Off Palouse backroads and wedged between rolling hills hides Orphan Acres, a rescue and rehabilitation center and home to 83 horses.
Thoroughbreds, Appaloosas, Mustangs, Arabians, Stallions — the list is as long as their stories. Brent Glover founded Orphan Acres in 1975, making this 43-year-old ranch one of the oldest horse sanctuaries in the country.
Glover had no plans for this lifestyle. The operation was self-generated by surrounding locals leaning on his animal expertise and bottomless generosity. Word carried, and suddenly he was a half-way house for horses. The makeshift operation quickly earned a name for itself.
“If someone needed someone to take care of their horse, they would say ‘Oh yeah, Brent will help you,’” Glover said. “I’ve got a big love for animals.”
Glover’s childhood consisted of lions, tigers and bears. His neighbors raised exotic animals, and Glover acted as a caretaker. Comparatively, caring for horses is simple.
As an adult, Glover worked at Ponderosa Ranch, a western-themed amusement park where the 1960s TV show “Bonanza” was filmed. It was there he gained his experience and discovered a love for horses.
Orphan Acres focuses on rehabilitation, rescue and sanctuary. Many of the horses brought in were neglected, abused or overworked, Glover said. Some owners did not have the means or resources to care for them anymore.
Glover said horses are hopefully readopted, but others — like stallions — can’t be relocated, making Orphan Acres their forever-home. Glover has care for approximately 4,600 horses through Orphan Acres since its opening, he said.
“People tell me I’m nuts. I’m crazy. Get rid of all these old horses. Get stuff you can rehabilitate and sell. But that’s not what a sanctuary is,” Glover said. “That defeats the purpose of giving these guys, you know, some place to let them live out their lives in dignity.”
Horse slaughter has been illegal in the U.S. since 2007, but it is still prevalent across borders. Between 2012 and 2016, approximately 137,000 American horses were exported to Mexico and Canada for human and animal consumption, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Transport conditions are brutal. Horses travel up to 24 hours with no food or water and arrive at slaughterhouses that use cattle herding methods inconsiderate to a horse’s inherently skittish nature, Forbes Magazine reports.
Euthanasia is the less inhumane alternative. However, it renders a horse carcass toxic. This is why overuse of euthanasia is avoided to prevent chemical contamination in landfills, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Horse sanctuaries provide a third alternative for unwanted horses like Orphan Acres’ Quinn, a dark-coated racehorse and 18-hand-tall gentle giant whose knees blew out on the tracks. Or Buck, an old packhorse who developed arthritis serving the U.S. Forest Service on rigid mountainsides. Or horses like Gracie.
Her affectionate nature and spunky ex-racing name, Cha-Cha Baby, juxtapose her dark past. Glover said the 14-year-old thoroughbred endured extreme animal neglect by her past owner.
Glover said the previous owner abandoned Gracie in a small cattle trailer alongside two anxious stallions. The claustrophobic confinement forced her into the fighting horse’s crossfire. She suffered injuries that scarred her body for life.
With no food and no water, Glover said it is unknown exactly how long the starving horses were left alone.
With herd-bound anxiety and a distrustful demeanor, Glover said Gracie’s psyche was broken when she arrived at Orphan Acres. She was alone, Glover said.
“They said she needed a human,” Alena Perriguey said. “You know how most girls say they need a horse? Well, Gracie needed a human, and I thought that was the first indication she was perfect.”
Perriguey is a Moscow native and first-year student at the University of Idaho. She has been volunteering at Orphan Acres weekly since 2013. Her volunteer work is one of the reasons she decided to attend college in Moscow.
During Perriguey’s senior year of high school, she chose to raise and train Gracie for an extended learning internship.
In time, Gracie’s relationship with Perriguey built up her confidence again, alleviating her anxiety.
She now loves engaging with people, is rideable and has the potential for adoption.
“She’s more experienced and exposed to the world now,” Perriguey said. “She’s gained trust.”
The way to Gracie’s heart is like any female, Perriguey said — food and attention.
“We’re both foodies, and I think that might be why we’re perfect together,” Perriguey said. “If you want her to be your best friend, just pull out a carrot.”
Volunteers like Perriguey are the backbone of Orphan Acres, a nonprofit establishment that depends on Glover’s undivided attention, donations and outside help.
“I really truly believe that,” Perriguey said. “It’s so rewarding. I know that sounds cheesy. But its cheesy because it’s true.”
Volunteers can socialize with the horses by grooming, handling and feeding them treats like carrots, apples, oats and grains. Chores like stall cleaning, grain moving and construction hauling must all be completed daily.
Perriguey said the more time spent at Orphan Acres, the more experience and freedom volunteers have.
Few horses are adequate for riding because of age, physical ware and lack of training. Perriguey and other consistent volunteers train horses, like Gracie, to aid in their possible adoption.
“We do ride very occasionally, but it’s not for leisure purposes. It has to be productive, you know?” Perriguey said. “We’re not a riding facility. We’re a horse sanctuary. The work we do has to have some sort of benefit for the horses.”
A 2014 study by Washington State University found adolescents who handle horses experience dramatically reduced stress hormones. It can also help people with psychological or physical trauma, self-esteem problems and depression.
“I know it’s me helping them, but they’re helping me,” Glover said. “They keep me sane.”