FEW THINGS APPEAL to us humans more than creatures who need our help.
The 30 horses in barns and paddocks at SAFE (Save A Forgotten Equine) require the usual assistance — yes, scooping poop is involved. But having been rescued from neglect, abuse or owners who just couldn’t care for them, these critters need more: people who will show up for them without asking for much in return. That kind of person is a good kind of human, indeed.
I chat with Danielle Jaffy as she helps feed horses one cold late-fall evening at the SAFE farm in Redmond. It’s not far from the high-tech urban bustle, but this tree-rimmed green valley feels like a different world.
“They care so much about all the horses. They’re really hard workers,” Jaffy says of her fellow volunteers. “They even care about each other, as a community. They’re just a really good group of people.”
The operation wouldn’t run without many hours of labor from people who reliably show up for their shifts, in all kinds of circumstances. “We had a total global pandemic for the last two years, and the horses still expected to be fed. They weren’t the least bit sympathetic,” Bonnie Hammond, SAFE’s executive director, tells me with a chuckle.
Most volunteers sign up for one shift a week, though some do more. About a half-dozen turn up each morning and evening, plus a couple each night, to help with everything from administrative work to mucking out stalls in the pleasantly tidy barn.
“I see a lot of friendships being formed and a lot of people who are just happy to be here,” Hammond says.
Some volunteers own horses; others have never been around them before but want “horse time.” They’re trained on the job, via workshops and by sitting in on horsemanship classes SAFE holds for local horse owners.
They start each shift with a meeting, where they hear what’s going on with the horses — which ones are feeling up to being petted, which want to be left alone, which are on special diets.
Ideally, these horses will have a second chance; the goal is to rehabilitate them and find them new homes. SAFE is one of a handful of rescues in the state that are part of the “A Home for Every Horse” rescue and rehoming network, all of which rely heavily on volunteers.
“I’m here because I like what they do. It’s not just rescue. They want these horses to have a life,” volunteer Anne Healey tells me as she efficiently scoops manure into what looks like a giant dustpan.
The first step: Make the animals comfortable with humans. SAFE’s carefully constructed program follows the tenets of trust-based training using clear, gentle directions. “We rehabilitate their bodies, but we also put a lot of effort into training and retraining,” Hammond says.
Experienced volunteers join the small paid staff in handling and riding the horses.
All that work “makes them feel more involved in the transformation that the horses go through,” Hammond says. “I want our volunteers to look at that horse and feel, ‘I made that happen.’ ”
Many of the horses find forever homes with carefully screened owners who will love and understand them; a few become permanent residents here. Either way, the folks here are on their side. “When I go home, I feel satisfied,” Healey says. “I just feel really needed here.”