By Pamela Rickenbach, executive director
photos by Rosalie Tirella (This is my new fave place! A little over a half hour drive from Worcester – beautiful ride on Rt. 9, west – to Palmer, Blue Star is the place to feel GREAT! Feed the horses! pat the horses! learn all about the different breeds of working horses at this amazing resuce farm for all kinds of working horses. Carriage horses from New York City, draft horses … Volunteers wanted, $ donations always accepted. BEAUTIFUL! – R. T.)
Blue Star Equiculture of Palmer is a draft horse sanctuary for retired, homeless and disabled horses. We specialize with “working” breeds or those that have worked in harness; Belgians, Shires, Clydesdales, Percherons and Standardbreds. BSE was created as a way of showing gratitude for what horses have shared with us for the past 6,000 years and in particular America’s relationship with working horses.
Historically, America depended on horsepower. Essentially, we are all “horse people” with ancestors that lived and worked with horses, not that long ago. Today, all over the world, humans use horses and the horses continue to define them culturally. Over half the world’s population of humans still depends on horsepower to help them in their daily struggle to survive. This relationship is ancient and with it, we believe, there is a responsibility to care for retired work horses appropriately and compassionately.
Ann Norton Greene, in her important book Horses at Work, Harnessing Power in Industrial America states, “They hauled streetcars, omnibuses, drays, delivery wagons, and private vehicles. Horses delivered raw materials to factories and trucked away finished products. Horses delivered building materials to construction sites, dug foundations, powered cranes, and hauled away the dirt from excavations. They loaded ships, dredged harbors, and hauled fishing nets. Horses brought produce, dairy products, meat, grain and hay from surrounding areas into city markets to feed urban consumers and returned stable manure to the farmlands.
Horses conveyed baggage and packages, carried freight to and from railroad depots and shipping piers, distributed coal, milk, ice, bread, and produce, delivered furniture and other consumer goods to homes and beer to saloons. They pulled fire engines, ambulances, street sweepers, and garbage wagons. Horses provided nearly all the power for the internal circulation of the city life because no other prime mover could compete with them technologically.”
Horses were integral to nineteenth-century industrialization. The horse population in America went from approximately 7 million in 1860 to nearly twenty-five million in 1900. Most of those horses resided east of the Mississippi River. Horses powered almost every aspect of urban life. Horses jammed the streets of our early cities, working in transit, industry, construction, shipping, commerce, and municipal government. We like to say that horse built this country.
Where are we now? In 2013, over 160,000 horses were shipped to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada. From anywhere in the country the horses are transported tightly packed for over three days with no food or water or relief to arrive at facilities that could not be considered humane for any animal, never mind our beloved companion. Horses see better, smell better, sense better and have the second best memories in the animal kingdom. They are not dumb and without emotion. Their emotions are highly evolved, while not exactly like ours, they suffer nonetheless just as terribly.
Currently there are just over 10 million horses in America and approximately 30,000 in Massachusetts, down from the nearly 50,000 in 2009 when BSE opened. A bad economy and rising costs for the equine care have forced loving owners to send their horses away. Sadly in America from the 50’s and on, we have grown to see horses as luxury or status objects. While horses throughout time reflected our “status” socially, today they are considered expensive hobbies and past times and when the economy worsens so do their chances for having a loving forever home.
All over America, there are equine rescues struggling to help deal with the current homeless horse crises and nearly every single one is under supported or struggling to keep their doors open. As a community, we have forgotten what horses really are to us. At the same time in America we struggle to find sustainable ways to move forward into a better future. We like to say at BSE that we are “drafting” a better future for horses, humans and mother earth. We are all connected and our horses need us to care about them more than they ever have.
We welcome all to visit BSE, meet our horses and become a part of the solution in our community for our community’s horses in need. We have a “Join the Herd” program where we ask folks to become and “Herd Member” for any amount monthly to help ensure the daily care our herd needs. This could work for equine rescues anywhere.
For as little as 33 cents a day, interested folks can become a part of a solution that is desperately needed right now for our horses. We invite volunteers to help on the farm and we teach draft horse driving for urban or agricultural use on the farm. We also grow food with our horses. We share informative workshops in the community. We teach “Draft Horse Husbandry” at UMass Amherst Stockbridge School. We are advocates for working horses internationally, we communicate clearly and honestly about what possibilities exist for horses today in our modern world.
We sincerely believe that we need our horses alongside us for our own wellbeing. Horses have a profound effect on human psyches. They refine us and help us connect to other life and to ourselves. They are mirrors for us in that they reflect who we are honestly and this helps us see ourselves more clearly. Horses can help us carve out a more peaceful, sustainable and restorative way forward in this troubled world.
An old English proverb says: “Show me your horse and I will tell you who you are.” As a community we can take pride in loving and caring for our horses in need. Like with our dogs and cats, our horses need us to stand up and protect their right to be alongside us, where they belong, loved and cared for and partnered with in an ancient mutually beneficial survival system.
Please visit our website
… or better yet our farm! Become a herd member. Join us in honoring our ancestors, horse and human, for all they have shared in bringing us the possibilities before us today!
Human History is Written in Hoofprints!