Picnic benefits horse rescue agency

The Republican

Picnic benefits horse rescue agency
Sunday, August 26, 2007

WEST SPRINGFIELD - There was Luigi, the three-legged donkey, and Monty, the plow horse turned carriage horse that was headed for a slaughterhouse in Canada.

They are among the creatures that Central New England Equine Rescue Inc., rescues from abuse, neglect and certain death.

Victoria Berry, of Warren, gently ushered Tucker, a 4-year-old miniature horse with one eye, through a group of admirers at the first benefit picnic for the rescue project.

Tucker came from a woman in Williamstown who could no longer care for the horse. It is one of the less disturbing paths among the charges that arrive at Berry's doorstep.

Monty, the snowy draft horse that nuzzled visitors and ate hay from children's hands yesterday, was covered from head to toe in whip marks after a year pulling a carriage in Boston.

Originally a plow horse in Amish country, the horse developed a fear of sirens after a year in the city, said Berry, vice president of the rescue project. His owner sent him off to slaughter when the rescue project intercepted him.

"We're hoping Monty lives forever. He's so gentle," Berry said. "Horses open up the world to you like no other creature does."

Berry said she hoped to raise a few thousand dollars yesterday through ticket and raffle sales. The proceeds will fund hay for the winter and medical expenses for the horses. Since 2004, they have rescued 60 horses and put the vast majority up for adoption.

The adoptive owners are not exactly owners, Berry said. They are rigorously screened and monitored frequently by the organization's volunteers to ensure the animals are being well-cared for.

"They can only keep them if they take care of the them the way they promised to," Berry said. "We've only had to take two back."

Berry and her daughter, rescue project president Betsy Johnson, of Barre, currently house 17 horses between two barns at their homes.

Michelle Manzi, 15, of West Springfield, helped keep the horses cool in yesterday's oppressive heat. She adopted Morocco, an Arabian horse, from the rescue project.

"Someone else was going to adopt him, and I didn't want him to go. I started crying," said Manzi, who also volunteers to care for the rescued horses.

Manzi's mother, Diane Manzi, said Morocco was an unruly beast when they first encountered him.

"Now, he follows Michelle around like a puppy," she said.

Berry said those who adopt horses typically only have to cover medical costs.

"We make just enough so we can save another one," she said.

They learn of horses in need through word-of-mouth and through their Web site.

In addition to more than 100 local picnickers who attended yesterday, Elizabeth Forel, of New York City, traveled to the event.

Forel is director of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages. She said she has collected more than 13,000 signatures from residents of Manhattan and out-of-towners in an effort to persuade the mayor and the City Council to end the practice.

"It's inherently inhumane, and no regulation will change that," she said.

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