As the sun rises over the horizon, Ohana Horse Rescue breaks into a chorus of eager nickering from 27 rescued horses anticipating breakfast. Owner Carrie Young makes her way toward the barn, feed buckets balancing on the back of her golf cart. She completes the same task each morning and evening, streamlining the process to about an hour and a half per feeding session.
After seven years, Young has the routine down to a science.
Ohana's current number is a little above where Young would like it to be in terms of how many horses she and her partner, Alan Wilson, can comfortably care for at a time.
"We were up to 35," she said, "which was just too many. We finally got down to 21."
The rescue grew again in the past few weeks, taking in more horses in need. Young and Wilson can't turn them away. This week alone, the rescue took in three more in some level of emaciation. A young stallion, just 3 years old, was in one of the paddocks, putting on weight and healing from a torn left nostril that will require surgery. Gabby is a beautiful bay mare on her third day at Ohana, already warming up to her new surroundings after being surrendered by her owner in poor condition.
"We have a reputation for taking in the very ill, the untouchable and the untrained," Young said. "They take longer (to rehabilitate) than a lot of rescued horses do. We work every horse from the ground up."
The scenic green pastureland, divided into several individual paddocks, has any number of grazing horses, all telling a different story of how they ended up at Ohana and what will invariably be their fate. The idea is to build trust in each before finding their forever homes. For that reason, no horse leaves Ohana before 30 days, even if they are in the condition to be adopted.
"They need time to adjust to their new surroundings," Young said.
One of their newest additions, a well-cared for, plump and healthy gelding whose owners surrendered him because they couldn't care for him any longer, would still need to wait the 30 days before he is offered for adoption.
Typically Ohana wouldn't take in a healthy adoptable horse, knowing the options for them are much greater. But Wilson needed a balance, he said. The focus of the rescue can be so depressing at times. "I needed to know there are good ones," Wilson explained.
But Ohana is a horse rescue, created to save neglected horses by giving them time to heal before sending them to a better second chance. And it takes work and money to complete that task which can often be more than she and Wilson can handle on their own.
They've gained respect and support from the community, opening their property to volunteers and visitors each weekend. On Saturday, 30 cars showed up to bathe horses, clean stalls and spend time with each of the 27 residents.
"No Name," a 3-year old stallion with a torn nostril, is the Rescue's current high-priority. The horse came in with blood draining from a cut he received after battling a barbed wire fence. He will be gelded and his condition evaluated by a vet to determine the extent of the surgery he will require.
Ohana began a fundraiser for "No Name" on Facebook, encouraging donors to also submit suggestions for the stallion's name. A vote will then determine the winning submission and "No Name" will be rehabilitated and re-homed with a brand new second chance.
Young, who raised a now adult son with special needs, seems to have the right ingredient to commit to a life of giving. Ohana, which means "family," began by accident when a neighbor told Young of an abandoned horse.
Since then, she has taken in hundreds, rehabilitated them and placed them in their new forever homes. Many times the rescue has eaten the cost, negotiating on adoption fees that are already low enough to barely touch the costs associated with the rehabilitation.
Ohana depends entirely on donations and volunteers.
Ohana Horse Rescue can be reached at (727) 326-7827. Visit their website at www.ohanahorse .org.
Hernando Today columnist Kim Dame can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org