Saving Ukrainian Horses

It isn’t only the people of Ukraine that are reeling from Putin’s wrath. Horses, cats, dogs, turtles, rabbits…all pets are subject to shells, missile strikes, and loss of shelter, water, and food.

Horses pose a particular challenge. Transporting horses out of Ukraine is much more difficult than other pets. Besides requiring trailers to move them, quarantine is required, and paperwork must be processed. While small animals have been allowed to cross without paperwork (receiving vaccines and microchips at makeshift facilities after they cross the border) horses can’t cross without it, a peculiar fact of the still remaining bureaucracy in Ukraine, a fact that frustrates owners and kills horses.

And when your barn and home are being bombed looking for paperwork would hardly be advisable.

Ukraine is a massive country, the largest country in Europe. Grain, hay and shavings, and often water, are hard to come by. In many instances, the only thing owners can do is turn the horses loose in order for them to have a chance at survival.

One Ukrainian woman had a heartbreaking experience. She turned her five horses loose to escape shelling in her area. She shared her predicament on Facebook, which brought the war tragically home to viewers in a whole new way, as they learned what horse owners are being forced to do in Ukraine.

The horses were in time gathered back together weeks after the shelling stopped, with a massive loss in weight and condition. One of them was very sadly stolen. She has found a safe home for herself but is still dealing with frustrating bureaucracy. She hopes to have her horses join her shortly.

Pawel Jasinski, who operates “Dirty Hooves,” a horseback tour company out of Poland, has been pitching in to help horses and people in Ukraine. Pawel hosts tours in a dozen countries, and trains them as well.

He speaks of the beauty of the Ukrainian countryside, the charm of its small villages and the friendliness of the people. Horse tours in the country were much in demand prior to the Russian invasion, with Pawel leading several horseback tours in Ukraine each year.

Pawel speaks Ukrainian and has many friends in the country. When the war began, he knew he had to help his neighbors across the border. Now he fundraises, and drives convoys of aid to the border, where he is met by his riding partner in Ukraine, who then distributes it in country to horse owners in need.

Russian soldiers are just as happy to commit atrocities against horses and other animals as they are to attack people. At the beginning of the war, Russians bombed a stable in Gostomel. The first building was burnt down; the horses, with no chance to escape, were burned alive. Stable workers were able to release the horses at the second building, who fled in panic.

A horse named Casablanca escaped the bombing and survived in the forest for 40 days. She was about 20 kilometers (about 12 and a half miles) from her farm. Thankfully Ukraine is blessed with miles of fields and forests, giving horses who have been turned loose to escape the bombing some access to food and water.

Casablanca found her way to a sheep farm, but due to the bombing no one was there to help her. Staying near the farm, she was seen by people who photographed her, and placed the photos on social media. Luckily, her owner spotted her there and contacted those in the area.

She arranged to have her horse picked up by volunteers and taken to a safe stable near Kiev, where the mare had the chance to recover and get a new start in life. After a few days she was transferred to a temporary stable in western Ukraine. There they had a very happy reunion, much to the relief of her owner.

Ukraine is home to several unique breeds, including the Hucul or Carpathian, a hearty, heavily built breed that ranges from pony sized to small horse, the Novoolexandrian, a heavy draft breed, and the Ukrainian Saddle Horse, a warmblood sport horse originating from Thoroughbred, Hanoverian, or Trakehner stallions crossed with Hungarian Furioso, Gidran Arab, or Nonius mares.

The Ukrainian Saddle Horse incorporates the last bloodlines of the extinct Orlov or Russian Saddle Horse. These horses, once the pride of Russia, were wiped out in World War I through bombing, starvation, and being eaten themselves by starving Russians. Hopefully they will not be wiped out permanently in Putin’s temper tantrum war.

Mykhailo Parkhomchuk saw what was happening to horses in Ukraine, and couldn’t just sit back and watch animals he had spent a lifetime caring for suffer and be killed. He founded the Ukrainian Equestrian Federation Charity Foundation in response. The UEFCF was founded with assistance from the FEI.

Based in Belgium, he drove back to his Ukrainian homeland on day two of the war. By the fourth day, he had organized a network of dozens of volunteers and founded the charity to save Ukraine’s abandoned and endangered horses.

“In some regions, it’s very dangerous,” says Mykhailo, explaining how volunteers first bring the horses to the relative safety of a base in western Ukraine before organizing the paperwork for their onward journey to a new home in Europe.

His UEF Charity Foundation has already rescued more than 100 horses, some of them found wandering in the open, others abandoned in stables by their owners.

Currently 40 of the rescued horses are staying at the group’s makeshift stables.

Volunteers at the site receive daily requests from owners via social media to help rescue their horses.

It doesn’t matter to the rescuers if it is an expensive horse, or cheap horse, big or small, old or young horse.

“We are trying to help all the horses and evacuate all the horses,” said Mikhailo’s associate, Taisia. She was petting a horse named Karpilon, who spent 21 days alone in a forest in the Kyiv region after being let out of his stable to escape bombing. “We think that every horse is the most important and precious for their owners.”

Horses are first moved to a “safe” area in Ukraine, where all the paperwork is gathered for them to move across the border to places throughout the European Union.

The situation is “very overwhelming, people don’t know how to help. People are bringing food to the border and people in Ukraine are trying to bring food to the horses stuck in Ukraine. Volunteers will drive food up and down to the horses. People in other countries offer stalls but it’s hard to get horses out, it’s hard to organize papers, it takes a few weeks. They have to take blood…We have nearly 50 horses waiting for results of blood before they can leave!”

When horses arrive at the border without a passport, they have to stay there for 21 days. This is another example of the frustrating bureaucracy owners are dealing with.

Cats and dogs are allowed across the borders without paperwork and are vaccinated and microchipped on the other side. Why not horses?

Stables are being built to keep them in temporarily while they get passports.

Horse owners throughout the country, as well as outside of it, are working together for the horses.

Another challenge in Ukraine is the lack of trailers. Generally, to attend shows, a farm will have just one trailer, which makes trips back and forth all day, dropping horses off at the show and picking up those ready to go home. It’s not like the U.S. where most horse owners have their own trailer.

Another huge challenge is the money it costs to keep horses. While at home, Ukrainians were earning from their jobs, when they leave they are generally jobless (although groups everywhere are trying to find jobs for Ukrainians as well as places to stay) so they don’t have the money it takes to feed their horses.

A tremendous number of show horses are for sale now at reduced prices because of desperate owners.

This week a second evacuation stable with room for 60 horses was opened by the UEFCF.

The stable in a safe area in the north-west of Ukraine welcomed the first horses from the country’s farthest east province of Luhansk recently. Free accommodation for those accompanying the horses is also provided.

Many owners don’t wish for their horses to leave Ukraine, they just want them to go to safer areas.

The feed, bedding, and free accommodation are made possible by donations to UEFCF.

“This is only possible because of the kind donations from all around the world,” says Mykhailo.

This week it also received several truckloads of supplies and feed from neighboring countries. More than 80 stables in Ukraine have been supplied with products, feed and shavings.

Donations to the foundation have exceeded €111,000. The charity is supporting Ukrainian horse owners, riding schools, equestrian clubs, and stables, and besides feed, products and transportation, it offers counseling support and other kinds of needs-based assistance.

There have been over 900 people and organizations who contacted the UEFCF, offering help. Besides Europe the offers have come from the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Singapore.

About 200 contacts have offered help with transport from the border, there are offers of stabling for over 1000 horses, and many can also accommodate the horses’ owners and their families. In addition, over 130 employment opportunities have been offered! Many contacts represent groups or organizations who can coordinate further with local communities.

In addition, the UEFCF has launched data collection from clubs and stables to determine their needs for increments of three weeks in order to be sufficiently supplied.

Much is being done to support our fellow equestrians and their horses in Ukraine, but there is so much more to do. While there are an estimated 100,000 horses in Ukraine, only a tiny amount have managed to get out of the country.

If you would like to help, please consider donating to

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