'Every animal deserves a happy ending': Washington festival benefits rescued horses

WASHINGTON — All horses deserve a good life, regardless of where they came from, said Patty Wahlers, founder and owner of HORSE of Connecticut, a horse rehabilitation and rescue organization. The organization, at 43 Wilbur Road, held its annual holiday festival fundraiser on Saturday.

Items for sale included jewelry, clothing, and baked goods. There were also many horse-themed knickknacks such as sketches, note cards, and framed photos.

Free tours were given of the 47-acre property.

Each fundraiser generates between $2,000 and $2,500, Wahlers said. All proceeds from the festival, and all other events held on the property throughout the year, go to the care of the horses. Past fundraisers include a music festival, a Kids Fun Day, and a Patio Kickoff Kentucky Derby Party.

HORSE of Connecticut, which stands for Humane Organization Representing Suffering Equines, has rescued 750 horses since it was founded 39 years ago.

“We rescue every breed — it doesn’t matter where they come from,” Wahlers said. “We pick them up from all over the country.”

The organization hears about horses from their owners and others in the community. Some owners reach out because they can no longer afford to care for their horse anymore.

Wahlers, along with 60 volunteers, takes care of the horses until they’re adopted. If they don’t get adopted, they live out the remainder of their lives on the property.

All horses are groomed seven days a week, year-round.

“That’s what keeps them healthy and keeps their coats nice and shiny. You also find out if they have any injuries,” said Whalers, who also teaches classes on the care of horses.

There are 21 horses on the premises. Two more are coming from Texas in two weeks.

Each of the horses have their own story.

With Duke, “the vet called us because the owners were going to have him put down. They had bought him and couldn’t get him to put any weight on. He weighed about 1,900 pounds when we got him. He’s now 2,500 pounds now,” said Wahlers, showing before and after photos.

Thunder Heart was struck by lightening in a field during a storm. H was blind in his left eye and had burn marks over his body. Now he can see shadows and his marks have healed.

“He wasn’t ever supposed to be rideable again and yesterday was his first day riding,” said volunteer Megan Cordon, of Watertown. “We were very excited for that.”

He’s now looking to be adopted. “It’s just finding the right home for him,” Cordon said.

The adoption process takes about six weeks, with multiple visits. “It involves taking them on walks and getting to know if it’s the right fit for both the person and the horse,” she said. “You can meet them once but you don’t get to know their real personality.”

The HORSE of CT website includes profiles of all the horses that are adoptable, as well as ways to volunteer.

Aside from horses, the organization has cared for cats, turkey, dogs, goats, sheep and donkeys.

Hercules, a Great Dane, was rescued after spending the first 11 months of his life in a kennel in a basement.

“Newtown Animal Control seized him. They were going to euthanize him and they called me,” Wahlers said.

She said she was inspired to care for horses when she grew up living across the street from a woman who was the founder of New Milford Animal Welfare. “She used to help us with the animals in the neighborhood,” Wahlers said.

This year has been a challenge because of COVID, according to Wahlers. Funds were down since less people came to the fundraisers.

However, she said she will not ever turn down a horse.

“Every animal deserves a happy ending. No animal deserves to suffer, ever,” she said. “Even if they cannot be ridden, it doesn’t mean they have a death sentence. They should have just as much a good life.”

sfox@milfordmirror.com