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Rescued horses find loving home

Activism: Tammy Craven and Vikki Dean find purpose in saving horses

Posted: September 4, 2010 6:02 p.m.
Updated: September 5, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Tammy Craven at home with Elton one of the 98 horses she has rescued in the last five years through the Canyon Creek horse rescue. After finding homes for almost all, Craven decided to keep 13 of them for her own.

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Tammy Craven stood in her driveway, her body covered with goosebumps, as she watched horses leap from trailers and trot onto her acres of Acton land.

A few came in August 2005. Dozens more were delivered in September. And by the December holidays, Craven’s Canyon Creek Farm was host to 63 horses.

“It was like Santa Claus coming,” she said.

Those horses changed Craven’s life. They also put a temporary halt to her television and film career where she worked as a producer and editor, but that didn’t matter.

Craven had discovered a calling in saving lives.

Just a few weeks earlier she was clicking through the Internet from her Acton home. While researching for potential stallions hoping to breed to her own mares, Craven stumbled upon some unexpected news.

The stunning photographs of healthy, purebred mothers and babies were tainted by the animals’ disturbing fate. Many of them were just a step away from getting butchered and sold for their meat, Craven said.

Not long after, Craven and her best friend Vikki Dean were in Canada, purchasing 63 of those horses. By 2006, the grand total of horses taken in by Craven and Dean had climbed to 98 horses.

Undoubtedly, the future worried Craven. What if a horse fell ill, how would she afford all that hay, what if a fire swept through Acton? Would she and Dean be able to find nurturing homes for all of them?

Well, horses did get sick from time to time. Hay expenses skyrocketed and in the fall of last year, the Station Fire sent Craven’s ranch into an evacuation frenzy.

But Craven never regretted saving those horses — her best friends. How could she not help them, she asked herself.
Since, Craven has adopted out most of the horses to loving owners. Still, each goodbye was difficult.

“Every day we treated them like they were ours,” she said.
 
Saving the horses
Craven had always been an equine lover at heart. Most of her life she’d owned one or two horses. When she came upon the pictures of horses at risk of losing their lives she couldn’t help but respond and try to learn more.

“These were beautiful animals that needed our help,” Craven said. “The focus just shifted to them.”

Craven soon discovered that the mares, foals and stallions at the Canadian farms, and others across North America, were hired to harvest estrogen-rich urine from pregnant mares. The byproduct can be used in female hormone replacement drugs for women.

The animals are known as pregnant mare urine horses, or commonly-referred to as PMUs, and are born from a mare who is bred for her urine, harvested for seven months during pregnancy.

Health studies had emerged exposing potentially negative effects of the drugs, causing a decline in their sales. Lost contracts with more than one-third of the current pregnant mare urine farms resulted in a lay-off between a major U.S.  pharmaceutical manufacturer and the horses, according to Craven’s website.

Thousands of the pregnant mare urine horses were at risk of being sold for slaughter — including the horses at the Canadian farm. The animals’ meat is sold to other countries for human consumption. 

“These horses were just born in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Craven said.

On Aug. 25, the state Senate approved legislation that prohibits the transport, sale, delivery, or export of horses for slaughter for human consumption, according to the website www.thehorse.com. A bill to prohibit horse slaughter for consumption in Canada is currently pending.

Craven and Dean invested more than $250,000 of their own funds into rescuing the horses. Craven’s 10 acres in Acton provided just enough room to keep the herd.

“Call it complete insanity or divine intervention, but I lost myself in a horse buying frenzy,”  Craven writes on her website.

In the time between her Canada trip and the day the horses arrived at her Acton ranch, Craven and Dean jumped into full-time advocacy and preparation for her new animals.

“Finding out that horses were being slaughtered, finding out that there was an industry raising them to slaughter them, it captured my heart,” she said. “It takes you into this area of activism that is so intense that it would suck you dry.”

They hired professionals to help them train the horses, ensuring the animals’ safety and compatibility when placing them in new homes. They sent out press packets highlighting what they had done to rescue the horses.

“When you’re in the middle of a project like this, you can’t really see the forest through the trees,” she said. “You’re so busy.”
 
Finding homes
People traveled from across the county to meet the horses. Some purchased new property just so they could have room for the horse they wanted.

Craven and Dean didn’t want to adopt the horses out to any stranger who showed interest.

If a buyer walked in with a large check without getting to know the horses first, Craven would send them away.

“You can’t put a dollar on these animals,” she said.

Owning a horse is a lifestyle, Craven said.

Craven and Dean waited upon adopters who would give the horses permanent, nonthreatening homes and who understood the responsibility that comes with owning one.

Craven wanted those who came to Canyon Creek to find their “equine soul mate,” she said. Some took weeks to establish a connection with their horse and others took more than a year to prepare for adopting a horse. In the meantime, Craven named every one of the horses. She didn’t want them to be defined by the numbers branded on their
side.

When Craven takes a step back and realizes what she and Dean have done — paired dozens of horse lovers, young and old, with their equine soulmate — she realizes the reward that comes from five years of nonstop labor.

From the devastation of losing a sick horse to the pure joy that comes from finding the animals permanent homes —
Craven has ultimately endured half a decade of soul-stretching, she said.

“Some people are driven to help,” she said. “I don’t know what is in that gene, but it feels good.”
 
Sanctuary dreams
Craven said goodbye to another horse just a couple of weeks ago. But, for the most part, she has stopped adopting out for now. Since the economy tanked last year, less devoted prospects have come along, she said.

But Craven is in no hurry to find homes for the 13 she still owns, in addition to her original six.

“Maybe they’ve found their home,” Craven said. She has developed strong relationships with Tammy, Elton, Napoleon Dynamite and the others who continue to roam in her backyard.

They may even follow Craven up to the coast before the end of the year.

Craven is currently looking at a few properties near the Central Coast and hopes to find a new home for her and the horses before the end of the year.

She dreams of a sanctuary, acres of land along the coast where she can let the horses roam free and where she can harvest organic olives and apricots.

Apricot seeds sealed in plastic bags have begun to sprout inside her refrigerator as the reality of that dream draws near. One day in the near future, Craven said, she will save horses again.

“We know where to get the horses (that need rescuing) and we will bring them in again,” she said.

Once you’ve started and experienced the reward of saving lives, she said, “you can’t stop.”

“We were all so empowered in so many ways by these animals,” she said. “I’m thankful everyday that these horses have found their destination, their final home.”

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