Put out to pasture no extra, Kitsap horse rescue Toni’s Ponies will get 2nd lease on life

KINGSTON, Kitsap County — After a couple of calls and claps, Bailey emerged from the pasture and trotted previous a hot-pink horse trailer within the path of Toni Houck, who greeted the pinto mare with treats. Bailey was as soon as a world champion present horse and most just lately served as a lesson horse for youngsters, however a leg harm ended her profession at age 18 regardless of a life expectancy stretching into her 30s.

“For such a big animal, they’re so delicate,” stated Houck, standing in muck boots, additionally sizzling pink.

Bailey’s proprietor donated her to Houck’s horse rescue, Toni’s Ponies, in February 2020 to dwell out her retirement. While Bailey arrived underneath benign circumstances, the rented 15-acre unfold on the outskirts of Kingston is dwelling to many equines who arrive emaciated, diseased and abused.

But this yr, it was the rescuer who wanted rescue.

After caring for 45 horses over 16 years, Houck discovered herself in February dealing with a 90-day deadline to lift $650,000 for buy of the farm — or she’d be pressured to discover a new dwelling for her herd when the property proprietor determined to promote.

Houck, 61, a lifelong Kitsap County resident and former rodeo princess who grew up round horses, has run the rescue informally since 2006 at this former cattle farm, the place she lives on-site in a modest home, horse-themed proper right down to the bathe curtains. She cleared acres of burrs and blackberries to create pastureland and fenced enclosures for horses to quarantine, rehabilitate and finally thrive, with the final word objective of discovering a brand new dwelling or an adopting proprietor who will board the horse with Houck. A single mom of three grownup kids, she works as a server and bartender in Kingston to complement exterior donations that cowl the prices of shopping for, feeding and caring for her rescue horses. In 2019, she integrated Toni’s Ponies as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and 509(a)(2) public charity.

While Houck was conscious from the outset that renting month-to-month was precarious, she had a verbal handshake settlement together with her landlord that she can be provided first proper of buy within the occasion of a sale. That supply got here Feb. 18, Houck stated, at a time when Toni’s Ponies was dwelling to 18 horses, two of them nonetheless wild and never but cooperative with fundamental human dealing with. “I knew it would happen, but I thought we’d have more than 90 days,” she stated. (The landlord didn’t reply to requests for remark by press time.)

That deadline set off a quixotic fundraising spree beginning with a GoFundMe marketing campaign. At the tip of March, Houck held a yard sale that includes the remaining stock from the now-closed Kingston Mercantile & Marine, the place she was as soon as a supervisor, and donations from throughout Kitsap County.

By early April, Houck had solely raised 10% of the acquisition value and the state of affairs was trying dire. But phrase of Houck’s predicament traveled quick within the close-knit animal rescue neighborhood of Kitsap County.

“The fact that she was only given 90 days to vacate the property with her horses was fairly unreasonable,” stated Sid Wang by way of telephone from Bainbridge Island. Wang and his spouse Karen run Happy Hooves Sanctuary. After negotiating with Houck’s landlord and securing a line of credit score from their financial institution, the Wangs settled on a value of $600,000 and closed the acquisition April 8, in keeping with Kitsap County property data.

“We decided to give her a little more time to recover,” Wang stated. “We share her passion for animal rescue and preventing animal cruelty. We have extreme sympathy for the situation she’s in, that’s why we took a risk to put up a down payment in order to qualify for the loan.”

Food and love

What was as soon as a seemingly insurmountable race in opposition to the clock now has respiratory room. Houck nonetheless wants to lift cash to buy the property from the Wangs — her $800-per-month hire has ballooned to $3,000-per-month to cowl the brand new mortgage — and can proceed her efforts when Hood Canal Brewery hosts a fundraiser April 24.

But with a like-minded landlord, Houck now has a pathway to stability for Toni’s Ponies. As a end result, she will plan for infrastructure, like accessible ramps, and programming like equine remedy, discipline journeys for teenagers who’re deprived and children with disabilities, farm tourism and in a single day tenting.

She can even proceed to concentrate on her core ardour: rescuing horses.

Every horse has a definite story: The household inherited grandma’s horse and determined they don’t need to bear the fee and duty. Parents purchased a horse for a kid, now grown-up and not concerned about equestrianism. Wild horses are rounded up on public or tribal land. When these horses find yourself at Toni’s Ponies, they’ve usually averted a typical destiny: slaughter. Whatever their provenance, undesirable horses usually find yourself at so-called feedlots, the place they’re auctioned then shipped off to slaughterhouses, the place they’re made into glue or pet food.

Horses on the public sale block fetch wherever from $700 to $900 — “meat prices,” Houck calls these figures — and transport to her property from Oregon or Eastern Washington normally prices an extra $400. She goes by $20,000 value of hay yearly and $800 monthly in grain, plus the price of nutritional vitamins and veterinary care.

Why work three jobs and name on her community of 50-odd common donors who sponsor her rescues?

“I understand there’s a need for culling animals, but I disagree with the way it’s done,” she stated. “It’s inhumane.”

Houck described slaughterhouse exposés that reveal strategies like chopping infants out of still-living mares, slicing leg muscle groups to immobilize horses, and hanging horses from meat hooks earlier than their necks are damaged.

While Houck is aware of she will’t save each horse, she appears on the {photograph} posted on-line by the auctioneer. “If they have kind eyes, I try to save them,” she stated.

Such was the case with Old Man Winter, a 28-year-old white swayback who was Houck’s first rescue in 2009. Or Sweet Gypsy, a using horse dumped at public sale nonetheless with horseshoes on, however simply “skin and bones,” Houck stated. Or Jessie, who misplaced an eye fixed to an unknown harm.

Some arrive hostile and solely heat as much as choose people, like Ruth. “Ruth was scary, hissing, did not like people,” stated Kingston resident Kristen Chandler by way of telephone. “You couldn’t get close to her.”

In 2020, Chandler’s daughter Shelby, 15, already an equestrienne who practiced English leaping, started volunteering at Toni’s Ponies as a break from digital education. “Toni noticed that Ruth has a soft spot for Shelby and offered to guide her,” Chandler stated. Over a yr, Shelby visited Toni’s Ponies nearly every day and waited patiently to earn Ruth’s belief, finally adopting her. Today, Chandler pays for board and Shelby rides her bike to the horse rescue after college for the afternoon feeding. On weekends, she grooms Ruth and works to get her accustomed to carrying a halter and being led.

“I feel super confident with how Toni is with Shelby, keeping her safe but also seeing the bond between the horse and person,” Chandler stated.

While Houck has one thing of a horse whisperer aura about her, she insists the recipe to rehabilitating a horse is straightforward.

“All you need to do is feed these horses and show them some compassion,” she stated. “Food and love. It’s not rocket science.”

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