- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 18, 2002

LISBON, Md. — Allan and Kathy Schwartz knew what they were getting into when they asked if they could take over care of Toby, a quarter horse who begged for treats and attention whenever they went to the farm where they field boarded their horses.

Toby's owner had lost interest in him and neglected care of his coat, feet and general health. It also appeared she was not providing the deworming, grooming, grain, vaccinations, veterinary care and other tending that horses need beyond the basics of water and grazing.

What the Schwartzes didn't know then was that Toby was the first of hundreds of equines they would rescue during the coming 13 years. Neither did they imagine how terribly abused and neglected many of those horses, mules and donkeys would be or that rescuing them would become a mission and full-time job.

They learned quickly how hard it could be, emotionally, to say goodbye to an animal they had nursed to health.

"But it's gotten easier over the years because I know that if I don't get rid of one I can't take another," Mrs. Schwartz says.

Last year, their Day's End Farm Horse Rescue sheltered 110 horses, placing 65 with new caretakers whose horse-keeping arrangements they inspect before and after adoption to ensure that the animals get proper care.

They did it with a handful of paid staff, donations and 300 volunteers.

The operation started with just their family on a farm three miles west of the 15-acre rented property they now share with about 40 horses as well as three dogs, two cats and several pigs, goats and sheep, also mostly hardship cases.

When the Schwartzes started taking in and buying horses that needed better homes, they didn't foresee that they would be giving up a comfortable, if hectic, lifestyle. They didn't expect to lose their farm as they struggled to care for horses that others had abandoned and abused, but then they hadn't imagined anyone would neglect a horse as someone did Scrapper, whose case was medically perhaps the worst that Day's End has ever handled.

The Schwartzes retrieved the emaciated mare from a nearly grassless field in Queen Anne's County. Scrapper was so debilitated that she had spent almost all of her time lying down, which caused her bony body to be ridden with bedsores and abrasions that hosted infections.

After bringing the mare to their farm no small task itself, since it involved loading onto a trailer an animal that could scarcely stand, much less walk they strapped Scrapper into a sling to support her in a stall they had outfitted with heat lamps to keep her warm.

The Schwartzes and dozens of volunteers tended Scrapper day and night, cleaning and dressing her sores, rubbing her legs and body to maintain circulation and adjusting the sling for her comfort.

Scrapper was about 17 when she came to Day's End but lived seven more, happier years.

Some rescue cases pull through fit enough to go on to careers as trail or competition horses.

Luke, for instance, arrived at Day's End worm-infested, bony and listless but was returned to health and went on to become an endurance horse. The Schwartzes said Luke's new owner, Lisa Orr, tells them he looks perky nowadays even at the end of a 50-mile competitive ride.

Others, because of age or unsoundness, find a niche as companions for other horses who, as herd animals, often fret when left alone.

These days the Schwartzes have all but retired their own riding hobby, which has taken a back seat to farm's primary rescue mission and educational programs. They provide training for police and animal control inspectors whom they work with to rescue the horses they shelter.

Some horses have to be fed as many as six small meals a day to recover from malnutrition without overloading and damaging their fragile digestive systems.

Horses too weak, or toothless, get special diets and, instead of apples and carrots for treats, get applesauce and stewed carrots.

Horses recovering from debilitation have to be led or exercised without riders to ensure they build strength with weight.

All that takes lots of time and hands, as does tending animals at a separate isolation facility a few miles away. Newly rescued horses stay there until a veterinarian determines that they aren't carrying a communicable disease.

Foster care and sponsorship programs at Day's End offer people 12 and older a chance to learn about horses and to contribute cash to their care, as well as sweat equity earned by mucking stalls and grooming.

Foster care participants get a leg up on adopting a horse when the horse is rehabilitated, but first preference always goes to an immediate, best match.

"Everything has to be based on the horses' welfare and what's best for them," Mrs. Schwartz said.

It's a philosophy the Schwartzes have lived.

By the late 1980s, they had gotten in the habit of buying or taking in horses that "somebody would tell us [were] in bad shape."

Soon they realized there was a need for a facility to care for mistreated and neglected animals that couldn't be sheltered at facilities designed for dogs and cats.

At the same time, the Schwartzes were getting discouraged by the difficulties of running their appliance store in a District neighborhood where street crime was on the rise.

They had named their farm Day's End because they so looked forward to returning there after long hours in the store.

By 1989 they were spending all day at Day's End, which they had turned into a nonprofit horse rescue organization.

Sadly, by 1994, they couldn't meet their expenses and lost the farm, but they found and leased a new home and soon moved themselves and their charges to their current site, which includes a modest house and home office, barns, sheds and pastures.

Although they don't own a farm now, they are grateful that their landlord is a neighbor who hasn't raised the rent and loans them tractors and machinery when needed.

Still the biggest task continues to be bringing in the $25,000 to $30,000 per month it costs to feed and care for 40 to 50 horses who have special needs, Mrs. Schwartz says.

"I had retail sales on the mind, and I'm a bookkeeper by trade," she said, explaining that, although she's shy, she learned she had to promote the farm and its mission to have the means to rescue the horses she cared about so much.

"I realized if I didn't get out there knocking on doors I couldn't help them," she says.

To that end, the couple travel to equine and animal-related conferences and give horse-care clinics and talks to clubs.

They say that because much of the public believes horse owners are rich, people often are shocked to learn that some horses are neglected or left to starve.

"The vast majority of horse owners aren't wealthy people and are doing right by their horses, but there's not much extra" left for them to spend or give, Mr. Schwartz says.

"Our major support is just from people who love animals."

The Schwartzes also have worked to get other rescue operations started, as has the Leesburg, Va.-based Equine Rescue League that has a similar mission.

Right now they are looking for donations of materials and labor to replace sagging gutters on the barns that are causing rain to collect in pools and make mud.

New gutters would improve drainage around the barns and help the horses, and people, get through the coming mosquito season.

Beyond that, they would love to have a gazebo so nursing home residents could visit and sit and watch the horses in comfort, the Schwartzes say.

Their Web site is www.defhr.org or they can be reached at 301/854-5037 or 410/442-1564.

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