Carrie Young has seen horses at their best and worst. Over the years, she has owned and cared for dozens of them. The very sight of a horse that has been mistreated or neglected breaks her heart like nothing else. Four years ago, Young decided that if she couldn't stop the abuse of the animals she loved, she could at least give the victims of wrongdoing a compassionate, safe haven. In launching Ohana Rescue in 2007, Young began a mission that has since become a personal calling. "I simply can't stand to see any animal suffering," said Young, 54, as she tossed a handful of hay into a feed ring. "I've always loved horses, and when they're in trouble I just can't stand around and do nothing about it."
In August, Young relocated the rescue she runs with her husband, Allan Wilson, from Hudson to a 10-acre farm outside Brooksville, where the couple currently cares for nine horses.
Over time, the couple has rescued more than 100 horses, many from unthinkably desperate situations. Some, like Missy, Lilly and Isabelle, had nearly starved. Others, like Mr. T, an umber-colored mustang found abandoned a few months ago in southern Hernando County, and Dream, a young chestnut mare, have behavioral issues that make them unsuitable for most riders.
Young and her husband work to try make the horses whole again, capable of leading healthy and happy lives.
"You develop a relationship that goes well beyond just a horse and a human," Young said. "It's about building trust and understanding. It can be a slow process, but horses are very resilient. I've seen some remarkable recoveries."
One of the more remarkable turnarounds is Isabelle, an 11-year-old mare that had nearly starved. Weighing barely 700 pounds, she was nearly blind and was covered with festering sores when Pasco County sheriff's deputies rescued her in January 2010.
Young, who was operating the rescue by herself then, slowly brought the horse back from the brink. Refusing the insistence by others that the animal was too far gone to save, she stood on a busy street corner in Hudson with a sign to raise $2,200 for an operation to remove a cancerous tumor from Isabelle's face.
"I just couldn't give up," Young recalled. "I knew see she had the fight in her to get better. All she needed was some help and someone who believed she could do it."
Sheltering and rehabilitating abused and neglected horses can be an unforgiving grind. There are twice-a-day feedings, plus medications to give. More than that, however, is the training and behavioral therapy that most of the animals living in the shelter need in order to place them in a permanent home.
Much of that task falls to Wilson, who is something of a "horse whisperer." But getting a horse with a history of abuse and neglect to a point where it can relate to its owner takes time and patience.
"It's a challenge that you have to take realistically," Wilson said. "Some of the animals we get have been through so much. It can be a day-to-day thing. But when you make those breakthroughs, it's a great feeling."
While there are plenty of local organizations willing to take in unwanted dogs and cats, the same isn't true for horses. In addition to needing plenty of room, the feed and hay cost upward of $80 a month for a 1,200-pound horse. Add the expense of medications, veterinary care and farrier services and you begin to see why Ohana Rescue is the only active horse sanctuary in Hernando County.
"We could probably handle as many as 12 or 13 horses, but nine is all we can realistically afford right now," said Young. "Everything has gotten so expensive."
Young and Wilson are far from wealthy. They have chosen to forgo cable TV and eating out so they can devote their resources to the shelter. While Ohana does attract donations, they are not nearly enough to meet all of the expenses.
To earn extra money, the couple sell scrap metal and scour yard sales for items to sell on eBay.
"We've learned to be resourceful and stretch things," said Young, who previously spent years investigating and finding people who owe money to finance companies. "But when you believe so deeply in something, you do whatever you need to do to make it happen."
The ultimate mission of Ohana Rescue, of course, is to find permanent homes for the horses once they are brought back to health. Young estimates she has adopted out close to 60 horses since she began the rescue. She is adamant that horse and owner are a good match. She tells potential adopters not to bring their trailers until they are certain they've found a horse they want to keep.
"I've been doing this for a while, and I know you can't force a relationship a person has with a horse," Young said with a smile. "If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. It's as simple as that."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.