If there’s one thing we’re really proud of here at SAFE, it’s our Herd Health program. Most of the horses we take in didn’t received proper vet care or nutrition in their previous lives, so there is a lot we need to do to return them to good health. When a horse first arrives, we start the process of getting to know them with a vet examination that provides a first glimpse into the state of their physical being. We try to find out where they hurt, where they’re stressed or tired, where their discomfort lies. Sometimes we can give them immediate relief, but often the first days are just the start of a much longer progression.

If you’ve ever treated a horse with an injury or an illness, you probably know that equines are not always the best patients! But the interesting and heartwarming thing about rescued horses is the way they often seem to understand that we’re there to help them. For some of the horses we rescue, it’s been a long time since anyone touched them with gentle kindness, or spoke to them with love and caring. It never takes long for a new intake to realize that he or she has arrived in a good place, and that their lives have changed for the better. Restoring health and weight, and soothing aches and pains, is our first opportunity to show them just how different life is going to be.

All horses at SAFE receive routine annual vet care, including dental floats and vaccinations. And like most barns, we have our share of mystery lameness and illness, which means that we keep our vets pretty busy. Our horses are watched very carefully by our many volunteers, so symptoms of colic and other gastrointestinal disorders are rarely missed. This can result in late evenings sitting with horses, or making periodic checks throughout the night. Sometimes it means meeting the vet at all hours. It depends on what our horses need to be healthy and comfortable.

In 2018, we were very fortunate to add a new employee to the SAFE team. Melinda Couvillion, a licensed vet tech and long time SAFE volunteer, came on staff as our Herd Health Manager. This was a newly created position designed to oversee all vet care, farrier care, and feeding of our herd of horses, responsibilities that had formerly been shared by our Operations Director, Barn Managers, and key volunteers. Managing a herd of 30 horses is a crazy amount of work, and Melinda brought not only her talent as a vet tech but her great organizational skills to the position. She also put in place many standards of care for the horses at SAFE, including a clear and effective quarantine protocol for our barn. Bio-security was a scary issue in 2018, due to an outbreak of the EHV-1 virus at a local barn that resulted in seven horses being euthanized. The precautions that Melinda put in place to protect the health of our horses meant that no one at SAFE was in danger of contracting the virus.

2018 was also the year that SAFE rescued three mares who each turned out to be pregnant. Since we had not rescued a pregnant mare since 2008, it was wonderful to have Melinda on board to provide pre-natal care and to prepare us for the arrival of each of the foals. She did a ton of research about birthing and caring for foals, and explored several methods of predicting when the babies would arrive, since we had no idea when any of them had been bred. She spent many nights sleeping at the barn, and she competently managed each birth herself without the aid of a veterinarian. But the best measures of her success are the three gorgeous and healthy fillies born at Safe Harbor Stables: Pippi, Rae, and Nova.

SAFE works with several local vet practices, most notably Rainland Farm Equine Vet Care, Pilchuck Vet Hospital, Cedarbrook Vet Clinic, and Mount Rainier Equine. We also have the great benefit of working with farrier Daphne Jones. Melinda has developed and maintained great relationships with all of these practitioners, which is very important to our continued success. Not only do they provide excellent, top-quality care to our horses, they also give us discounted rates as a nonprofit. So it’s crucial that we treat these professionals with the utmost respect and consideration. Having Melinda on staff ensures that we are as considerate to our vets and farriers as they are to us.

Lots of horses means lots of vet bills and vet records, and we would not be able to keep up with the record keeping demands of such a large herd without the help of Leigh M, who assists Melinda with these tasks. Thank you, Leigh, for keeping things in order! And thank you to all the volunteers and staff members who devote themselves to the good health of our horses. You’re doing a wonderful job!