Kathy Peterson says the one thing about horse people is they are born with what she calls a “horse gene.”
“You either have it, or you don’t. But you have it your whole life if you do have it. I can’t explain it any better than that.”
When Peterson was around 4 years old, she recalls asking her parents for an elephant. When they told her no, she asked for a giraffe.
“I tried all different animals,” she said, eventually getting to what many young girls ask their parents for—a pony.
“My dad was raised on a farm,” Peterson said. “His mother was a horse lover, so he conceded when I was 7, and got me a pony.”
Horses for adoption
In December of 2015, Peterson, along with her lifelong friend and fellow horse person Kat Rohl, founded the non-profit Resthaven Horse Rescue out of needs the two were no longer able to ignore.
“For a lot of our lives, we were blinded—thinking everyone took care of their horses,” Peterson said. She and Rohl heard about horses that were being neglected, abused, or worse, and the two decided it was time for them to do something—whatever they were able to—about it.
Many of Resthaven’s horses come to them through the help of law enforcement after being neglected or abandoned.
“We want to get horses that are in life-threatening situations,” Peterson explained. “Horses that are starving—we are helping to save their lives.”
Resthaven, located south of Cannon Falls, isn’t an animal sanctuary—it is a rescue, and many of the horses under the organization’s care are available for adoption.
“We never intended to be a sanctuary,” Peterson said, adding that a large portion of the horses currently residing at Resthaven have been there since the organization’s beginning.
“We’ve taken in horses that aren’t in dire straits but were headed in that direction. We have one that is turning 29—she’s the greatest horse, but not many people want a horse that age.”
Peterson said the horse in question, Sable, who was estimated to be foaled in 1990, has some special needs; despite that, she is described on Resthaven’s website as “sweet and caring,” and a “diamond in the rough.”
Surrenders and sustainability
Resthaven, while not intending to serve as a sanctuary, is also not able to fill the role that a humane society does with surrendered companion animals. Peterson said the number of calls she receives about someone looking to surrender a horse is surprising.
“People say they can’t afford it anymore, or that it’s their sister’s horse and they no longer want to pay for its care,” she said, adding if Resthaven took in surrendered horses, they would have hundreds.
In these cases, Peterson said Resthaven still attempts to help using the organization’s connection book—a list of adoption approved applicants looking for a horse with specific qualifications.
What Peterson calls the “day to day” of Resthaven has also been a challenge—specifically the cost of feeding all of the horses in their care. Though they are time consuming, fundraising events have been their primary way of generating revenue. They hold a Masquerade Ball as a fundraiser every other year.
“Last year we had a barn dance and silent auction,” she said. Resthaven will be providing food at Saddle Club horse shows as means of generating revenue for the organization.
Peterson said another challenge Resthaven has faced is the misconception about what they, as an animal rescue, can and cannot do to get a horse out of a bad situation.
“We have no law enforcement rights—we can’t just grab a horse,” she explained, adding the actual rescue of a neglected or abandoned horse can become a complicated matter involving the Sheriff’s Department and State Bureau of Investigation. Cases of neglect, as well as laws regarding how those cases are handled, have been an ongoing source of frustration for Peterson.
Volunteers and adopters needed
In such an emotionally charged field as animal rescue, Peterson said her focus is always on the animals, and not on the person who has been neglectful. Her goal since Resthaven’s beginning has been to raise awareness.
“I just want people to be aware that there is a need,” she said, explaining that the need is multifaceted. “There’s always a big need for volunteers—we’re a volunteer organization and we rely on volunteers to keep us going. There is a definite need for people to look into adoption,” she concluded. “There is a definite need for rescues like this.”
Kevin Krein is a writer living in Northfield. He’s operated the ‘award winning’ music blog, Anhedonic Headphones, since 2013, and is now the host of a corresponding podcast. He contributes irregularly to River Valley Woman, and his work has also appeared on The Next Ten Words. Follow him on ‘the socials’—@KevEFly (Twitter) and @kev_e_fly (Instagram.)