Weak, starving horses saved from tragic drought death
RATHER than staring down the barrel of a shotgun, one herd of starving, wild horses will be welcomed into the hearts and homes of animal lovers from across the Southern Downs and beyond.
The horses roamed, unhindered by human contact, across the dusty hills of one man's property near Stanthorpe, the living remnants of a long- forgotten breeding program he inherited from past generations.
Drought hit the property hard: Food was scarce, the water supply was drying out and the horses' ribs were beginning to show beneath their winter coats.
They were starving.
Their owner turned to the RSPCA for help and was told he would need to get the animals off the property but, given that the horses were unhandled, lacking in veterinary care and in poor physical condition, he didn't think anyone would want them.
His story wasn't an unfamiliar one to hay and farm supplier Kendall Moore, who had heard of drought-ravaged farmers resorting to executing their sheep and cattle.
"He felt like there wasn't any other option,” Ms Moore said.
"It was kinder to shoot them.”
But for Ms Moore, who had watched from afar as the horses struggled for years, there was something about this particular story that broke her heart.
"I cannot imagine the horror of having to execute your own animals,” she said through tears.
"When you've struggled to keep them alive for so many years and then you're the one that has to shoot them?
Somewhere in the back of her mind, Ms Moore expected that, after so many years of suffering, the horses would have a happy ending.
"What's the point of all their hunger for so many years just to be shot?” she asked.
Ms Moore got in touch with the owner and offered to help, thinking she might be able to save one or two horses by posting a call for help over Facebook.
The community response blew her away, with thousands of people from as far away as the US and the UK pledging to help the horses escape a tragic fate.
"We got bombarded with offers for donations and rehoming and feed,” Ms Moore said.
"The response was so amazing that we're able to work on bringing all of them back (to her property).”
More than $7000 has been pledged to the rescue mission on GoFundMe and carefully-selected homes have been found for most of the herd.
With permission and help from the horses' owner, Ms Moore and her family have begun the monumental task of coaxing horses from the hills, building their strength with feed and transporting them to their property for further rehabilitation and veterinary care.
When Ms Moore finally entered the property or origin, she realised how dire the situation truly was.
"They really had run out of time,” Ms Moore said.
"Their water had run out and they were drinking from the mud.”
About 15 horses at a time are transported to Ms Moore's property, where she is now able to provide them with 24/7 access to clean water and hay.
It is expected to take between three and four weeks for each group to be ready for adoption.
"We can only do so much at a time because we only have so much space and so many hours in the day to handle them,” Ms Moore said.
"I want to do all I can to get them through as fast as possible because I'm concerned they'll eat all their donations before we're finished with the last lot.
"But we're not going it alone, we have a good support base which is reassuring.”
One pillar of support is the team at Warwick Equine Veterinarians, which has offered to help bring the horses to a clean bill of help for a fraction of the cost.
Veterinarian Tias Muurlink said it was important for the practice to help horses that were struggling within the community.
"We want to help out when there's cases like this, when there's a significant welfare issue,” he said.
Ms Moore said while she must "have rocks in [her] head” to have accepted such a large rescue mission, she was happy to have found the resources to help someone in need.
"It's great because if this system works, if we can pull it off, it will set an example for other people to do similar things,” she said.
"There's starving animals everywhere.
"Maybe all they need is someone that can organise to get those animals to people who are able to care for them.”