TheraPony, rescuing one horse at a time receives ASPCA grant


TheraPony’s routine care for one horse is about $3,000 a year, not including emergencies and acute cases. With nearly 30 horses under their care, the need for funding never ends. This local rescue in Ramona began with the wish of a 12-year-old who wanted to give a horse a forever home. TheraPony received its name through a school project and after finding out that therapy was too much for the small ranch to handle, became a horse rescue center.

TheraPony’s routine care for one horse is about $3,000 a year, not including emergencies and acute cases. With nearly 30 horses under their care, the need for funding never ends. This local rescue in Ramona began with the wish of a 12-year-old who wanted to give a horse a forever home. TheraPony received its name through a school project and after finding out that therapy was too much for the small ranch to handle, became a horse rescue center. This young co-founder Anika Russell, now on the verge of 18, graduated and is now working towards college, spending this summer working at Rawhide Ranch. This was the first place she worked with horses and she found her lifelong love of horses and the need to find them forever homes. That is what TheraPony is all about, and through family and friends, her dream continues on.

TheraPony, a small volunteer-run horse rescue and sanctuary earned an ASPCA grant to continue its life saving work. More than 170 rescues and sanctuaries nationwide participated in ASPCA's Help A Horse Day celebrated in April. TheraPony was awarded the grand prize of $25,000 for their efforts to lower the number of unwanted horses through 30 Geldings In 30 Days campaign, providing 30 free castration surgeries in the San Diego area during the month of April.

Anika’s mother, Lana Russell said after her daughter received her horse, more horses came along and after the first call about a horse in need, it “kind of rolled downhill form there.” So far, it has rescued 35 horses, with 28 currently in the program.

Lana Russell said the grant incorporated a contest component to it and over the past few years they have held these competitions set by certain criteria. They wanted to see engagement in the community, outreach, fundraising and creativity in the event.

“Last year was our first year participating and we had a great event, but did not get a grant,” she said. “We had a lot of creative ideas, but some were having an air show and you wonder how you can compete with that. We are a small rescue, we don't really have much of a reach and we can't go and rescue 20 horses. It would just double our capacity and we don't have the funding for that.”

She said they thought of ways of impacting the local community and came up with the Gelding campaign. After attending Homes for Horses Coalition in Tennessee, they presented the idea and it quickly spread around the room. She said it was an “a-ha” moment and realized that it was a good idea.

“So we reached out to the community and offered free castration surgeries,” she said. “There is a lot of backyard breeding in our community, especially out in the country. Castration can run around $400 and many people cannot afford to do it. This way, we eliminate the problem at the root instead of having to have the need to rescue horses later on.”

Originally they were going to do 20 surgeries in one day, but her veterinarian at Exact Equine in Lakeside agreed to do 30. People told her that they would not be able to find 30 in the local area, but they quickly did and people are already asking when the next the next Gelding campaign will begin.

Lana Russell said this is an important service to provide locally. “I see a lot of rescue stuff, and many will rescue horses that are pregnant, it has a colt, and a few years later you have more colts. Having a horse is expensive and many don't realize how much it cost, and adding in an unexpected horse in the mix and many families cannot handle the costs involved,” she said.

As excited as everyone is about this grant, but the hard part to convey to people is the reality of the cost in running the rescue. “The $25,000 is wonderful, but it won't last long. The vet has to be paid, the hay people need to be paid, and we go through about $1,000 a week. Medical expenses and the list continues to grow,” said Lana Russell. “We need donations. We need volunteers, sponsors, foster homes, adaptive homes, and corporate sponsors. We just have to do the right thing and continue doing the right thing and it will continue to work and grow.”

Lana Russell, the official treasurer of TheraPony said this is its year of growth. It is in line with its five-year plan and one of the goals this year is to get personally connected to organizations that can help support what it is doing and creating both sponsor and working partnerships.

“And we have many more things on our to-do list,” she said. “We were happy to be part of the Victorian Roses Ladies Riding Society's Casino Night fundraiser last year. It's a huge event and they have helped us out with donations. It's an inspiration. But, with their example I am learning about successful fundraising.”

Lana Russell said along with volunteers, one of her best assets is horse trainer Pete Spates. Raised on a ranch in Texas, he began riding at 4-years-old and began training at 16. Now 74, Spates has learned from the best, Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt. He developed a broad base of understanding and knowledge and founded Natural Responses Horsemanship.

"Actually, Lana found me at a feed store in town at an open house event and some friends told me I should come," he said. "It was a smaller than it is now and Lana said they had a couple of horses that they needed some help with, and I'm kind of handy with horses, so it works out," he said. "I'm really training them. The horses are the easy ones to train."

Spates does a lot of remedial training with horses that has sent him all over the United States, Canada, Mexico and Japan. "I've done a lot of training in many places, but in the end, the horse becomes the final teacher," he said. "It's been an interesting journey."

He said he has seen the gamut of rescue horses, from abused, neglected, unexpected and unwanted. In his years of training he came up with his own adage. "Only when you see through the eyes of the horse can you lead the dance to the mind," he said. "You really have to see it from their prospective and when you do, you understand the psychological profile. Once we understand that it's not so hard."

Lana Russell said they try their best to work on local surrender. It gets a lot of horses that they are told are fine and ready to go (for adoption), but that is not always the case. But it also gets some horses that have no background on and some have medical needs.

“That's why we do a vet intake. But the main thing we do is take horses before they wind up in a bad situation,” she said. “We always need help. We've set up a program where we do training every month. It helps people with problems with their horses and gives us a bit more visibility in the community. We do trailer loading training and are now working with local fire agencies to bring awareness to the danger of wildfires and how to prepare and proceed if they find themselves in that situation. We use different trailers to get the horses used to different situations.”

Spates said when you “got that fire blowing down your dress, I guarantee you that things get really intense. Your energy comes up, you are nervous and creating a nervous energy in your horses. Maintaining a certain level of decorum and if you can maintain that, the horses will trust you. So with owners in this program, not only will they load their own horses, but also we switch owners and they will load another horse to help them with other horses they might encounter.”

The rescue plans to fund its Community Support Program with a portion of this grant. The facility TheraPony needs help to accommodate nine horses that joined the program this year. One new horse, Shelley, was found to be pregnant, so a foaling stall and nursery are in order. Then there are big-ticket items that would allow many more horses. Because TheraPony focuses on elderly and injured equines, The Magnus Compact Portable PEMF unit is a wish list item for several years. Donations and monthly sponsorships are greatly appreciated. Adopting, fostering, or sponsoring a horse is a great way to help relieve some of the burden on local rescues as well as free up funds for another horse in need.

TheraPony hosts Saturday night potluck get-togethers at its ranch in Ramona. First Saturday of every month is Ranch Day. Volunteers gather on this day to tackle larger projects and clean up the ranch. Second Saturday of the month Pete Spates with Natural Responses Horsemanship holds a clinic at the ranch covering variety of topics. TheraPony is a small all-volunteer run 501c3 rescue and sanctuary. It accepts tax-deductible donations and is happy to have volunteers to help with daily chores and care of the horses. For more information visit their Facebook page or website