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Herald Journal | DC Enterprise-Dispatch | Delano Herald Journal
Dec. 31, 2012

Winsted ranch saves 29 starving horses

By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

WINSTED, MN – When dozens of malnourished horses, ponies, and mules were removed from a farm in southern Minnesota the end of November, 29 were sent to Truhaven Ranch in Winsted.

One month – and plenty of TLC later – the equines are making a comeback.

“It’s amazing how tough they are,” said Anne LeClaire, a Truhaven board member.

Before the rescue, the animals had been living on a Fillmore County farm owned by 80-year-old Wilbur Schmoll. According to a Dec. 7 article in the Post-Bulletin of Rochester, Schmoll said he acquired the animals after they were unwanted at auctions, or were left on his property.

Schmoll told the Post-Bulletin he hired people to haul hay, but took care of feeding and watering the herd alone. Although neighbors reported that unhealthy conditions had been going on for years, the situation worsened Nov. 20, when Schmoll was injured while trying to lift a large hay bale over a fence with a skid loader, and had to spend six days in intensive care.

The rescue was led by the Animal Humane Society, with assistance from multiple agencies. Several carcasses were found on the property, and animals suffered from untreated wounds, severe emaciation, and other issues. A few had to be euthanized, and 12 were taken to the University of Minnesota Large Animal Hospital in St. Paul.

Those not treated at the hospital were evaluated by horse organizations such as the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation.

Truhaven Ranch, on Cable Avenue just outside of Winsted, was deemed an ideal place for many of these animals to heal. As a non-profit organization that rehabilitates unwanted horses and places them up for adoption, and also uses rescued horses to help at-risk youth, Truhaven is run entirely by volunteers.

“More than 25 equines have found adoptive homes through Truhaven,” LeClaire noted.

The animals from Fillmore County will also be given new homes when they are ready. In fact, some are already spoken for, either through adoption or foster care.

When the 29 animals first arrived at Truhaven, they were quarantined to make sure they weren’t carrying any diseases.

Fortunately, the only physical health problem was malnourishment.

“One Belgian was 500 pounds underweight,” LeClaire said. “It should have weighed 1,800.”

Weight gain needs to happen slowly, and rich foods are typically avoided at first. This prevents re-feeding syndrome, which is caused by aggressive “re-feeding,” and can lead to life-threatening complications.

“Some of the skinniest ones will take a while,” LeClaire said.

The animals also need time to heal mentally.

“A couple of them have that fighting instinct,” LeClaire said. “They had nothing to eat, and they were eating each other’s tails to survive.”

LeClaire remembers checking on a few of the horses, and all they could do was stand by the hay and not look at anything.

“Their eyes were just dead,” she said. “A bomb could have gone off and they wouldn’t have cared.”

Luckily, attitudes are changing quickly.

“Two days later I went out there, and they were coming away from the bale. Their ears would perk up if they heard a loud noise, and they seemed more curious,” LeClaire said. “That’s an amazing transformation.”

Truhaven relies on the generosity of donors to keep its doors open, and appreciates any support people can offer. Basic care (vet, farrier, board) for one 1,000-pound equine costs about $3,000 per year.

Individuals and groups can sponsor an equine at Truhaven for a month or more. Donors receive a photo and e-mail updates for their sponsored animal, and can also visit in person. Payments from equine classes and riding lessons also help fund the rescue program.

Donating to a horse ranch like Truhaven is a much more cost-effective way to help horses compared to trying to rescue a horse alone, according to LeClaire.

“Even if you get one free from a salesbarn, there can be unexpected expenses,” she said. “It gets high really fast.”

To learn more about Truhaven Ranch, call (320) 224-5454, e-mail phillips1020@yahoo.com, or go to www.truhavenranch.org.

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