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Equus Rescue and Therapy Heals Horses and Humans Through Rescue, Rehab and Renewed Purpose

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“We believe a noble life deserves a second chance.” The motto at Equus Rescue and Therapy applies to human and horse alike, says Margo Sutter, the organization’s founder and executive director. “We are a healing center for all – using the love, communication and passion of the horse to serve them and all of us simultaneously,” Sutter says.

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At its farm and facility in Millstadt, Equus rescues and rehabilitates off-track thoroughbreds, which were bred and trained to be racehorses, as well as other horse breeds, and gives them a second chance at life through the tenets of rescue, rehab, retrain and rehome. Since 2009, Equus has rescued or helped transition more than 600 horses in peril – due to neglect, starvation and/or risk of slaughter – from auctions, dispersal sales, kill pens and other dire situations nationwide.

Most horses arrive in poor condition, battling mental and physical wounds. After several months of rehabilitation, which includes unlearning past traumas and relearning manners with certified professional trainers, they are ultimately prepared for their new purpose as therapy horses.

Equus currently cares for 65 horses and is one of the few rescue facilities led by volunteers, with no paid staff, and many of the staffers joined without equine experience. Horses are well-suited for therapeutic emotional growth because of their natural instincts and communication methods and because they are prey animals constantly reading and responding to the biometric measures of those around them, like heart rate, respiration and energy states.

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Sutter says a horse can achieve in 15 minutes what takes 15 years in traditional talk therapy. For example, one of Equus’ off-track thoroughbreds, Letdetrumpetblare aka “Buck” – whose racing career led him to a kill pen after an auction at 1 year old before he was rescued by the team at Equus – has changed the lives of bullied children as a therapy horse.

“Buck makes eye contact or wants to touch the child on the head, the heart, etc.,” Sutter details. “He will then make eye contact with me and will lay his head on the child, giving ear movement to signal fear, anger and, sadly, if death is being considered by the child. You cannot hide from a horse. They feel our heartbeats from 4 feet away. They are constantly reading our communication. They read our eyes, our energy, and they know.”

Equus’ therapy programs focus on at-risk youth through its Equine Angels program and on veterans and currently enlisted military members through its new Warriors H.E.A.L. program, which kicked off in April. That acronym stands for Horses Enlighten Awareness and Learning, and the program connects those living with PTSD with horses that have lived through similar triggering and life-altering trauma.

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Through community donations, up to 60 veterans a year receive weekly coaching from a Parelli-certified instructor with an emphasis on action-based learning, such as grooming, interacting in a round pen and moving through obstacles together, in order to significantly decrease symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and improve trust, safety, control and self-esteem. The Warriors H.E.A.L. participants are currently training and readying the horses to serve a community of 120 at-risk children in the 2023 Equine Angels program, with summer camps and weekend programs year-round that teach 8- to 16-year-olds empathy, kindness, respect and leadership via the principles of natural horsemanship. There are also monthly meditation circles and private coaching sessions available, as well as outreach to senior citizens in the community.

“Never did I think I would find this work,” Sutter says, “that I’d be willing to liquidate every material possession I had to make it happen, to partner with these beautiful souls, hear them, hear their needs and be moved to take action to now create programs that serve our community.”

Equus Rescue and Therapy, 8743 Le Pere School Road, Millstadt, 618-750-8100, equusrescue.org

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