Gen­tle giants en­joy­ing their re­tire­ment

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS -

ow here’s some­thing I did not know (or think much about) un­til a re­cent trip to a farm in Cen­tral Mary­land, self­pre­scribed as a break from the daily dis­tress of Don­ald Trump tweets and Bal­ti­more crime: Those big-shoul­dered horses that pull wed­ding car­riages and beer wag­ons, those brawny drafts that pull plows and har­rows across Amish farm fields — some of them get a nice re­tire­ment.

They are put out to pas­ture. Or they take a lit­tle part-time work. Or they de­velop sec­ond ca­reers.

Cly­des­dales, Percherons, Bel­gians and other wide-body breeds are known mostly for haul­ing rigs of plea­sure and in­dus­try. But in their re­tire­ment, they can serve as mounts. Peo­ple ride them. Who knew?

“Oh, yes,” in­sists Chris­tine Ha­jek. “Drafts are sought-after for trail rid­ing. They’re calm. They just plod along. You get a comfy, cushy slow ride. It’s like rid­ing your couch.” Ha­jek counts on the af­ter­mar­ket de­mand for wide rides be­cause she is the founder and pres­i­dent of a horse res­cue that spe­cial­izes in sav­ing drafts from slaugh­ter and find­ing them new homes. She claims more than 500 adop­tions since es­tab­lish­ing her oper­a­tion 11 years ago. Who knew? Well, some knew. Ross Ped­di­cord, a long-time horse­man who serves as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Mary­land Horse In­dus­try Board, points out that the Bal­ti­more Po­lice De­part­ment’s mounted unit uses drafts or draft crosses. “Peo­ple do use them for trail rid­ing,” says Ped­di­cord, a for­mer Evening Sun re­porter, “even fox hunt­ing with the slower hunts.”

Snow­man, the leg­endary show jumper of

Nthe late 1950s who was min­utes away from the slaugh­ter­house be­fore a New York rid­ing in­struc­tor res­cued him and turned him into a cham­pion, had a pre­vi­ous life as a plow horse.

Harry de Leyer fa­mously paid $80 for Snow­man at the cen­tury-old live­stock auc­tion at New Hol­land, Pa., the same place Ha­jek goes to picks up horses for her res­cue oper­a­tion in Howard County.

Her oper­a­tion is called Gen­tle Giants Draft Horse Res­cue, and it sits on a 139-acre farm at the end of a long, tree-lined lane off Old Fred­er­ick Road in Mount Airy. A do­na­tion from the Gretchen B. Mob­ber­ley Fam­ily Trust led to the re­cent pur­chase of an­other farm six miles away, in Woodbine, pro­vid­ing Gen­tle Giants with an ad­di­tional 105 acres for a sanc­tu­ary — a long-term re­tire­ment home for drafts un­likely to be adopted.

The non­profit’s mis­sion is based in a be­lief that no horse should be slaugh­tered for the in­ter­na­tional meat mar­ket. Ha­jek watches con­stantly for drafts on the block at New Hol­land in the hopes of sav­ing them from bid­ders who in­tend to have them butchered. She’ll even make an ef­fort to ac­quire a horse in poor health.

“We’d rather have them eu­th­a­nized on the farm than see them go to slaugh­ter,” she says.

Many of the drafts come from Amish or Men­non­ite farms after a hard life of pulling plows. Ha­jek buys them, then she gets them to the farm, where her staff of 13 hands and nu­mer­ous vol­un­teers clean, feed and eval­u­ate the horses, then place them in a pad­dock for new ar­rivals. A vet­eri­nar­ian and black­smith visit each Tues­day.

At any given time, Ha­jek says, there are more than 100 horses on the farm. There were 112 in res­i­dence on Fri­day. Thirty-four of them are sanc­tu­ary horses, the re­main­der in pas­tures or sta­bles, await­ing adop­tion. Sixty per­cent to 70 per­cent of the Gen­tle Gi­ant horses come from New Hol­land, Ha­jek says. The re­main­der come from in­di­vid­ual own­ers who, for var­i­ous rea­sons, need to give them up. The ac­tor Charles “Roc” Dut­ton, who has a farm in Howard County and once owned 12 Cly­des­dales, gave Gen­tle Giants a Gypsy Cob named Sainte.

Gen­tle Giants oc­ca­sion­ally takes in abused or ne­glected drafts res­cued by hu­mane so­ci­eties or an­i­mal con­trol units.

And over the years, sev­eral have come from the car­riage trade, in­clud­ing the one in New York City. The horse-drawn car­riages of New York be­came a hot is­sue in the 2013 may­oral elec­tion, with an an­i­mal rights group calling for the trade’s abo­li­tion and throw­ing its sup­port be­hind Bill de Bla­sio, the ul­ti­mate win­ner. De Bla­sio had promised a ban on the car­riages, but the New York City Coun­cil and the pub­lic pushed back hard. The abo­li­tion­ists gave up their cru­sade this sum­mer, ac­cord­ing to the Daily News.

Ha­jek is op­posed to horses be­ing slaugh­tered, but she’s not op­posed to horses work­ing.

“If they don’t work, they don’t ex­ist,” she says. “I think most car­riage horses get treated well by their own­ers. When they’re ready to retire them, they con­tact us or an­other res­cue. The car­riage horses are great to have in your barn. They are re­ally well-be­haved.”

And, Ha­jek says, many of them are still ca­pa­ble of a “lighter ca­reer” in re­tire­ment, pulling a cart or wagon maybe once a week — you know, a lit­tle part-time work.

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