HORSE HELP: Driftwood Horse Rescue and Sanctuary rescues horses at auction

Camille Carson recognized a problem and knew she had to do something. He couldn’t get away from her.

For this, she earned Taini’s eternal gratitude.

Taini is a six-year-old Arabian mix that Camille picked up at a low-end horse auction for $275.

Taini was destined for the slaughterhouse. She was malnourished, abused, had a respiratory infection and was almost unapproachable.

“She was obviously starved and beaten,” Camille recalls.

These days, Taini — which means “Returning Moon” in Chippewa — is healthy and happy and enjoying her bucolic life on the 50-acre farm that’s home to Driftwood Horse Rescue and Sanctuary. She gets to meet visitors, welcomes human contact, and is about a month away from being ready for adoption.

“I helped her learn to be a horse again,” says Camille. “She still needs some training, but if anyone wanted her, we could put her through a crash course.”

Taini and more than 20 other horses live in the sanctuary that Camille and her husband Jess Carson founded about a year ago.

Camille had a lifelong love affair with horses. She started riding ponies when she was little. Jess is a member of the country band Midland who had a triple platinum hit ‘Drinkin’ Problem’ a few years ago and are currently on tour in Hawaii and Australia. The couple has three children, aged six, five and three.

Horse auctions

A few of the horses on the farm belong to Camille and Jess personally, but most of them are rescues. Camille regularly attends horse auctions around the country and buys horses for slaughter. She has the horses transported to Driftwood where they are prepared, fed and trained.

Killing horses for food is illegal in the United States, Camille explains, but horse traders buy the animals cheaply in this country and ship them to Canada or Mexico, where they are slaughtered and shipped to Asia and Europe, often for human consumption.

The process is quite brutal, says Camille: “It’s the opposite of humanity. [The horses) are packed into semi trucks. A lot of them don’t make it. Many die on the way. You shouldn’t treat any animal like that.”

Instead, at the sanctuary, the horses are nursed back to health and offered for sale. After a year, the first rescue has reached the point that it’s suitable for adoption.

Camille points out that a horse like Taini might cost $20,000 if purchased from a breeder. She plans to charge $5,000-$6,000 to adopt a horse. Even at that, she will be losing money. But it’s really not about the money. By the time she buys a horse, has it transported to the sanctuary, nurses it back to health and trains it, Camille figures she has invested something north of $20,000.

“I don’t charge breeder prices,” she says, “but I try to place a value on them. I try not to sell the horses too cheap. In our society we put value on what we pay for.”

Once, she buys a horse it has to be quarantined for month to make sure it doesn’t have a communicable disease.

Keeping 20 or more horses is not cheap. At other rescues, the dogs wolf down kibble; cats nibble away at their food. Camille’s rescue animals, frankly, eat like horses.

According to a survey by the University of Maine Extension Program, it costs about $4,000 a year keep a horse. That figure varies, depending on location. Hay alone can cost $3 a day per horse, the survey found. For the average horse in the U.S, it costs more than $1,200 a year for hay and grain, farrier services $350, routine veterinary care $500, pasture maintenance $200. Throw in things like bedding and building maintenance and you are knocking on $4,000 — and that doesn’t include a boarding facility.

Camille’s ultimate goal is to send happy, healthy horses to welcoming homes and restock the sanctuary with other animals in need. Currently, she has four horses ready for adoption.

Veterinary bills are huge. Most every horse that comes to Driftwood Horse Rescue needs some sort of specialized medical attention as well as shots. It runs about $150 just for a ranch call. “A partnership with a local vet would be amazing,” said Timea Chemez, the group’s executive director.

Prices going up

Like most everything these days, the price of hay is skyrocketing. A year ago a bale of hay ran $9. Today it’s close to $15.

“You wouldn’t believe how expensive it is just to get [the horses] here,” says Camille.

Camille is in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Any donations it receives are tax deductible. “As the economy tightens, fewer donations come in,” says Camille. “I know it’s hard out there for a lot of people.”

He has a list of people who want to help around the farm—taking care of the horses, cleaning the stalls, doing whatever needs to be done—but first, he’s looking for a volunteer coordinator, someone to schedule and organize the helpers.

“I feel like horses have so much to learn,” says Camille. “Every day I learn something new here.”

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