If you follow me on any kind of social media you will know that I recently spent a day helping out at Redwings Horse Sanctuary Oxhill. When the opportunity was first mentioned to me I instantly accepted, I have always had a huge love of horses and ponies. I used to collect the little plastic ones, cards, and books of stickers. I was the kid who 100% was having a horse, but never actually got there.
I think there is something so deep and real about horses. They can’t talk, but are experts in communication anyway. Knowing that a large percent of the equine I would see had at some stage been in abusive or extremely neglectful situations made the day feel a little different for me. I wasn’t going to go and see the show ponies I am accustomed to seeing but rather four-legged survivors. There is something spectacular about horses, even after hearing about what they had been through, hearing the circumstances in which they had come to arrive at Redwings Horse Sanctuary, and then seeing them standing, eating, playing and the most wonderful part? Trusting the people around them, was a pretty moving experience. I think this is more than a small testament to the care provided by the staff.
The communication while in the fields with the horses is great to listen to, people who really care talking about the feed sizes, how the horses have been interacting, the type of veterinary care they might need or have had. It did get me thinking about the practical side of things, the cost of the upkeep of them all, the type of equine insurance they’d need, I asked about how funding works for them too. When I heard that it’s mainly funded by public donations, sponsorships of the horses and other small funds I was not surprised.
I did start wondering though, how could I live just an hour away from what I consider a complete paradise and not have been before?
The cafe on site serves hot and cold food, coffee and cake. It’s completely accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs, there is ample parking, the gift shop is brimming with everything from kids horse themed nik-naks to gorgeous keyrings and bags.
Aside from all of that, there are over 90 horses, ponies and donkeys, most of which are inquisitive, approachable and frankly stunning.
I think what keeps the staff going is a very deep love and understanding of the horses they have. It’s more than just putting some food in a field in the morning. The staff know the personalities of each individual equine there, they know the back story, any treatment plans, it’s a well-oiled and beautiful machine.
They have a horse, called Major, who stands at an impressive 17.3hh, and is a complete delight. He had a turn out of over 300 sponsors for his birthday party. He’s the very definition of a gentle giant.
What do the days involve?
I arrived after the staff had started their day. Already in the fields I hopped into the office to go through an induction checklist, equipment issue, talk about zoonoses, how to stay safe while in the fields with the horses, as well as fire points and what to do in an emergency. It was really interesting and I think with time becomes second nature.
The equine task forms are extensive, here are just a few of the items on it:
Making up feeds & haynets
Muck picking woodchips/paddocks
Grooming – stable and field
Cleaning Water Tanks
Laying Straw Pads
Assisting the Farrier
Stacking Feeds Manually
Handling Shaving Bails
That is just the very tip of what they do every day. The fields were in immaculate condition, the mucking out was done quickly and efficiently – for 90+ equine – while there I was also really interested to see them handle a couple of horses for seedy toe, a horse that has UV sensitivity and wears a protective covering,
What about the staff?
After doing the first walk of the sanctuary with Helen I got a chance to speak to some of the staff individually. I think what struck me, was that there were a few horses in there that had really touched them. They have always had a love of equine, a passion for horses, a complete love for the species. Even though I chatted separately to two particular staff, Sarah, and Tracey they both said the same thing. The amazing thing about these horses was they had come back from the brink of death, having been mistreated by humans, left to rot, in some cases to the point they could no longer stand and yet, here they stand today, healthy, beautiful and trusting specimens that if you hadn’t ever read their back story, you’d think were ‘perfect’.
I think that’s it – they are perfect – just the way they are, the staff see their hearts and their spirits and it’s not about mucking out, the heavy labour, that is part of it, sure, but for the staff this is a passion, a calling, and they do it all for the happiness of the horses, ponies, and donkeys in the care of Redwings. The behaviour rehabilitation is something rather special. You can heal most physical wounds, it’s the mental scarring that some of the horses are left with, so the team work diligently with the horses to stop any behaviour which could harm the horse, other horses or the people who work with them. It’s pretty amazing stuff.
What Can You Do?
There are a few ways you can help actually, you can raise funds, you can donate, you can sponsor a horse, pony or donkey. You can buy something from their shop, online to help take care of the equine in their care, and you’ve got a lovely gift for someone (or yourself). You can check out their eBay shop. You can even rehome (if you’re in the right area and subject to checks).
I want to thank Redwings Oxhill for letting me be a part of the team for the day, the staff for showing me around in particular Helen, Tracey, and Sarah for taking the time to talk about why they worked there, a bit about what they do outside of Redwings, their favourite horses and for letting me get hands on with the horses, ponies and donkeys. PetPlan Equine Insurance for arranging an incredible day, which I’d never have had otherwise.
And finally the stunning residents of Redwings Oxhill.
(P.S This horse stole my heart – Gypsy)