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Middleborough group saves unwanted horses from slaughter

Derel Twombly, with Dusty, founded Amazing Grace Equine.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Derel Twombly, with Dusty, founded Amazing Grace Equine.

Wearing her riding helmet, young Morgan Kerins sits easily on her beautifully groomed horse Cricket inside a white-fenced corral, in a photo posted on the Amazing Grace Equine Facebook page.

Melissa Kerins of Whitman, who posted the photo of her daughter, wrote on the comment line, “This is why people should rescue horses.”

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A two-year-old nonprofit organization, Amazing Grace Equine rescues unwanted horses in Plymouth and Bristol counties, finding new owners for horses in the pipeline for death in a slaughterhouse.

Using YouTube and Facebook to match horses in need of a home with potential owners, the volunteer group says it saves approximately one-third of the unwanted horses in Plymouth and Bristol counties — more than 50 healthy animals that would otherwise be among the more than 125,000 horses killed nationwide each year for human consumption.

Most people are shocked to learn that American horses are killed for their meat, said group founder Derel Twombly of Middleborough.

“If the horse isn’t healthy and it gets expensive to care for them, they’re sold to a broker,” she said. “If they can’t find an owner who wants a living horse, the brokers will sell it to a ‘horse-kill’ company to be slaughtered.”

Using figures from a government report, her group states that, “every year, over 125,000 unlucky horses — riding horses, carriage horses, award-winning race horses, wild horses, children’s ponies , young and old horses — are inhumanely slaughtered and processed for their meat” in countries outside US borders and shipped abroad where a market for horsemeat flourishes.

The slaughter of unwanted horses horrified Kerins. “I remember looking at [Cricket] and thinking, I can’t believe a horse like this gets passed over and ends up on somebody’s plate,” she said.

“People think they’re going out to pasture,” said Amazing Grace Equine volunteer Ellen Grund, who researched the slaughter of horses for grant applications for the group.

Horses are transported to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada because there are no legally operating slaughterhouses in this country, she said. The horses suffer during transport, and no practical “humane euthanasia” method exists for assembly line slaughter of horses, she said.

Businesses such as riding schools, carriage services, or racing stables hand over horses to brokers because of injury or other health problems or simply because the animal no longer fits an owner’s needs, said Twombly, a veteran horse professional who operates a pony-ride business called “Ponies for Parties.”

A horse with a leg or foot injury may need more time to heal than a business can afford, Twombly said, and horses are expensive to feed and maintain. Sometimes horses simply need more time to recover than an owner wants to give them. Sometimes a completely healthy horse is discarded because it is not succeeding on a racetrack. Sometimes an owner’s situation changes and a horse needs a new home.

Twombly said her group provides the horses with the care and time they need to recover, finding temporary “foster” homes with those able to take care of horses or at its own small foster facility in Middleborough. The group produces videos, including slow-motion footage of the horse cantering, and distributes them through social media to find a good “match” for each horse.

“Making videos of the horses is a big part of our business model,” Twombly said, adding she generally finds new owners within a couple of weeks.

Amazing Grace Equine has lately gained recognition as a significant animal protection organization by others in the field. Invited by the Standish Humane Society, Twombly last month presented information on her group’s mission at “DoggiePawLooza,” a big gathering for dog owners at Wompatuck State Park in Hingham. She has also represented the group at a fair in East Bridgewater, and next month she will talk about its work at an event organized by Ventura Grain in Taunton.

Twombly made a recent appearance in Quincy with her horse Dusty at the invitation of volunteer Kathy McAdams and Grund to raise awareness about the organization. An Episcopalian minister who works with the homeless and a Quincy Animal Shelter volunteer, McAdams said she had no contact with horses until her recent volunteer experience.

She and Grund helped take care of a horse at a foster base in Middleborough. “We go down to feed him carrots and sweet potatoes and groom him,” McAdams said, adding, “I’ve shoveled a lot of poop.”

The presence of Dusty, a chestnut mare 15.2 hands tall, drew the neighborhood children. About 30 adults came, too, to hear Twombly’s presentation, and some made donations. More information about the group is available at amazinggraceequine.org

“It’s all about spreading the word,” McAdams said.

Dusty, a gentle horse in her 20s, comfortable around children and other living things, is the group’s poster horse. Taking too long to recover from an injury for the riding school that owned her, she recovered under Amazing Grace Equine’s care and became a valuable addition to “Ponies for Parties” as a mellow party animal.

Kerins said she’s glad she found a good horse, too.

“I grew up on an Arabian horse farm,” she said. “There’s something special about horses. It teaches [children] empathy. It teaches them that a lot of other creatures in the world feel pain and joy. It teaches them you have to work — lots of physical work in taking care of a horse.”

She and Morgan met the horse she described as “a standard bred horse for harness racing” at Hidden Acres Equestrian Center in Carver, which served as its foster home. Although she wasn’t actively looking for a horse, Kerins said, “I looked at her, brushed her, and fell in love with her right away. She was as sweet as can be.”

Taking a liking to a horse at first sight is not uncommon, said Twombly, who believes many people’s hearts, and lives, have been touched by their relationship with horses.

When you rescue or “foster” a horse, you may hold back from falling in love with it, Twombly said.

“When you adopt,” she said, it’s “total love.”

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.
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