STAFFORD, Va. (AP) — Grace Purdum was happy when the thoroughbred mare known as Mare #1 kicked her in the leg one morning.
“In our industry, that’s a good thing,” said Purdum, the president of Hope for Horses, a horse rescue and sanctuary that opened last year in the Hartwood area of Stafford County. “I say that openly, because it means she is feeling so much better that now she’s ready to start training.”
Mare #1 and her companion, River Rapids, were among 140 horses that were rescued from a breeding facility in Shenandoah County. The animals were malnourished and living in poor, crowded conditions.
Purdum, who with her husband Scott also operates Advantage Horsemanship, said she learned about the situation from contacts at Central Virginia Horse Rescue. She told them she could take two of the rescued horses.
“They said, ‘Do you want stallions? Pregnant mares? Weanlings? Yearlings?,’” Purdum recalled. “I said, I want none of that! So they said, ‘That means you’re getting the worst-case, most severely malnourished mares,’ and I said, I will take that.”
The veterinarian who examined the two mares after they arrived at Hope for Horses gave them body condition scores of 1.5 and 2. A body score of 5–6 is optimal for most horses.
The animals were riddled with lice and skin fungus, they were covered in scrapes and they were so undernourished that they had been eating pebbles, Purdum said.
Hope for Horses was able to obtain registration paperwork for one of the two horses, so they know her name is River Rapids. The other horse has no registered identity, so she’s known as “Mare #1” and the organization is running a community Facebook contest to determine her new name.
The choices are: Daisy, June, Delilah, Rose and Meadow.
In the few weeks they have been under Hope for Horses’ care, the two mares have gained weight, their coats are shiny and their personalities are coming out.
“They’re starting to have opinions,” Purdum said with a laugh. “They’re doing so much better that now. The training starts.”
Rehabilitating, retraining and rehoming thoroughbred horses is Purdum’s specialty and the main mission of Hope for Horses.
The nonprofit organization was established in Galt, California, in 2013. Purdum took over leadership from the founder in January 2022 and opened the Stafford satellite location a year ago.
“We have such a tie to the community here as Advantage Horsemanship, and to the horse industry on the East Coast in general,” Purdum said. “We were getting horses in from tracks in California and shipping them to Virginia. We thought, why are we doing this? There are tracks on the East Coast. We can help horses at both coasts and not have to make those kinds of moves.”
In the past year, Purdum estimates that between 10–14 horses have come through the Stafford location for rehabilitation, retraining and adoption.
Nearly all of the horses that come to both locations are retired racehorses, and 5% are from abuse and neglect situations such as the one in Shenandoah County.
Though they will not turn away a horse in need, the organization tries to avoid taking in horses that will require permanent sanctuary.
“Just because that limits our space to take in horses that can turn around and be rehomed and enter back into society,” Purdum said. “We really try to stick to our mission of rehabilitate, retrain and rehome. My skillset and my husband’s skillset are that we have the knowledge and ability to retrain and turn out good members of society as horses.”
Horses retrained by Purdum generally go on to be adopted out to equestrians looking for a performance horse. Occasionally, they become trail horses.
“They do so well that they’re just ready for that second career,” Purdum said.
Now that the organization is established in Virginia, the Purdums plan for it to grow.
They’d like to establish a separate facility from Advantage Horsemanship and are looking for property in the Fredericksburg area. They’re also focused on growing their pool of volunteers.
“Other than one part-time employee in California, we are 100% volunteer run,” Purdum said.
There are 24 volunteers now, and they do anything and everything around the facility, from mucking out stalls to helping feed and groom horses to answering phone calls to writing grants.
“You name it, we need it,” Purdum said.
Hope for Horses holds a volunteer orientation and training session each month. Volunteers of any age are welcome, but those under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
Hope for Horses plans to start becoming a host facility for PTSD support group meetings.
Purdum said there are similarities between people with PTSD and horses coming off the track.
“Whether it’s mental or they have serious injuries or they just need a let-down period, they’re reestablishing themselves into society in an entirely different manner,” she said. “They tend to need help and guidance as they’re transitioning. So this is a really great way to bring horses and humans together.”
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