GNH Lumber February 2024

Rescuing horses runs in this family


CHURCHTOWN–When Cortney Scianti was 11, her mother got her a horse at auction. Chief was a 20-year-old rescue. The former camp horse thrived another 15 years under the family’s care.

Now Cortney, owner of Whispering Meadows LLC, in Churchtown and her mother, Peggy Vitarius, have come full circle by adding five rescue horses to the existing herd of 20 equines. The rescue operation, under the auspices of Safe Haven, acquired five horses last December, making it Columbia County’s newest rescue facility.

I recently interviewed the women about their reasons for rescuing horses, goals, background, how they acquired rescues, and the horses’ biographies. (In the interest of full disclosure, I volunteer with grooming of the rescues at Whispering Meadows.)

Whispering Meadows is a full-service training, boarding and lesson stable. Cortney and her clients show on the New England Morgan class A circuit, winning national and world championships in multiple disciplines, and locally at the Columbia, Dutchess and Ulster County fairs and local shows.

Why rescue horses?

Peggy: We have seen an increased need, the increased travesty of “shipping pens,” where 80,000-plus horses are sent to slaughter annually, and to correct the misconception that these horses are throwaways.

Cortney: They are vital horses–young, sound, almost show horses!

What’s your background with horses?

Cortney: I worked with a trainer in Margaretville and started showing seriously Morgan horses in saddle seat, Western pleasure, hunter pleasure, driving, English pleasure and park. I attended the University of Nevada in Reno and worked at a resort leading trail rides and training draft horses for wagon and sleigh rides. I came home and started Whispering Meadows in 1999.

What kind of horse ends up at an auction or in a shipping pen?

Peggy: People don’t understand what can happen to horses sent to auction. It’s a gamble. Some situations are foreseeable. Overbreeding of racehorses; camp horses that kids ride daily and instead of being over-wintered are sold at auctions; owners who lose interest; and draft horses no longer able to do heavy work. Some situations are unforeseeable. An owner experiences bad health or looses income and cannot afford to care for the horse or loses the ability to.

What’s the process for rescuing horses from kill pens?

Peggy: Technically they are called shipping pens because the horses are not killed there. Horses are sold at auction to “buyers” and then trucked to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada in groups of 30- 40. Multiple truckloads go out weekly. Some buyers allow the horses to be purchased prior to shipping.

Cortney: The fee paid to the shipper to rescue a horse is called bail. You literally bail them out. We have a contact person who works with a shipper in Pennsylvania. Through pictures, descriptions and videos we select horses that interest us and contact the ship pen owner directly for purchase. I look for rideability and temperament. Is the horse friendly, cooperative? That’s how I chose the five we have now.

Peggy: Thousands of dollars are invested. Quarantine fees are $475/month; bail, veterinary and farriers fees vary. Also, there is the cost of transportation from Pennsylvania.

Cortney: All horses are vaccinated and cleared health-wise before being released. Some aren’t even sick when they get to the pens but quickly contract respiratory problems because of the conditions there.

The ASPCA defines neglect, abuse and cruelty to animals as the infliction by omission or by commission by humans, suffering or harm.

Peggy and Cortney: There is no accountability!

(At this point Peggy shows me a picture of Bruno, one of their rescues, when he first arrived at the shipping pen. He is skin and bones.)

Cortney: Why wasn’t his owner held accountable for letting him get like that?

Peggy: Premarin, a hormone replacement drug for women, is manufactured from the urine of pregnant mares, usually draft horses. They are stalled 24/7 for eleven months, hooked up to a catheter. Their foals are sent to feedlots for fattening, then sold to slaughterhouses. After one-month the process is repeated.

What are your goals?

Cortney: To retrain and re-home them so that we can rescue others. Increase awareness of the plight of equine entering the slaughter pipeline. And develop programs to revitalize the human/horse connection.

How do you prepare them?

Cortney: When they arrived the horses were underweight, traumatized, withdrawn and untrusting. They needed to decompress. They also need consistent training and turnout. I work with them as if they are untrained yearlings. Do they tie? Take a saddle? I line-lounge them and figure out what they know and what they can do. Can they walk, trot, canter?

How does one adopt?

Peggy: The new home must be inspected and approved, have veterinarian and farrier references, needs prior approval for future sale with no auction destination. The adoption fee is to be determined.

(Whispering Meadows has also rescued horses privately.)

Cortney urges: “Anyone who cannot keep their horse, contact me directly. We will find a home for your horse.” Call 518-851-2462

The five horses recently rescued by Whispering Meadows are four geldings and a mare:

• Dentley–TB/QH mix,12 years,15.3 hands, sorrel, a mystery gelding without papers; high-end jumper, hunter and dressage prospect

• Teton Domino’s Heir–Morgan, 22 years, 15.1 hands, black, is branded; quiet demeanor, good beginner horse

• Magical Zanopoly–QH, 6 years, 15 hands, buckskin

• Sadie–QH, 12 years, 15.1 hands, red dun, a mystery mare, no papers; walk/trot/canters, pleasure horse

• Bruno–Morgan type, 14.1 hands, DNA testing pending, kid friendly.

Other horse rescue organizations in Columbia County include:

• Equine Advocates, PO Box 354, Chatham, NY 12037-0354, 518 245-1599,

• Little Brook Farm, Old Chatham

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