BY ANN JAMIESON
School horses are the lifeblood of our business. Almost every equestrian in the country had their initial ride on the back of a trusted schoolie.
But the nation, the world, is in turmoil. Our physical and economic lives are taking a huge hit from the coronavirus. And the horse industry is no exception. With barns in most states closed and lessons a no-go, many school horses are without a job to do. While private horses have owners to support them (if the owners still have a job), and upscale barns have resources to fall back on, neighborhood barns often left trying to fend for themselves.
As bills pile up and no lessons come in, how are barns to pay for the four-legged angels that have supplied their livelihood for so long? Trainers are running out of funds to feed the school horses, and many are facing desperate decisions. Under incredible stress, they feel they have no options.
How can these precious schoolies be saved? How can barn owners be spared making a horrifically sad choice?
Debi Siegel, owner of Grouse Ridge Sales Stable on Long Island, New York, has an option. Debi has always treasured school horses, dating back to the first lessons she taught back when Glen View Stables was owned by Frankie Alexander, before Ralph Caristo owned the facility. She knows school horses are the backbone of our industry, the ones who introduce children and adults to the joy of sitting on a horse for the very first time, to the realization that this is something they want to pursue their whole lives. Schoolies are worth their weight in gold.
“If I see a good school horse going around, I just melt,” says Debi. “I started out teaching up/down lessons.”
As a horse dealer known for providing quality mounts at reasonable prices, Debi has sold many school horses. She didn’t want to learn of any of them missing meals…or even worse as times get more desperate.
When she learned that barn owners were considering sending some of their schoolies to the New Holland auction, a well-known shopping place for slaughterhouses, she was horrified. “I couldn’t let that happen!”
Debi couldn’t let these icons of the horse world suffer such an appalling fate.
What could she do?
She began by asking barn owners what it was they needed in order to keep their school horses. Hay was the most frequently cited item. Sometimes it was grain, or medical care. Debi’s husband, Howard Flynn, is a veterinarian, so he stepped up to the plate, offering free medical services if the horses were brought to him. He has provided colic help, sewed up some wounds from intra-herd fights, cleaned infected eyes, and donated medications.
Debi went to work on the need for feed. Working off of Facebook (and with a kid’s help for tech challenges) she set up a page for a fundraiser, and began to promote it. Any donation is welcome from $1 to any amount a person can give.
The money is immediately used to purchase hay and grain. Storing it in the shed, it is open to any one who needs it for their school horses. Farm owners do not need to check in with Debi. It is anonymous; she doesn’t want anyone to not seek help because of embarrassment. Just take what they need, and leave whatever they can. Debi doesn’t know who takes the hay and grain; she just knows that she fills up the shed, and whatever is put in there, goes out.
People drop off donations, everything from a single bag of grain to an entire truckload of supplies from Tractor Supply.
Debi says the demand has been “unbelievable! It’s insane; I can’t keep hay in the place!”
She gives a huge thank you to anyone who donates, no matter what the amount. She wants to let people know that she can’t do this without their help, and she is very, very grateful.
Debi, who has been working non-stop to save the precious schoolies, hopes her idea will spread across the country, saving school horses everywhere. If we all work together no barn owner will be faced with a heart-breaking decision.
If you are interested in starting your own local program in any area of the country, Debi is happy to share what she has learned and how to go about creating the fundraiser. She recommends that people do not set up the fundraiser in their barn name, as this can create unnecessary requirements and roadblocks. Her number is (516) 398 6378 and her email is [email protected].
We give a huge thanks to Debi for all she is doing for school horses and hope others will pick up the calling!
About the Author: Ann Jamieson wanted to be a horse show judge since she was a child, and has now held her USEF “”r”” judge’s cards for over 30 years.
She writes about both horses, and travel, (and particularly loves combining the two). Ann is the author of the “”For the Love of the Horse”” series, four volumes of amazing true stories about horses, and the proud mom of her Secretariat grandson, Fred Astaire (Tucker).
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