Volunteers get 'a sense of peace' when working with Washington rescue horses

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

WASHINGTON — Whenever it’s a weekend, a break from work, or some unexpected free time, Peter Cleary takes a ride to see Justice, a rescue horse.

“I groom him and I take him for a nice walk in the woods,” said Cleary, a Southbury resident. “I look forward to it all week.”

Cleary volunteers at HORSE of CT, a horse rehabilitation and rescue organization on Wilbur Road in Washington. The nonprofit recently held Volunteer Day Saturday, where people from all over the surrounding area came to meet the 22 horses on the property and learn about ways to help.

“I love animals and love horses, so I look forward to coming,” Cleary said. “Even on lunchtime, if I have a break from my home office, I ride over here and say ‘Hi’ to him,” adding Justice is a “big goof.”

Cleary said he especially enjoys taking Justice in the snow.

“There’s no one there. It’s quiet,” he said. “You can hear the trees cracking in the wind.”

On Saturday, Wilton resident Carolyn Lemoine and her niece, 12-year-old Sadie Bora, of New Canaan, were caring for Dolly, a miniature horse; and a pony, who has not yet been named.

“They both were recently rescued from a kill pen where they were going to slaughter,” said Lemoine, who has been volunteering at HORSE of CT for 15 years.

According to Lemoine, many of the horses who come to the nonprofit don’t trust humans, due to negative experiences in the past.

“There’s all different ways that horses get here and none of them are good,” said Lemoine, adding some horses have been abused, neglected or starved. “Some of them, when they come, you can’t even get near them. So, a lot of what you come here to do is just spend time with them and brush them and show them that they can trust people.”

She said it’s important to establish trust with the horses, and a lot of that involves touch like cleaning their feet.

“A lot of horses don’t like their feet touched. Cleaning their feet desensitizes them,” she said.

Southbury resident Helen Moriarty, who comes to HORSE of CT every Saturday, sponsors two horses — Mack and Sugar — which involves visiting them at least four times a month.

“You can walk them, groom them, feed them,” she said.

Every horse has a tale, according to Moriarty. When hearing the stories about where they come from, “it just breaks your heart,” she said.

On Saturday, she was caring for Babe, a Tennessee Walking Horse.

“She was an owner-surrender and she came here underweight. She has heaves,” Moriarty said. “So, she’s been rehabed enough where she looks healthy. She gained weight and she can now be ridden.”

Delilah was rescued about a month ago from a kill pen in Texas, and was going to slaughter. Fiona is a retired race horse who was neglected and abused.

“I come through those gates and the world stops,” Moriarty said. “Sometimes, I can look into their eyes and there’s a spirit in there that just touches me.”

“Horses are expensive and when people get them, they may not realize the time or the money that’s involved, and they are no longer able to care for them,” she said. “When I come here, it’s just for me. It’s just a feeling that you get from them because they’re just magnificent.”

Patty Wahlers, founder and owner of HORSE of Connecticut, said when people work with the horses, they tell her they get “a sense of accomplishment” and “a sense of peace.”

Due to the pandemic, those feelings are what people most need at this time, she added.

“In this world right about now, most people are really highly stressed, and when you come here and look at these horses, it’s a calming thing,” Wahlers said.

Wahlers said she has taken on the role of mother to all the horses.

“I feel like they’re all my kids,” she said. “I’ll do the dirty work — washing them, feeding them, and making sure they take their medicine if they need it. Whether it’s two legged or four legged, it doesn’t make any difference.”

For more information on HORSE of CT, visit horseofct.org.

sfox@milfordmirror.com