by their owner. When they were sold, their new owner found them to be intimidating. The ponies charged any human who came close, and soon no one attempted to handle them.

Her companion died, but Banshee continued to live under these conditions for years. She could not be caught, so she did not receive proper hoof or veterinary care. When she was turned away by all of the other horse sanctuaries and rescue groups and labeled extremely dangerous, Whispering Hills responded to the last call. She is now a fixture at the farm and enjoys her new family and taking trail rides through the mountains. She will have that option for the rest of her life, as will all the other horses on the farm for whom loving homes cannot be found.

Whispering Hills is a not-for-profit agency. All proceeds from lessons and training are put back into the rescue program. However, rescue and retraining are costly, and some horses are turned away because the need is greater than the budget can allow. The farm can house 12 to 15 horses, and always has a waiting list.

For more information, contact Whispering Hills Horse Farm Rescue & Rehabilitation, 62 Rt 3, Prattsville, NY 12468. Phone 518-299-3848