On November 25, 2018, METS Program Director Brittney Vallot traveled out to a farm in Montgomery County to assess five Thoroughbreds who needed to be rehomed after their owner passed away. Of those five was Understanding; a leggy 8-year-old OTTB standing at 17h.
Michelle Craig of West Wind Farms (Upperville, VA.) saw Understanding listed on the Retired Racehorse Project Facebook page and immediately jumped at the chance to give the mare a home. Just four days after Understanding’s listing went live, she was on Michelle’s trailer heading to her new home.
On her way home with Understanding in tow, Michelle got stuck in rush hour traffic and didn’t have time to drop the mare off before picking up her daughter from school. Understanding didn’t seem phased, however, and said hello to a whole kindergarten class!
Since settling in at West Wind Farms Understanding has been excelling in her training, trying everything from side saddle to fox hunting!
In May of 2019, Craig took Understanding to her very first hunt trail ride and only had positive things to say about the sweet mare.
“Everyone thought she was gorgeous! I had to keep saying, ‘Yes, she really is an OTTB,’ and got to tell a lot of people about METS. Not a lot of people in Northern Virginia [had] heard of the program, but hopefully after seeing her out and knowing where she came from, more people around here will look it up!”
By the beginning of December, Understanding was ready to participate in her first real foxhunt.
“It was fast, loud, sometimes chaotic out hunting,” said Michelle. “I’m happy to report Understanding was perfect for her first foxhunt! She handled first field galloping by her in the woods, hounds around her hind legs, and stood at checks very well!”
“She’s rare – we start a lot of hunt horses (OTTBs and others) and she acted like she read a how to be a good hunt horse manual and just did it so well. Most horses would have been rightfully overwhelmed by [the] hunt and she took it all in stride,” she continued. “We came home, she got a bath, she took a nap. She’s just wonderful, and her ears and lower lips were happily flopping the whole time out.”
“We galloped through the woods, open fields, through streams, creeks, and the roads, ending up at our farm. It was a fabulous, fast, and fun day of hunting! Understanding was clearly the most perfect name for her, because she seems to understand everything we’ve asked of her [so far]. She was perfect at checks, she’s sure footed, smart, and seems to love her new career. My husband Dustin was riding her; he starts all the new ones hunting, and he said she’s just a dream [to ride] and a lovely, balanced, and calm mare.”
It’s so rewarding to see horses like Understanding get the second chance they deserve and METS is so lucky to have supporters like Michelle who are willing to see the diamonds in the rough. A common misconception of horses in need of transition is that they’re old, unrideable, or have dangerous behavioral issues. Understanding is proof that sometimes perfectly rideable, young horses are put in situations where they need a new home, but that doesn’t necessarily make them bad horses.
We’re excited to see just how far Understanding and all of our rehomed horses can go, so make sure to keep an eye out for more updates as they come!
The Equine Welfare Data Collective (EWDC) recently released their inaugural report and the results are nothing short of insightful and valuable. The document is filled with information and feedback pertaining to the operations of equine welfare organizations throughout the United States, which can be applied to address challenges and formulate solutions when assisting our nation’s equines in need.
Be sure to visit their website to learn more about the EWDC and read the full report, which can also be viewed at the link below.
Until now, the EWDC was only able to gather information from and work with organizations who directly took full custody of at-risk equines at their facilities. However, the new Ambassador Program will now allow other organizations who indirectly assist these same equines to participate and play a role in the EWDC’s efforts by encouraging organizations to get involved and sharing feedback related to the program. All information gathered is presented in a report that is first made available to all participating organizations. It is free for organizations to participate and all information presented in the reports is kept anonymous so no organization is identified.
METS is extremely honored to accept the invitation to join in on the EWDC efforts. It is vital that we increase awareness about the challenges that our nation’s horses face so that we may offer further assistance when it comes to intervention and prevention. To learn more about the EWDC, visit their website.
The day of the Maryland Equine Transition Service’s first annual Benefit Fun Show was met with sun, chilly temperatures, and a lot of wind. High Ridge Farm sits nestled in the hills of Manchester (Maryland) with a constant breeze that blows through the property. If you ask any of the barn regulars, they’ll tell you they’re used to it. Even the horses didn’t seem to mind the occasional commotion as items from the food booth and silent auction were blown off their tables in particularly strong gusts – it’s all old hat to them. Despite the wind, the show was a huge success and brought in just over $2,000 through entry fees, silent auction bids, food booth, and generous donations made by the families in attendance. Riders came decked out in their Maryland pride and it was rare to see someone without a smile on their face. The many helping hands of volunteers were part of what made the day go on without a hitch, but it wouldn’t have happened without the extreme generosity of Candy Cole.
Cole has owned the property that High Ridge Farm sits on for 34 years and started her lesson business in 2002. From there, her program has blossomed to include multiple benefit shows a year, a 4-H club, scholarships, and a Maryland Horse Discovery Center. Cole and her High Ridge crew can often be found at the Maryland Pet Expo, the annual Manchester Festival, the Future Farmers Of America Convention, and 4-H rallies. As a Maryland Horse Discovery Center, Cole also hosts a Fall Fest with pony rides, pumpkin bowling, hay rides and other fun Autumn activities. In 2015, The Maryland Horse Industry Board launched a statewide network of 35 Horse Discovery Centers in 15 counties throughout Maryland. The goal of these Discovery Centers is to welcome people of all ages and experience levels to learn about horses in a friendly and knowledgeable environment – an initiative that Cole takes seriously.
“At the Pet Expo, we a had a little girl come [from the Towson area] and that was her first experience, was the pony ride. And then she wanted to come and take a lesson,” said Cole.
“Most of the kids here, this was their first horse experience. Probably 90 percent of my kids were. And then they go from the Horse Discovery Center, come here and see the horses. And then when they’re older, they join 4-H and get involved that way,” she continued. “We have a lot of kids that the horses have taken them far.”
Cole likes her students to have a hands-on approach to learning and believes that’s what keeps them coming back wanting to learn more.
“Some places are all about the riding. You go and your horse is ready and you get on and you ride. And [at High Ridge], we really want them to know about the horse. So when they get here, they go get the horse, they groom them, they learn how to tack up.” said Cole. “My [logic is] keep them interested, keep them wanting to learn, and they’ll come.”
On Thursday nights after lessons are over, Cole said her families come together and have a group dinner. They switch off who brings the food and every week her students sit down and eat together, sometimes not leaving until 8:30 at night despite some of them arriving at the barn at 3pm. Cole also hosts hippology nights about horse care and horsemanship in hopes that her riders always leave with new and valuable information.
“I took each one of the kids and they had to hold a lead rope like it was a bit,” explained Cole about one of her lessons. “I showed them how if they pulled to the side or if you used the same amount of pressure and pulled to the hip, how much easier it was on the horses mouth. Because they were the horse!”
As if Cole didn’t already have enough on her plate, she also hosts four benefit shows per year. The benefit shows were originally created 11 years ago to honor Ryan MacKenzie, a friend of Cole’s family who died in a car accident when he was only 21. High Ridge created a scholarship in MacKenzie’s name and when the money ran out, they decided to start hosting benefit shows as a way to keep funding the scholarship. The first benefit event was a Halloween show where they raised $1,500. Since then, Cole has raised $30,000 to put into the Ryan MacKenzie Memorial 4-H Scholarship with The Carroll County Community Foundation. The most Cole has ever raised at one benefit show was $46,000. For Cole, the benefit shows are not about her business – it’s about helping the community around her and encouraging her young riders to keep following their passions.
“I don’t like to give the kids money, but I would give them the opportunity to earn it,” explained Cole. “I coach the high school judging team at North Carroll [High School] and they needed to raise the money to go to the Big E. They had a show. The Manchester Valley’s meat judging team – they went to the national FFA Convention to judge meat and their ag-mechanics. They didn’t want to do a horse show, but I gave them the opportunity at a horse show to run the food stand and to have a silent auction. They did about a thousand dollars day. Last year at the Carroll County Fair, we gave out 10,000 dollars in scholarships to 4-H going to college.
“Somebody said to me once, ‘Well, what do you get out of this?’,” Cole continued. “It’s not what I get out of it, because I do believe you pay it forward. It’s [about] that girl that graduates and has no student loan debt. She’s going to be able to do so much more so much sooner in her life.”
Cole currently owns two horses that she’s adopted from METS: Lakota and Hillcroft KD. Cole also had been housing another METS horse, Jewel (now known as Bonnie) until her new owner could move her home. Cole explained that she has never gotten a horse from a rescue before, but often barns will contact her when they have a horse they don’t need or isn’t fitting in their program. In an industry that is often quick to retire or sell a horse when it can no longer meet the needs of it’s current owner, Cole is willing to look past rough edges to see the diamond underneath. This mindset often works for her, and her fields full of happy horses are enough to prove it. She has a Pony of the Americas that wasn’t working out at an upper level dressage barn and now has fit into her program for three years; A Thoroughbred that was burnt out from the hunter ring that’s now loving his new job as a Western horse; A pony with cataracts that still loves doing beginner lessons a couple times a week. Lakota is an older Arabian/Paint cross that came into the METS program when his owner began experiencing time and financial restraints. The gelding is a very slow and steady type perfect for beginners and while his age might have been a deterrent to others, Cole knew he would be a great addition to her program.
“I don’t care if sometimes [a horse] can only walk and trot. I don’t need them to be fast,” said Cole. “I do believe that some of them are so grateful for the life they get that they will give a lesson to a kid for an hour a day. This is an okay life!”
Hillcroft KD was the very first horse put on the METS website and despite having an impressive record of points through the American Shetland Pony Club and being in their Hall of Fame, she was struggling to gain interest. She required a dry lot and didn’t seem to love having beginner riders on her back. Cole took a shot on the little pony and said that she has been giving leadline rides and even remembers everything from her cart pulling days.
There’s no doubt that Cole is fostering the love of horses and thirst for knowledge in future horsemen and women of Maryland. To her, that’s really what it’s all about.
“I just always think that maybe somewhere down the line, [my students] will think, ‘Oh, this person made a difference,’ ” said Cole. “If they get something out of it and they learn something and they take it with them, that’s my reward.”
Thank you to all the High Ridge volunteers who came out to lend a hand, and a very special thanks to our awesome METS volunteers who helped out during the day: Nancy, Susan, Josh, Roberta, Sandy, and Allan .
Check out the link with more photos below from our photographer, Cynthia!
Once every five years, Maryland equine owners, professionals, and enthusiasts have an opportunity to meet in one place for a day to discuss problems and solutions involving our equine industry. In just one month, this opportunity will once again present itself.
The Maryland Horse Industry Board has put together an informative and enlightening day of discussion to take place at Goucher College on Thursday, August 8th, from 8am to 4pm. Categories of discussion will include:
Participation, Promotion, Education
Legislature and Liability
Horse-Keeping and Welfare
The MHIB encourages all Maryland residents with an interest in horses to attend. An RSVP is required, so make sure to sign-up ASAP while space allows at the link below. We hope to see you there!
METS was recently accepted by The EQUUS Foundation as a new Alliance Member! The EQUUS Foundation is a national charity dedicated to equine welfare and the mission to protect America’s horses and strengthen the bond between humans and horses. They focus on helping empower other equine charities to operate at the highest level of horse care, inspiring horse lovers to becoming involved in advocacy and volunteerism, and educating the public on the value of horses in our lives. We are honored to be recognized by such a great organization!
Check out the press release that The Equus Foundation posted about METS and one of our favorite success stories: OTTB Understanding and her new owner Michelle Craig!
METS made the front page of The Delmarva Farmer! We were contacted last month by freelance writer Joan Kasura, asking if she could feature METS in the next publication of The Delmarva Farmer. Of course, we were happy to give permission without hesitation! Joan was very professional and thorough during her interview. She told us she was unsure if it would make the front page, but would definitely be featured. So, we were pleasantly surprised to see if front and center when it was mailed to us this past week.
The article also highlights our greatest success story to-date, a gorgeous Thoroughbred mare being taken in by Virginia-based trainer, Michelle Craig. Be sure to pick up your own copy of The Delmarva Farmer to read about METS and the work we’re doing to help horses and owners throughout Maryland! Or check the article out at the link below!
The Maryland Horse Council (MHC) is pleased to offer a new internship program for students interested in broadening their equine experiences and making a tangible impact on the welfare of all horses in the State of Maryland. Internships are available in the fall, spring, and summer, and are open to rising high school seniors and college students. Interns select from one of three tracks to gain practical experience in topics of interest, have flexible schedule options, and can earn college credit, all while participating in a one-of-a-kind industry-based initiative that will be a national model for equine transition and welfare.
To download an application or additional information, click on the below links:
METS is a statewide equine safety net initiative of the Maryland Horse Council that provides alternatives for horses needing homes by helping owners identify and select the best transition options. Meet METS sessions are for any equine professional who is interested in the welfare of Maryland horses.
We will present a short description of the program’s history and goals as well as plans for the next two years. More importantly, we want to answer your questions and listen to your concerns, ideas, and feedback. Our aim is to engage the entire equine community, from horse owners to industry leaders.
Together, we can keep horses out of the slaughter pipeline.
Get Answers to These Questions and More at Meet METS!
Why does Maryland need METS?
Who can join the METS Network and what are the benefits?
What do horses in transition look like?
How will Network members help horses in transition?
How much does it cost to help a METS horse?
How is METS different than MD rescues?
Why should industry professionals get involved?
If you have questions about Meet METS or becoming a Network member,
or if you have a horse in need of transition, contact Brittney Carow at Director@mdequinetransition.org.
The Maryland Horse Council (MHC) announced receipt of a $750,000 grant to launch the Maryland Equine Transition Service (METS), a first-in-the-nation project to facilitate the responsible transition of horses whose owners are no longer able to care for them.