Story by MeLinda Schnyder - Photography by Madison Ham
Ande Armstrong has had horses in her life since she was 13 years old but it was a horse she would eventually name Jim that changed her life.
While attending a draft horse show in Hutchinson in 2005, she ventured over to a nearby sale barn during a horse auction. Among the pens where 300 horses were being kept, she noticed a horse standing alone in the middle of a pen of about 40 horses. He had been so neglected and starved that he could barely hold his head up.
As she continued through other pens, she couldn’t stop thinking of that horse and considering its fate: riding for hours on a cramped semitrailer for hours without food or water to a plant in Mexico to be slaughtered. She imagined he would collapse and be stomped to death en route.
“I was sick to my stomach,” she said. “I could only think about what a horrid death he would experience. At that moment I made the decision that I was going to take him home. I wasn’t sure if he would even survive the trip home, and if he did and ended up passing in a green pasture the next day, at least he would know that someone loved and cared about him in his final hours.
“You could see a will to live in him, so we fed him, cared for him and slowly he began to put weight back on and you could see he was not ready to give up. We were very fortunate to say we had Jim for five more years.”
Jim paved the way for many other horses in similar circumstances. Armstrong started Hope in the Valley Equine Rescue & Sanctuary that same year, using her 85-acre farm in Valley Center, just north of Wichita.
“With my medical background, I felt that I could offer equine a chance at life that they may otherwise not receive,” said Armstrong, a paramedic who became a registered nurse and worked on air ambulances before joining Wesley Medical Center in 1985.
Hope in the Valley is a non-profit that provides care for horses that have been abused, neglected, abandoned, unwanted or are slaughter-bound. The organization sees all breeds and a variety of situations, from thoroughbreds abandoned on county roads because they weren’t winning races or hurt their legs to owners leaving horses when they move to horses who can no longer walk because their hooves haven’t been trimmed for months or years.
The goal is to get the horses healthy again and adopt them to permanent homes. Available horses are listed online at hopeinthevalleyequinerescue.org.
The all-volunteer organization has helped more than 330 horses – from family pets to racehorses, brood mares, wild mustangs and even donkeys – and adopted more than 275 into homes.
VIP: Tell us about the mission of Hope in the Valley.
AA: Equine rescues are needed globally to take in equine in need of care due to cruelty, neglect, abuse and abandonment by their owners. Most neglect comes from lack of education by the owner on how to properly care for their horses and the horses’ needs as they age. Many of these horses go through retraining after becoming healthy again and are placed for adoption or moved into sanctuary, where they will spend the rest of their lives in a loving environment and never have to worry where their last meal will come from or whether they will be beaten, kicked, whipped or have a two-by-four hit across their noses. We currently have 36 equine at the facility, and that can vary on a daily basis. We have horses in the sanctuary portion of the rescue that, for whatever reason, are not considered adoptable. They will spend the rest of their lives here with us.
VIP: How do the horses come to be in your care?
AA: Equine at our facility may come from the sale barns, kill pens, owners, law enforcement agencies, animal control or just abandoned on the dirt roads like people do with dogs and cats.
VIP: Can the public visit the sanctuary?
AA: Visitors are welcome in the evenings after 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and on the weekends. They are welcome to come see the horses but are encouraged to go through volunteer orientation before they are actively involved in their care or handling. Safety is the No. 1 priority for everyone.
VIP: What is the size of your organization?
AA: We have five active board members, our web developer, Facebook guru and three members on-site daily. There are no paid employees; everyone is a volunteer. We have a farrier (who trims the hooves), two veterinarians and a trainer on-site full time. We have 25-plus volunteers who assist us at the rescue.
VIP: What are your plans for the sanctuary?
AA: We will continue with our outreach education and partnerships with law enforcement and animal control agencies. We have plans for expansion, training clinics and will pursue additional on-site programs that will benefit not only our horses but also those individuals with disabilities. We currently partner with Victory in the Valley in assisting with their cancer kids camp every summer. The AMBUCS organization also puts on a cookout at our facility where they present bikes and trikes to individuals with disabilities. We have partnered with the Horses for Heroes program that allows active military, first responders, law enforcement and their families to come to the rescue for respite or to experience a horse ride. We hope to someday have enough funding to build an enclosed riding arena so that we can continue our programs and training through the winter months. We also hope to begin a program that is specific to those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, as we have discovered that we heal not only horses but people also.
VIP: How can readers support the sanctuary?
AA: We are funded primarily by public donations with occasional assistance from grants. Monetary support is our greatest need as this helps with caring for all aspects of our horses’ health. Wichita Riverfest is one of our biggest fundraisers of the year along with the Valley Center Fall Festival. At both annual events, individuals can come take a ride on one of our rescued horses for a suggested donation. This helps us buy feed and hay to sustain the horses through the year. We use 8,000 to 9,000 pounds of senior feed every month and will feed 300-plus round bales of brome and prairie hay per year. In addition to monetary donations, items most needed on a regular basis are grain, hay, stall bedding, fly spray, fly masks and leggings, salt blocks, milk replacer for our orphan foals, mare and foal grain for the mamas, bandages and dressings. Any items or monetary gifts are tax deductible.
We are also in need of volunteers, specifically a marketing director who can donate time to getting our agenda out to the public and someone to volunteer to continue applying for grant funding. We’re also looking for a corporate sponsor to help ensure that our funds will enable us to continue to care for and advocate for these wonderful companions for many years to come.
VIP: What should a reader do if they know of a horse that is being mistreated?
AA: If anyone witnesses an equine that is in need of care, they should call their local animal control or law enforcement agency and make a report so that it can be investigated. If photos can be obtained without trespassing, those are helpful if the case goes to court. Document lack of or condition of water and feed. We all want to help an animal that we see in need, like giving the animal hay, feed or water, but in reality we are hurting their case more, because when someone does come to investigate, they see hay and water that you have provided.