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Equine Advocates – 25 years (and counting) of saving horses
By Alex Valverde, Equine Advocates Communications Manager
Spanning 140 acres, Equine Advocates Rescue & Sanctuary is home to 81 equines who live out their days in peace and receive the care they need. It’s a stark difference from the environments they endured before being rescued. However, it took more than two decades of challenges, pushback, patience, and growth to get to where the rescue is today.
In 1996, Susan Wagner founded Equine Advocates after rescuing her first horse from slaughter, Gandalf. Previously, she’d worked with horses within the racing industry and zoological institutions.
“It was back in 1993 when I first learned that horses were being slaughtered for human consumption at slaughterhouses all across this country, as well as in Canada and Mexico,” said Wagner. “It was the rescue of my first horse from slaughter that year that had a dramatic impact on me and changed what I wanted to do with my life – which was to use the experience I had gained during my years of working in the horse industry and using it instead toward rescuing slaughter-bound horses and educating the public about what was happening to America’s wild and domestic equines. At that time, slaughtering horses was the dirty little secret of the horse industry.”
Wagner started the organization from her New York City apartment with $3,000. Her sister Karen, who now runs the organization with Susan, volunteered to help with administrative aspects while Susan oversaw the rescue and advocacy work. It was a large endeavor with a small jumping-off point.
“What kept me going was the hope that if I did good work, people would notice and support it,” said Wagner.
Just over a year later, there was a bankrupt tourist attraction in upstate New York where 27 camp horses and ponies were in jeopardy of being sold to a killer buyer. Wagner contacted local newspapers to help raise the money so the horses would not go to slaughter. She raised $14,000 and arranged for homes for all the animals since the sanctuary hadn’t been established yet. After outbidding the killer buyer, media outlets reported on the story nearly every day for a month and as a result, Equine Advocates started gaining a reputation locally.
The next year, Wagner participated in an undercover investigation in Canada exposing the cruel Pregnant Mares Urine, or PMU, industry, in which mares are kept pregnant to harvest their estrogen-rich horse urine to produce the estrogen (ERT) and hormone replacement (HRT) drugs, Premarin, Prempro and, in more recent years, Duavee. While the rescue still didn’t have a permanent home, it didn’t stop Equine Advocates from rescuing hundreds of horses and finding homes for them over the next decade. In 2004, the sanctuary was established, allowing even more growth for the organization.
When the pandemic hit, Equine Advocates faced a new set of challenges. The sanctuary was closed to visitors and all public fundraisers had to be canceled. However, this obstacle showed how generous horse lovers are during a time of need. As a rescue that relies heavily on donations, Susan and Karen were concerned about a potential financial hit, but to their pleasant surprise, contributions remained steady.
That continuous support through the pandemic set the rescue up for a strong return as restrictions lifted. In June, Public Open Days returned, bringing hundreds of visitors to the sanctuary so far this year.
“With this being the rescue’s 25th year in existence, we knew we couldn't end 2021 without a celebration,” said Wagner. “We’re excited to try a new kind of event.”
On Sunday, October 10, the great Max Weinberg will perform his popular and crowd-pleasing show “Max Weinberg’s Jukebox” at the concert venue PS21 just a mile down the road from the sanctuary in Chatham, NY. Weinberg is most widely known as the longtime drummer for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.
In celebrating 25 years of equine protection work, one thing will remain constant at Equine Advocates – Its dedication to rescuing equines from slaughter, abuse, and neglect, and providing sanctuary to those in need.