Just as the morning sun rises over the hills at Autumn Ridge horse farm, the sky glows with an orange hue that stirs the horses awake for another day. Volunteers roll in one by one to begin the daily tasks. Down the rocky dirt path to the left is the big red barn, hay is stacked high for all the horses. Extra feed, hay, medical supplies, and other donations are stored in back. Just in front of the barn sits a small two horse stall labeled “quarantine.” This is for the rescued horses to be taken care of before being introduced to the other twelve horses. Continuing on the path sits four shareable stalls that holds at least three horses each. They’re all paired up with who gets along best together. They have room to run and play and bask in all the beauty that is Autumn Ridge.
Autumn Ridge is also known as the forever home for Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue. They are renting the twenty acres of land for now but are raising money to buy it with the “Drive to 85K” campaign. Draft horses are large working horses for hard tasks such as plowing and other farm labor. Stacey Golub, an equine veterinarian, adopted her first draft horse in 2010 while she was still in vet school at Cornell. Dr. Golub heard of a shire mare that was in the hands of a slaughter broker in Pennsylvania, she quickly got people together: one friend offered quarantine space, another friend offered to transport, and several friends on Facebook donated money to bail the horse out. The horse was soon adopted. Dr. Golub found she wanted to put this passion and love for draft horses to good use, the rescue was founded a year later.
The rescue’s mission is to save horses by “bidding against slaughter brokers at auctions and accepting owner surrenders who are no longer able to provide for their horses.” At the rescue, they vet, quarantine, rehabilitate, train, and rehome rescued horses. The organization has rescued over seventy horses. As a nonprofit organization, the entire rescue is run by volunteers. Dr. Golub provides all health-related procedures while the daily care is provided by those just looking to help. While Dr. Golub cares for all animals that make their way to the rescue, it is not just draft horses that have arrived. There is Willy the mini-horse, Melody the mare, and before being adopted there was Gordy the goat. Animal loving volunteers take in animals that need be cared for and those being mistreated. The dedication and hard work that goes into this rescue is worth every second says sixty-three-year-old full time nurse and part time volunteer, Dyanne. “No complaints. It’s about the lives that depend on us. I volunteer to make a difference in a life. And as it turned out the horses, made a bigger difference in mine.”
In 2016, the first CDHR farm in Haddam Neck was in danger of being lost due to the change in ownership. CDHR had to find new land to purchase in order to keep the rescue going. The rescue is self-promoting for donations on Facebook and their website. That campaign was a success and they secured the land at Autumn Ridge.
A recent rescue is Hank the Belgian, he’s about fifteen years old. Previously he was dealer owned and advertised as a 9-year-old who just had an injury to his eye. Hank actually had severe case of squamous cell carcinoma (cancer) that has destroyed his right eye and created a secondary infection, and a second tumor on the cornea of his left eye. His right eye needed immediate surgery to remove the eyeball and the surrounding tissue. As of now Hank is completely recovered and heading out of quarantine.
To provide for all of these expenses such as surgeries, upkeep on the farm, food, and other daily operations, they rely heavily on the volunteers and events they put on. The biggest fundraiser they do is Denim, Diamonds, and Drafts at the Saint Clements Castle in Portland, Connecticut. There’s dinner, dancing, auctions and all the proceeds go to CDHR. Another event they put on is the CDHR’s Holiday Open House where Mrs. Claus comes by to see all the children and they get taken on a sled ride pulled by one of their very own horses.
As the sun sets on Autumn Ridge, the horses mosey their way to the stalls for a night’s rest. Before leaving, the volunteers check all the electric fences are on, make sure all horses are accounted for, and everyone is safe. After a long day of work on the farm one by one the volunteers drive up the rocky hill and swing on to the street, although exhausted, know they’ll be just as happy to come back and do it all over again.