Washington horse rescue farm holds open house

WASHINGTON—When Gus, a thoroughbred racehorse, arrived at the HORSE of Connecticut rescue farm last spring, he had been kept in a stall so long that volunteers had to teach him how to roam free.

“He didn’t know what to do,” said Volunteer Coordinator Suzie Cosban. “He literally stood at the gate and we had to chase him to teach him to run and play and be a horse.”


Now, Cosban told a tour group visiting during an open house Saturday, 5-year-old Gus is making up for lost time. As the horse leaned over the fence to let the visitors stroke his nose, Cosban said he can usually be found “playing pat-a-cake” with his new friend, Legend, a 15-year-old rescue.

Gus’ transformation is just one, and by far not the most drastic, that Cosban shared with the group on the rainy afternoon.

She said most most of the rescued horses are so sick when they arrive that they don’t trust people or let their personalities show. Watching the horses regain their personalities during rehabilitation is her favorite part of the job, she said.

“When they all come back to life and trust us again, that’s the most rewarding,” she said. “They’re wounded, they’re frail, they’re scared—and then they trust you again.”

The farm has saved over 700 horses since the farm opened in 1981

“Thirty-five years later, and they just keep coming,” said Farm Manager Patty Wahlers. “They don’t stop.”

All 21 horses at the farm Saturday, except the farm manager’s horse, were rescued by the organization, either after an investigation of cruelty or through voluntary surrender.

The non-profit’s staff, along with hundreds of volunteers each year, work to bring the horses back to health. They also hold volunteer days, workshops and education programs to increase awareness about proper horse care.

Once the horses are healthy, they are all available to sponsor, lease or adopt.

Other horses on the tour included Fiona, the great-grandaughter of the famous Secretariat, who came to the farm starved and suffering from a rare lung disease. Cosban explained how she needs to feed and sing the thoroughbred while grooming her to win back her trust.

The children on the tour group, who are part of a 4H troop from Norfolk, ended the tour with a lesson in grooming on Amara and Sassafras, two mustangs that were once wild horses. The troop, called “Icebox Clovers,” held out their hands one by one to feed the mares carrots and hay.

Most of them had never interacted with a horse before today, said troop leader Kim Luciano.

Cosban said teaching young volunteers like the troop is the second-most rewarding part of working with HORSE of Connecticut.

“It’s important that they learn and that we take the time to teach them about it,” Cosban said. “Even I never knew that so many horses existed that need rescuing.”