BROOKSVILLE — They come in many shapes, sizes and colors. And they arrive at Ohana Horse Rescue in various stages of distress.
Some of the horses are malnourished, some physically abused and some suffer from the neglect of owners who didn't want them anymore.
To Carrie Young and her husband, Allan Wilson, none of that matters. They love and care for them all as if the horses were their own. But at a time when Hernando County residents have been overwhelmed by news of troubles at the county's animal control shelter, which caters mainly to dogs and cats, the couple wonders why so little attention is paid to larger domestic animals in need.
"I don't think people are aware of how bad the situation is," said Young, 54, as she stroked the mane of a mare that she and her husband named God's Gift. "There are just too many animals that aren't part of the equation when it comes to animal welfare."
Indeed, Ohana Rescue has become known throughout the state and beyond as a last-chance destination for unwanted horses. Young and Wilson regularly get calls from law enforcement, banks handling foreclosures and horse owners who are desperate to find anyone willing to take animals they can no longer care for.
Started three years ago by Young, who at the time lived on a 2-acre parcel in Pasco County, the nonprofit rescue moved to a 10-acre facility in Hernando County last year. Then, in January, it relocated to its present location — a 45-acre parcel north of Brooksville once known as the Lake Lindsey Equestrian Center.
Like others who run private rescues, Young and Wilson have their share of heartwarming triumphs. But those feel-good moments are overshadowed by unspeakable horrors that often bring tears to the couple.
"We're both softies when it comes to animals," Young said. "We see them as God's precious creatures, and we'll do whatever we can and go wherever we have to in order to give them a safe, happy life."
Recently, Young and Wilson received a call from a mortgage company asking them to go to a ranch outside of Brooksville and retrieve a horse that was abandoned by its owners who were forced to vacate the premises. What they found among the head-high weeds and brush sickened them.
The gray mare that emerged weighed barely 500 pounds, one-third of the normal weight for a horse its size. Along with it, the couple also discovered a miniature horse that the mortgage company wasn't aware of.
"The horses were very weak and could barely stand," Wilson said. "They had been surviving for months on anything they could find to eat. It seemed like the owners had just left them to die on their own."
In a search of a nearby ravine on the property, the couple discovered the skeletal remains of another horse that had died weeks earlier.
Equestrian veterinarian Dr. Steve Miller, points to Hernando County's ailing economy as a major factor behind the large increase in abandoned horses.
During the building boom of a few years ago, owning a mini-ranch with horses became a status symbol for urbanites escaping the big city. But many people failed to realize how expensive it is to keep horses, Miller said.
"Feed alone is much more expensive than it costs to feed a dog or a cat," he said. "But if you have a horse that develops an ailment or a serious medical condition, it can quickly run into thousands of dollars."
Wilson, who is a trained equine behavioral therapist, think that some people aren't suited to be horse owners.
"When people get frustrated with a horse it often turns into physical abuse," Wilson said. "Getting a frightened or aggressive animal back to normal takes a long time."
After rehabilitating a horse, Young and Wilson say their second most important goal is finding it a permanent, loving home. Since launching Ohana Rescue in 2009, the couple have adopted out approximately 200 animals. But Young said that the number of arrivals the past several months have far exceed the number leaving.
As of this week, Young and Wilson were caring for 31 horses. Their weekly feed bill often exceeds $300, and when the grazing fields turn brown this winter, that cost will be even higher. Coupled with the added expenses for veterinary and farrier services there is constant pressure on the rescue's finances, Young said.
"It's not easy, but somehow we make it work every month," said Young, who supplements donations to Ohana by scouring garage sales and then reselling items on eBay.
Young and Wilson believe that the need to continue to rescue horses isn't likely to slack off anytime soon. In fact, they expect that the problem is only going to get worse.
"We could never give up," Wilson said. "These animals are a huge part of our lives. They look to us to keep them safe and healthy, and we're dedicated to doing that as long as we live and breathe."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.