First published in the December 2017 Equiery
by Katherine O. Rizzo
In 2005 when Christine Hajek founded Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue, based in Mt. Airy, her primary goal was to rescue, rehabilitate and re-home draft horses. The 501(c)(3) non-profit organization has grown from one horse to over one hundred, and this summer, expanded its operations to include a new 105-acre farm to be used as a sanctuary for those horses not able to be easily re-homed.
“The rescue has been needing a sanctuary for at least five years and we had been actively looking at locations in the mid-West,” Christine said pointing out that land is much cheaper in those areas versus Maryland. “We already had the funds for a down payment set aside, we just needed the perfect farm.”
Fast forward to Easter Sunday this past April when Christine and her husband Jamie were on their way to a friend’s for breakfast. “We saw this small sign that said ‘105-acre farm, price reduced’ and I couldn’t figure out where in the area that farm could be located,” she said. Turns out it was New Horizon Farm in Woodbine, just down the road from their original facility. “When we came to take a look, Jamie was sold and loved the place. I wasn’t too thrilled and really couldn’t see us living there,” Christine explained. “But then I woke up the next morning thinking we would be kicking ourselves in a year or two if we didn’t at least make an offer.” Their offer was accepted and the closing was in June.
The first few horses moved in by the end of the summer with three large pastures being usable. A few weeks later, two more pastures were opened up and now there are 15 horses housed at the sanctuary. “About one third of our current population are considered unadoptable for one reason or another,” Christine explained. “Typically it is because they have some health issue that is not easily taken care of or are not rideable. This location is for them to live out their days.” Gentle Giants is keeping their Mt. Airy location as the training and adoption center.
“Most of the horses we rescue are from the East Coast but our donors are from all over the country,” she said. In fact, Gentle Giants has donors from coast to coast with the bulk of their annual funding coming from New York, California and Florida. “With other rescues very popular here in Maryland, we had to look outside the box, outside the state,” she said. The strategy has worked considerably as they typically have about 20,000 sponsors annually and well over 60,000 in the organization’s history. “Most of our donors give in the $35-50 range but with so many of them, every dollar makes a difference,” she said adding, “We are unique in what we do here… rescuing draft horses specifically.”
One such donor that made the sanctuary a possibility was Gretchen Mobberley. Gretchen died in 2016; Christine was shocked to learn that she had included Gentle Giants in her will. “Because Gretchen was such a Thoroughbred person, we are using her funds to renovate the track barn and get it ready for our horses. We already have a new roof and water is working again,” Christine reported. “Our horses are better to live out but when the weather is bad, we will be able to bring 20 in to the barn. Our plan to make sure there is some sort of sign or plaque dedicating the barn in Gretchen’s memory.”
In addition to Gretchen, one of Gentle Giant’s California donors set up a matching grant, which helped raise the funds for the down payment on the sanctuary. “Matching funds are great because people feel that their money doubles and we were able to raise much more than just the down payment,” Christine stated.
The next steps for the sanctuary are already in motion, with the cornfields replanted with grass. Fencing for three very large pastures should be completed this winter, with run-in sheds in each. Come spring, 40 horses will be housed at the sanctuary. “We are so very thankful to the Mobberley family and all of those who donate to us. My five year goal is to open another sanctuary in the Mid-West!” Christine said.