TRYON, N.C. (AP) — Heather Freeman walked through the well-kept gardens of her Campobello farm on her way to the pasture, pointing out the flowers in bloom. Freeman is an avid gardener and cornflowers, lilies, orchids, black-eyed Susans — chosen to attract butterflies, honeybees and the hummingbirds the property is named after — surround her home. But the most interesting aspect of Hummingbird Hill, the 12.7-acre farm Freeman designed herself, isn’t the house or the views of the rolling countryside, but the two horses she was walking out to visit.
These horses, Inca and Nightlark, are among the hundreds of horses that Freeman has helped save from slaughter since 2016. Freeman is the executive director and founder of HERD Rescue, a nonprofit horse rescue based in Tryon, N.C., that has assisted in the rescue of more than 800 horses and has re-homed 40 horses in the region.
HERD stands for Helping Equines Regain Dignity, and the organization, under Freeman’s guidance, buys horses that have been sold at auction to be shipped to Mexico for slaughter.
“America’s horses right now are being transported across borders for slaughter, and they have to endure up to three days without food and water in crowded trucks, and a lot of them die or are trampled to death before they even get to Mexico,” Freeman said. “It’s very sad, and I try to work hard to educate people about what’s happening to America’s horses and to try to save as many horses as I can from that terrible fate.”
Freeman said that a lot of the horses that end up in kill pens, a place where these sold horses are kept before they’re shipped, are young, and many — like Inca and Nightlark, who were saved as yearlings and adopted by Freeman — weren’t properly socialized when they were small. Part of what HERD does, Freeman said, is to socialize the horses, who are often afraid of humans after their experiences with the auctions and kill pens, and ready them mentally, physically and socially for adoption.
“You couldn’t touch either of these horses when we saved them, they’d never been handled by humans, and that’s part of the reason they end up in kill pens — people don’t work with them, and then all of a sudden they weigh six, seven hundred pounds and you can’t touch them,” Freeman said. “We get them all socialized and friendly and loving people.”
Inca and Nightlark are certainly friendly and curious. They came to Freeman like humongous puppies when called and seem to love meeting new people.
“This is what socialization does,” Freeman said as the horses bumped up against her, looking for more attention. “These horses would get nowhere near humans when we got them. In fact we had to keep (Inca) in what they call a round pen to work with her because you just couldn’t pick up her feet, you couldn’t do anything.”
Freeman said HERD has saved at least 50 horses from Spartanburg County and the surrounding area alone.
“A lot of horses in Spartanburg County end up as slaughter in Mexico on a regular basis. About 60 horses from our area every other week are shipped to slaughter in Mexico,” Freeman said.
At least 150,000 U.S. horses are slaughtered each year, many of which are young and in good health, she said.
Naturally, HERD has received a lot of support, being among the horse-friendly foothills communities of the Campobello, Landrum and Tryon. Freeman said local horse enthusiasts have donated barns, foster horses, contribute to funds to save horses, and even adopt some of the rescues. The group has rescue outposts in Campobello, Tryon and Columbus.
“We have a veterinarian who gives us discounted services, we have a blacksmith that gives us discounted services, we have massage therapists that do it for free, and you wouldn’t have that just anywhere else,” Freeman said. She said there aren’t many other places where a rescue would have those kinds of resources.
But the horse-centric nature of the community, in addition to the growth the region is experiencing, can also create challenges for the group.
“This area is very desirable, and it’s getting harder and harder to find inexpensive land to keep doing what we’re doing,” Freeman said.
This is the main reason for her desire to sell the farm. The 4,727-square-foot house and land are listed with the Damian Hall Group for $1.4 million.
“I need at least 30-40 acres,” Freeman said. “I love it that I have all these donated barns, but that means I’ve been in the car three times today. If I could just walk out the back door and go take care of the rescue horses instead of having to get in the car, it would be terrific. When I bought this house and did this all over, I had no idea I was founding HERD. It just happened, and maybe it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t live here.”
Currently, Freeman only has room for four horses on her property, and HERD can only keep about 10 horses at a time.
Freeman is selling her home and trying to find a larger property so HERD can expand and have land that they can be sure of having long-term. Freeman plans to continue educating others and saving horses for many years to come.
Freeman said that stricter regulations regarding the treatment of horses, such as re-categorizing them as companion animals instead of livestock, stopping the rapid over-breeding of horses through neutering, and spreading awareness are key steps to averting the fate of many U.S. horses. She noted the importance of owners having a plan for what will happen to their horses if they are no longer able to care for them and suggested having that plan in their will.
“Once you start to see what happens, you don’t ever want it to happen to your horses, and it happens a lot more than you think,” she said.
Information from: Times-News, http://www.blueridgenow.com