Aspen rescue effort has saved 95 horses |

Aspen rescue effort has saved 95 horses

Scott Condon
Aspen Correspondent

Roaring Fork Valley residents have rallied to the aid of a new nonprofit created to save some specific horses from slaughter.

Aspen Valley Horse Rescue has been able to save 95 horses so far from ranches in North Dakota and Alberta, Canada.

“It’s been more than I ever dreamt it to be,” said Kathy Raife, who established the nonprofit in late September with Heidi Alles. They started with the humble goal of saving any animal they could, even just one, from seven former “PMU ranches” – operations that once had contracts with a pharmaceutical company to provide pregnant mare urine for a drug used to treat menopausal women.

The drug is falling out of favor, and contracts with the seven ranches were canceled. The ranchers cannot keep the horses, mostly mares and foals, so they were prepared to sell them to auction houses. Many of the horses were going to be slaughtered for food, Raife said.

Word of mouth helped Aspen Valley Horse Rescue save 24 horses in the first two weeks. Broader publicity since Oct. 8 has allowed the nonprofit to save another 71 horses.

The hard work by the organizers began to pay off Oct. 17, when the first of the saved horses arrived at the 10-acre Missouri Heights property of Mary Bright, who has been instrumental in the rescue effort. Trailers brought in 24 weenlings, babies that had been taken from their mothers but weren’t yet one-year-old.

It was overwhelming for the organizers to see the horses arrive.

“I cried my eyes out all day,” Bright said. “It was more than inspiring.”

Alles said one horse that had been rescued had already been delivered to the Roaring Fork Valley, but to see 24 arrive at one time brought “a realization that this was really happening.”

Photographer Summers Moore captured images of the event. They are posted and available for sale at: Proceeds go to the rescue effort.

The horses were transferred from a setting where they faced certain doom to a pasture with a stunning view of snow-capped Mount Sopris and the surrounding peaks.

The next round of rescued horses, mostly appaloosas, will head for the valley from Alberta on Oct. 28. Five ranches have volunteered to take some of the animals.

Raife said the majority of the horses are being placed in adoptive homes. “As long as the horses get here, we think we can find them homes,” she said.

It costs a minimum of $1,000 to purchase each horse from the ranchers and transport them to the valley. Aspen Valley Horse Rescue needs help in a variety of ways: funds to buy the horses and transport them to the valley, adoptive homes, hay, and workers to help care for them until adoption. Donors can contribute a partial amount to adopt a horse and put up the funds necessary to save a specific horse.

Organizers said donors have given from $2 to $10,000. A woman living in Switzerland learned of the effort from her daughter in the valley and contributed, Raife said. Another friend of Raife’s is hosting a fundraiser Monday at a New York City art gallery. While Aspen Valley Horse Rescue is waiting to get its 501(c)3 status approved by the federal government, it is teaming with The Animali Farm of Santa Monica, Calif.

“This rescue effort has stretched from coast to coast,” Raife said.

The overwhelming response by valley residents to help save the horses has the organizers aiming high now with their goals. “There are still about 200 horses left [at the seven ranches] that are at risk of slaughter,” Raife said. Aspen Valley Horse Rescue wants to save as many of them as possible. A critical deadline has been pushed from Oct. 31 to Nov. 10.

“I know Mary won’t rest until they’re all saved,” Alles said.

But the mission won’t stop there. Alles said they want to see the PMU industry put out of business. And once it is, they want to help save the horses the ranchers will no longer want.

A more immediate task will be finding long-term homes for all the horses after Nov. 10. “After the deadline we will regroup and make sure everyone’s taken care of,” Bright said.

Alles has her sights set on “gentling” the young horses, or introducing them to halters, getting them to follow on leads and stand for veterinarians. “They’re all clean slates, which makes it so much easier,” she said.

To learn more about the rescue effort, go to

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