September 2020 - Touchstones
Written by by Sophia Siegel
Wednesday, 26 August 2020 20:48
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Volunteering for Light Horse Rescue reminds young show jumper of the “whys” behind her riding.

by Sophia Siegel

I’ve spent a good portion of my life looking at the world from a horse’s back. I’ve competed across the U.S. and have strived to make a name for myself in the world of show jumping.  Yet our sport is truly unlike any other: no matter how hard we push ourselves, success is always dependent on the animal beneath us.

 


Now at the end of my junior career, I look back on my achievements with not only pride but with gratitude. As riders, we continually ask so much from our horses - to push themselves to the limits of their physical and mental capabilities, and they never stop giving.

Volunteering with the rescue horses at Into the Light Horse Rescue (ITL) in the Bay Area’s Portola Valley is my way to give back to the animals that have given me so much. Into the Light is a non-profit organization with a mission to “rescue, rehabilitate, re-home, and provide sanctuary to slaughter-bound horses.”

Horses can end up in the slaughter pipeline in any of several ways. Little J, who has now been with ITL for several years, was saved from auction after being sold from an Indian reservation in the northwestern United States. Because the U.S. has no jurisdiction in designated reservation areas, there are no laws prohibiting rounding up and selling wild horses to auction. Many Native American populations use the sale of Mustangs for auctioning as a great source of revenue. At these auctions, kill buyers are the predominant purchasers of wild horses because they can be challenging to train and work with. Although equine slaughterhouses are outlawed in the U.S., kill buyers easily truck the horses across the border to Mexico where they are legally slaughtered for meat.
    

Wisty & Prim

ITL saved four-year-olds Wisty and Prim from auction after being displaced from their wild habitats by cattle ranchers who lease large land plots from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to graze their livestock. Under these contracts, the BLM initially prohibits selling wild horses to auction, and so they are rounded up and kept in conditions considered horrific by me and many others. However, these contracts become void in a few short years, and the horses can then be sold at auction to kill buyers.

In recent years, many Mustangs have also been removed from their homes in the wild due to their populations exceeding their habitats’ carrying capacities. The increased numbers are due to a loss of predators in the area; as the population grows, it spreads onto residential and agricultural lands where the horses can legally be rounded up and sold. The ethical use of birth control shots on wild horse populations is widely debated, but animal rights activists continue to halt proceedings of this measure on a national scale.

Most rescues at ITL are adopted as weanlings or yearlings and spend years in the care of the rescue building confidence and strong foundations. They are emotionally nurtured to know they will never face abuse, neglect, or the slaughter pipeline ever again.

Adoption Is Ideal

The rescue is run by founder Reneit Opperman, who manages the day-to-day affairs of the Portola Valley location at Portola Pastures. Additionally, Trish Kusal Wilson directs the rescue in Colorado. These locations work in tandem; Wilson cares for our more senior horses whose owners gave them up for financial reasons, while Opperman takes on the newer and younger additions to the family.

By moving the young horses regularly between these two environments -- the open pastures of Colorado and the more intensive program in Portola Valley -- they are both physically and mentally groomed for adoption and lifelong partnership with a human. At ITL, matching a horse to a new owner is about love, connection, and mutual understanding between horse and rider. Potential adopters must meet the horses on-site and are encouraged to make multiple visits before a final decision is made.

Watching the horses build trust and transform into tame companions is the most gratifying experience for me. Volunteering with ITL has helped me rediscover why I ride and why I love my sport. It is a time for me to connect with the horses more profoundly and naturally. Because at the end of the day I don’t ride to win, or only to succeed in the show ring. I ride because I love the animals. My horse is my companion, my inspiration, my heart and my passion. Volunteering to me means time to spend with the horses that is pure and untinctured by competitiveness.

Author Sophia Siegel is an accomplished jumper rider. She trains with Harley and Olivia Brown and begins Stanford University this year.