SAFE takes in a lot of unhandled, untouchable horses…mostly because a lot of unhandled, untouchable horses end up at rescues. It’s not against the law to let a young horse grow up without giving it an education, but uneducated young horses can grow up to be unwanted older horses when they get bigger…and more dangerous. Horses are generally good natured creatures, which is why past mistakes can be overcome with patient, consistent handling and training. We’ve had a ton of success in this particular arena. Sometimes this place feels more like a reform school than a rescue…but that’s a topic for another day.

Autumn was left to grow up without an education, and this was made worse by her extreme fear of humans. She lived through some pretty challenging circumstances before she arrived at SAFE, so in some respects, her fear was understandable. What we couldn’t understand was why that fear didn’t seem to diminish after months in our care. Autumn did make some progress…she got accustomed to people coming into her paddock with hay or grain, and she tolerated her area being cleaned daily. But touching her was out of the question, as far as she was concerned. And as she became more comfortable at SAFE, she didn’t get curious about us, or more trustful…she started displaying little flashes of aggression. This was not a good sign.

There comes a point in horse training where you have to weigh your options. Could we get through to Autumn? Probably…but it could take a very, very long time. Autumn is one of 30 horses here at SAFE and every horse on the property requires some degree of regular handling or training to prepare them for adoption. Our resources for horsemanship are not unlimited. Then there’s her age to consider. We’ve estimated Autumn to be 20 years old. We could spend five years working through her issues and have an adoptable horse who is now 25. Finally, you have to think about what the training experience is going to be like for her. Should we subject an unusually frightened horse to the process of being gentled and trained?  Would the extensive handling needed to educate her be difficult or uncomfortable for her? Sometimes you have to ask the horse, and Autumn had already made herself pretty clear: she wanted us to leave her alone.

As much as we hated the thought of putting Autumn down, we knew it was a responsible choice that was in her best interest. But Autumn’s story took an unexpected turn. With the help of Jen Reid of Best Friends Animal Society and Elaine Nash of Fleet of Angels, a wild horse sanctuary offered us a lifeline. Autumn will live out her days in the company of other horses, roaming free over acres of land, and with minimal contact with humans. She’ll be transported to this sanctuary next week.

Now you may or may not know this, but transporting horses across state lines is strictly regulated. Most states, including the one that Autumn is headed for, require a vet to draw blood and test for equine infectious anemia, an untreatable and potentially fatal disease. A horse must have a current certificate that says it tested negative for EIA before it can come into the state. As mentioned, however, Autumn can’t be touched so she certainly isn’t going to let us draw blood. So special arrangements had to be made by the state veterinarian to allow Autumn to be shipped to the sanctuary without a certificate. Immediately upon her arrival, she’ll be unloaded into a squeeze chute which will gently immobilize her so that a vet can draw blood and send it to be tested.

The squeeze chute is the key to providing the sanctuary’s horses with annual care like immunizations and deworming. These horses may be roaming free over thousands of acres, but they’re still being monitored to ensure that serious injuries don’t go unnoticed. They will humanely euthanize a horse that is suffering. There are no stallions in the herd so we don’t have to worry about Autumn being bred. And they are set up to make sure a horse like Autumn always gets enough to eat by feeding hay and grain as needed. Really, it’s the best of both worlds: Autumn will live free like a wild horse, but she will still be cared for.

It’s important to understand how lucky we are to have been given this opportunity for Autumn. We were able to connect with individuals doing rescue on a national level, who were willing to help us because of SAFE’s good standing in the rescue community. It was hugely fortunate that the sanctuary not only had a place for Autumn but were also willing to talk through our concerns about what her life would be like moving forward. This does not change how we view humane euthanasia; we still feel strongly that it is a responsible and kind choice for many horses, and certainly far preferable to neglect, mistreatment, or suffering. We’re not likely to get another opportunity like this one. We are just so grateful that it has worked out so well for Autumn.

Thank you to Bill V and Judy W for donations to cover the cost of hauling Autumn to her new home!