I live in Spain and at this moment it’s summer where the heat of the midday sun is intense. I’m shut in a hot, dirty, dark place. I do have some food and water if they dare to enter my space. Apparently I‘m dangerous, my time is limited, my fate is sealed.
Why do they not understand? My eye throbs with pain from an injury I received from a sharp object sticking out of a wall. I can no longer see out of my eye and flies are constantly surrounding me. I can feel the eggs they have laid in my wound hatching out and then wriggling around feeding off my rotting flesh so I throw myself around to get rid of the annoying creatures, yet that only hurts me further.
I continue to rely on my inner strength to survive the best way I can, but the more time I spend in this hell hole, the more I can feel my condition going down hill fast.
One day a couple of people came with soothing voices, they were looking at me and seemed to care about what they saw. After a time someone came to give me an injection and I fell asleep. When I awoke the pain in my eye was so much better. At last someone understood me, I felt the first glimmer of hope for a long time. One morning there was a lot of movement in the place I had been kept and I was given another injection which had a calming effect on me.
I was left tied between two posts, I had no idea what was happening, but after a time I started to feel a little bit lively again and then the couple with the kind voices appeared. One of these voices belonged to a woman who was standing at my side as she untied me. I was so scared of what was happening because she wanted me to walk up a ramp into a container set on wheels.
I could hear loads of voices coming from a crowd of people who had gathered to watch me enter that tight space. A surge of fear made me pull away and charge off around the corner of the building where I was kept. I didn’t have the energy to go far and the kind lady was again at my side talking reassuring words to me. My instincts felt right to trust the lady, so with that, I walked straight up the ramp into the container in the hope that the tight space would not make me panic or feel claustrophobic.
I made a good decision because when I was brought out of the travelling box all my dreams came true. My new space had clean bedding, fresh water and food. My infected eye had been removed, but at least I was out of pain.
I had freedom to move around when I was feeling better, though I struggled adjusting to having only one eye and I‘d often end up crashing through fencing to find the safety of my home. The people here were kind and patient and slowly I learnt that it was OK to be out in the fresh air, roaming around, to be free again.
As time passed more friends came with wounds much worse than mine and they too got treated with the right care to bring them back to health. Nowadays I spend my days in the vista of a lovely paddock surrounded by many friends. There are kind people who come everyday to clear our fields and provide us with food, hay and clean drinking water. I’m safe here. My name is Luceiro and I am a horse.
My story is just the tip of the iceberg my friends, but this one tale always pulls at my heartstrings. I remember when a big grey Spanish horse arrived they called Bronson. He was in a bad way and I didn’t see much of him for months but over the fence one day when he was much better he told me his story…
“I was a stallion like you were Luceiro, I spent most of my time shut up until I was needed to breed with a broad mare. I never knew any different, we had heard stories of the gypsies and the brutal treatment they dished out, but one day to my misfortune, some of them turned up at the place I lived and took me.
After a harrowing journey I found myself in a place that smelled of death. I knew my number was up. Lots of arguing broke out and the cruel men whisked me away. Apparently I had a chip inside me that told the authorities that I belonged to someone else and killing me was going to be too risky for them because their place of death was illegal. The gypsies had one option left and that was to dispose of me themselves.
The next minute I was being held tightly, one of the men stood with an object in his hand, I could smell his intention, in a split second I felt the rush of air as the hammer came down, when it struck the top of my head the pain shot right through my whole body, but as I wasn’t dead yet, I had to get away. I’m a big horse and with the little strength and courage I had left I managed to escape by breaking my lead rope and running away. I’m not sure if they tried to chase me, I didn’t care, my concern was for my life.
Soon I found myself alone, I could hear cars on the fast road not far from me, I felt weak and disoriented until I finally collapsed with blood running down my face. You wouldn’t have wanted to see me in that state, I was such a sorry sight.“
“Soon there were voices all around, I was so scared but unable to escape, however, what was different was these people seemed to be kind, I was given medicine and eventually a group of people managed to get me in a trailer. I was still not sure what was happening and found myself taken to a clean stable and helped to stand by two ropes with a plastic bag hanging high above my head.
I believe it had some medicine and fluids going into my body to help make me better. My head wound was cleaned out twice a day and I heard them say it was full of metal and bone. Apparently I had a fracture which possibly would affect my balance. But my inner strength was strong and with the proper care I began to feel better at last. I found I could use the walls to maneuver around the stable and eventually was able to drink and eat food. Slowly I felt my strength returning.”
“When I had mastered the stable on my own, straw bales were placed in pathways around the yard so I could navigate my way round. It was a long process, but everyday was an improvement and a pony called Samson was there to help me. I was feeling so much better and then I heard talk of being let out in a paddock. The first time I was led out of the yard I was so scared and panicked. I wasn’t ready to leave the safety of the yard and stable.”
“Again, I needn’t have worried, I was treated with kindness and patience and they took me outside a little bit further each time until I was ready to go into the paddock. I knew this time it would be alright and when the lady released me I walked around smelling the air becoming aware of the free space around me.
I could feel my excitement build and the urge to go faster. I broke into a trot and ‘wow’ did that feel so good. Then into a canter and I was like ‘wow, wow, wow this is what I should be doing’. I felt like a horse again, with that, I kicked my back legs out with pure joy and jumped up with all four off the ground.”
“The kind people were watching me along with you, Luceiro, do you remember? I sensed they were overwhelmed by my recovery. I know we don’t share a field Luceiro, but I know you are there watching and I have formed a special friendship with Harry, who broke into my field one day, and since then we have never been apart. My head and neck tilt to one side and I can’t see out of one eye properly, but apart from that, I’m in good shape.”
Easy Horse Care Rescue is responsible for rescuing Luceiro and Bronson, they are the only officially recognised rescue centre in Spain. They have, on a regular basis, been dealing with the neglect and abuse of equines from 2008 right up to the present day. There are many elements as to why this is still happening and although attitudes towards looking after equines in Spain are beginning to change, via the younger generation teaching parents and grandparents, most of the elders’ thought processes are still rooted in old traditions.
Since 2010 when the rescue centre became involved with two horses ‘Captain’ and ‘Hope’ who were found starving in a garage, it created a lot of media attention which in turn pushed the police to get involved. Due to new laws the police have the power to prosecute, either by fine or imprisonment, anyone being reported for an act of cruelty to animals.
To legally keep a horse on either owned or rented land you have to have a Rega number which is a complicated process. You have to apply to the OCA which is the Agricultural department in each city. The process varies from province to province and so does the cost. The OCA assigns a vet to visit the property to see if it meets the requirements. Which relates to proper shelter, fencing, running water and proper disposal of manure.
A License Ambiertal (environmental license) is required from the local town hall. All horses have to be microchipped and require a passport if traveling between provinces. There are heavy fines if the paperwork is not in order yet not everyone adheres to these rules which, in theory, are there to protect the horses. Sadly it doesn’t prevent horses, ponies and donkeys being kept hidden away in poor conditions.
There is a problem with over breeding and the implications of putting under nourished stallions with overused broad mares which can cause defects, and sadly the offspring may not be up to the buyers requirements as they mature. These horses are often then disregarded as they can then incur high vets bills.
Due to financial difficulties many are abandoned, killed illegally or sold for meat. The demand for horse meat on the European continent is high and although in most cases it’s done legally there is a percentage that happens illegally and illegal disposal is much harder if a horse is microchipped.
This is why it’s so important for places like Easy Horse Care to keep up the good work they do and provide a place for people to visit and to hear the stories of the individual characters that now live at the centre to therefore educate future generations.
I stood chatting to Sue and Rod Weeding the founders of Easy Horse Care Rescue based in Rojales, Spain, under the shade of the trees in their garden, which is now home to Rupert the pig along with the vocal family of peacocks and various chickens.
Rupert the pig actually rescued himself having walked up the drive to Easy Horse Care one day about a year ago as a small piggy and made himself at home. His owner turned up looking for him, but eventually he came back and is now as big as his character.
Sue and Rod are very modest about the work they do. Their days start at seven am and can carry on to midnight. At 64 and 71 years old respectively, they are still full of energy. They have a good team of volunteers as well as a brilliant vet, Dorothea Dudi von Dewitz, along with Enrique the farrier who visits every two weeks and happened to be there the day of my volunteering visit (you’ll learn more about that later).
Sue went on to tell me that her and Rod are nothing special, just ordinary folk doing their best to make a difference, “We are in this now, we do the very best for all the animals in our care.”
They arrived in Spain in 2001 to enjoy their retirement as many do, they found their spot in a fairly rural area and brought a run down finca casa (a farmhouse to us Brits) as these are normally surrounded by land and outbuildings.
The name Easy Horse Care originated from a tack shop Sue and Rod opened as they found there was a lack of good quality equipment such as saddles and bridles which were generally poorly fitted or extremely harsh. Sue decided to try and rectify this by opening her own tack shop but soon became disillusioned with the lack of knowledge of horse care in the community.
One day when making a delivery to a yard they came across Luceiro which changed everything. Their actions to save that horse unwittingly started a horse rescue centre.
Sue and Rod will not take horses just because they are not wanted anymore, but they do if it involves an official case of abuse. When the police become involved, primarily with a reported case they call on the centre to help.
This often brings them in contact with abusive situations which can involve guns and an underground network of notorious characters, so the police have to go in and calm things down before Sue and Rod can recover a horse in such an environment. Over time they have established a good working relationship with the local and national police along with the local council who support their work.
To date there is no government funding for any charity in Spain, (maybe in the future this is something that will change) but at the moment the government is under extreme pressure to boost the economy due the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
Easy Horse Care have rehomed horses in the past but as it stands they have no time to do home checks which is vital to ensure the well-being of the rehomed horse. Although there are a few horses that have been successfully rehomed in the past, sadly a few have come back as the homes have struggled to keep the horses, generally due to a change in financial circumstances.
A lot of the horses that have ended up here cannot be rehomed as they are signed over to the police and not to Easy Horse Care, in these circumstances the Centre becomes a holding place. Even if it was possible for some to be rehomed nearly all the horses have a problem which may be physical, mental or defective due to uncontrolled breeding or a combination of defects.
Funding a place such as Easy Horse Care comes at a high cost and relies on the several streams of income that Sue and Rod have set up over the years.
Sue overlooks the running of four charity shops dotted around the area and she speaks highly of the volunteers who run them. Every month they have an open day and recently Rod has converted the old tack shop into a cafe. They also have three self catering dormitories to offer volunteering holidays. As well as this they rely on donations and events being held by local communities.
In the last year Easy Horse Care has faced some huge challanges. First came the Gota Fria (a fierce storm) which hit Spain in September 2019 causing the Vega Baja region to be flooded and leaving many homeless and causing a great loss of animals throughout the area.
Easy Horse Care were extremely lucky not to be flooded but they were completely surrounded by water which caused a huge problem with sourcing alfalfa to feed the horses in their care. All local crops were destroyed and the demand to suppliers from unaffected areas forced inflated prices.
The second problem was the pandemic taking its toll. The charity shops had to shut for three months during lockdown and although back open now they are only open a few days of the week due to lack of visitors.
The open days have had to stop, but you can book a private tour which is becoming popular. The self catering units are suffering as well due to people being wary of travel. Luckily an English lady called Tracey had booked for a week to unplug from a stressful job, it was her second time here.
The other volunteer in self catering at this time is Jasmine, a young girl from Switzerland who arrived before lockdown who cut her time short to go back home due the pandemic, but is now back after quitting an office job and giving up her flat. She has no plans for what comes next, but says she absolutely loves being at the Rescue Centre.
I went along to volunteer for the day in the heat of the summer to see what a day at Easy Horse Care Rescue was like. After meeting with half a dozen other volunteers that had been there since 7am that day, the first task upon my arrival was clearing the fields of poo, guided by John the volunteer coordinator. We set off armed with a barrow and tools and got to work. All the ladies I met were a jolly dedicated bunch who came most mornings.
Before afternoon feeding I walked around the fields to take some pictures. The horses were all calmly munching on their hay, some wandering over to say hello, others just watching and some dosed in the sun. It’s a huge reminder for me just what a calming effect horses can have on the soul.
Mid afternoon the feeding began with many buckets to be filled with feed. Volunteer Rachel knew the system well and the buckets were organised by each field along with medication and supplements that certain horses needed. Then the buckets of feed are loaded on to the wheelbarrows to be taken out to the fields. There are twenty six donkeys in one field so it took two barrows to feed them all. It’s a very smoothly run operation, but on this particular day one of the horses which had come in for his food slipped on the wet floor. He was an older fellow called Syrias who couldn’t get himself up.
Sue straight away jumped into action putting wood chipping down on the floor but he just couldn’t get a grip. Rod came over to help but still he couldn’t manage it. Sue phoned the vet, Dorotthea, who advised her to leave him to rest awhile as she was just twenty minutes away.
Sue gave him water and feed to give him energy to get up. Because of this incident, the system for the feeding went a little array as the buckets couldn’t be put in their regular spots. Rachel worked her way through like a star. Rod was standing by Syrias with a beach brolley to keep the sun off him and Sue was putting rubber matting around to help give him grip.
We continued on with feeds till the last barrow was due to go. Just as I came back with a barrow from feeding one of the fields, he was getting to his feet with the help from Dorothea, Rachel, Rod and Jasmine. I didn’t take photos because I didn’t feel right to do so, but these are the occurrences that can happen when there are so many to care for, however, it was dealt with in a very controlled, compassionate manner.
Syrias was calm throughout and within ten minutes of getting to his feet was happily back out in the field munching on his hay and all the other horses got fed on time. These tasks and many more are done every day, there is no day off for Sue and Rod and they are thankful for the help they get from their band of dedicated volunteers.
Easy Horse Care Rescue is not just about the rescue, it’s the ongoing care of each and every animal that lives at the centre and this is where the commitment truly lies. Horses rely entirely on their human owner to provide proper care. Here in Spain the summers are hot and dusty, which in turn brings flies and mosquitoes and winters can bring torrential rain and cold nights.
For a horse to live a healthy life they need access to fresh water, alfalfa, a clean area with shade in the summer and somewhere warm in the winter. These are just the basics, there are many other factors involved in caring for a horse. Horses in the past have played a huge part in our history, they have been invaluable to humans taking us from ‘A’ to ‘B’, they have carried us into wars, been part of industrial evolution and are now kept for our pleasure or to compete in one sport or another.
There are few places left on the planet where horses can roam wild and even then those herds are managed. Horses are incredibly noble animals who give their best and we at least owe them some respect in return by protecting them to the best of our ability.
If this story resonates with you there are many ways you can help Easy Horse Care Rescue. How about a volunteering holiday so you can really get to know the characters. Or, if you live in the local vicinity, you can offer to volunteer either at the Centre or at the charity shops. Maybe book a private tour for your family. You can keep up-to-date with the stories via their facebook page and if you would like to make a donation you can find all the details on their website or on this page.
Before I close out this article, It’s really important to mention Rod has been driving the same vehicle for 25 years. The foundation is desperate for a newer 4×4 model with a towbar powerful enough to pull a horse trailer which would help them immensely.
Finally if you could share this article to help raise awareness for the Easy Horse Care Rescue that will go a long way too.