How does this large scale Rescue thing work?… and What about Irene and the wild ponies of Assateague?

By the time you read this, Irene will have blown her last breath, hopefully.

But, as I write this, she is in full force.

Lots of you have inquired about the hurricane and how it would effect the wild ponies of Assateague.  Well, I am no expert but I have heard from equine advocates in the area.  This is what they said:

Chincoteague Island has been ordered to evacuate.  On Assateague where the ponies are on the Virginia end;  all fence gates on that portion of the island have been opened to allow the ponies to have freedom to go anywhere on the island and to seek the highest ground possible during the projected flooding during Hurricane Irene. Word has it the ponies are already heading towards this part of the island. 

So, let’s hope that the ponies are ‘been there, done that’ about this weather.  I’m sure their ancestors have dealt with this at one point or another.



Many of you have asked how a rescue of this scale works.  (For the original post on this rescue venture, click here.)

I gotta tell you, it isn’t easy…

Like any ‘evacuation’ exercise, you have to put the lead players in place and define their roles.  Then, you have to make sure that the lead players play well together.  There has to be communication.

For this last procedure on the Fallon feedlot, I was volunteered to collect all donations through the Bucket Fund.  I also agreed to write stories, keep readers updated and to monitor the donation stream via the thermometers on the Bucket Fund page and the original post about these horses page.

I could do that…

Another player is the Director of National Equine Resources Network (NERN).

(By the way, if you are looking for a great 501 (c) to donate to that always spreads the donations to whichever Rescue attempt needs it the most, NERN is a wonderful resource.  They collect funds and aid in equine wellfare situations every day…  The website is linked here.)

NERN  knows all about efficient and ethical rescue procedures and imparts infinite wisdom.  NERN also has contacts with Rescue facilities and which can, hopefully, take the undesirables, unadopted and special needs horses.  NERN guided the effort and helped to place the most difficult horses.

In this case, the difficult to place horses were the mares and foal – especially the injured pair – and whatever ‘dull’ looking babies didn’t find homes.

Debra Hawk, who was the one to take on this job in the first place, had the overwhelming job of fielding all emails and phone calls from prospective adopters.  She had to weed the good homes from the bad and negotiate payment to the feedlot as well as all transportation of all horses off of the lot.

Debra also updated the Facebook page giving the status of all the horses involved.

Debra’s job was a difficult one… Potential adopters get excited and anxious to ‘save’ so they call often.  This is a good thing.  However, the more phone calls, the more messages to listen to and more time spent… Also, adopters really have to be able to pay the bail of the horse they wish to acquire.  Basically, from our point of view, if you cannot raise the bail, you probably cannot give them the care they need.

Rescued and safe in his new home...


Once a horse has an adopter or sponsor, the horse is paid for immediately and then tagged to be moved into a ‘safe’ pen for pickup.

We rely on our allies at the feedlot to move the horses for us.

Of course, we always worry that the wrong horse will go onto a truck headed for slaughter, so we try to get the bailed horses off of the lot as soon as possible.

Also, the less time on the lot, the more time the horses have to contract diseases.


Transportation is tricky.

Not that many people are willing to drive onto a feedlot and deal with the morose situation there.  And, of those people, most of them we ask to volunteer their time.

It is important to have a steady stream of transportation vehicles arriving and departing from the feelot to insure that our horses are getting out of there!  But, the vehicles have to be loaded properly for each designated run.  In other words, you cannot have 3 foals going South and 2 going North in one load.

Also, not all horses can travel together.  Mares and foals need more space and cannot ride in a trailer with dividers (the foal might get under and crushed).  Some stud colts cannot ride with fillies…

Also, the Rescue Facilities who are either accepting the horses or housing them temporarily for pickup, are scattered all over the state.  In this case, we had Nevada and both Northern and Southern California.  Those are long hauls.

Transportation takes coordination.

Additionally, most of these horses have been exposed to whatever diseases are on the feedlot.  So, the haulers have to sterilize their trucks after each run…


The Bucket Fund is used in many, many ways – however, all of it goes towards the effort.  None of us individuals are ‘paid’ – we are volunteers.

Usually, it works like this… most of the horses are adopted out by private adopters.  The horses who are not adopted in time, will be bailed by the Bucket Fund and hopefully, NERN has arranged for a Rescue to house the horses permanently or foster them for a time.

Since most people don’t really want to pay for transportation, the Bucket Fund generally helps facilitate the payment for delivery to private parties and Rescues.  This is very important as those horses need to get OFF THE LOT as soon as humanly possible.

If there is any money left over in the Bucket Fund during a drive like this, it will go to auxiliary costs.  For example, several of these foals were too young to have been taken from their mothers.  They need supplements and special foods to survive.  The Bucket Fund will pay for this.

My favorite extra use for the Bucket Fund is to save ones we never had on the list…

You see, if there are any doomed horses on the lot and there is room on whatever transportation truck we have arranged, generally, we will try to fit as many horses onto an outbound vehicle as possible.  Sometimes the Bucket Fund aids with bail fees for lucky horses who ‘fit on the truck’ but were never part of the initial save.  For me, that is the best kind of save – after the whole group is good to go, another one squeezes in.

I love that.


If any of you have specific questions, please feel free to ask.

Rescued and safe in his new home with his new boy...






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4 comments have been posted...

  1. Carrie Kitley

    Thank you so much for everything you do, especially for bringing to light the plight of these unwanted horses and for keeping us all apprised of their situation and progress. Word of mouth in the internet age is a beautiful thing. :)

  2. MistyStormy

    One of the firemen posted pictures on Facebook from when he went over to Assateague to check on them yesterday. They are just fine and many were standing out in the middle of the road, which they are normally not able to get to. Thankfully, there was minimal damage on both Chincoteague and Assateague. The ponies from the Chincoteague Pony Centre were evacuated to their home farm on the mainland and also weathered the storm just fine.

  3. Sharon

    You are all so awsome!! Brings tears to my eyes every time I hear about these valiant efforts. Thanks for letting us all be a part of these rescues.

  4. Linda Horn

    Thanks for the info on the Chincoteague ponies. I’m still worried about the Corolla Bankers. Searched again this morning, but nothing yet. Found a post by Sharon Biggs Waller from just before Irene hit, and hope she’ll send an update as soon as someone can get out there.

    BTW, Sharon’s an adventurous (to me) organic “Hobby Farmer” in NW Indiana. Keeps hens, goats (learned to make cheese!), bees (YIKES!!!), and two horses. She’s a freelance writer for numerous publications, and has a great sense of humor. Reminds me of you! Her book, “The Original Horse Bible” (co-authored with Moira C. Reeve), hit the stands on August 16th, and sounds like a good one.

    Her post on the Bankers, plus history and info on the breed (which you may have already written about):

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