Help The Horse Refuge in Wittersham

The Horse Refuge was set up 15 years ago to end the cruelty and suffering <br/><br/>of sick and unwanted horses, but faces closure if it doesn't get donations <br/><br/>or sponsorships – or a new home

Help The Horse Refuge in Wittersham

The Horse Refuge was set up 15 years ago to end the cruelty and suffering of sick and unwanted horses, but faces closure if it doesn’t get donations or sponsorships – or a new home

Sara Ross is having a bad day. The phone is ringing off the hook, there’s no food in, no money left in the kitty and she’s facing eviction and a very uncertain future for the animals she is devoted to.

Sara set up The Horse Refuge in 1995 and ever since has “gipsied around” sites in Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Essex, but for the last 18 months home has been at a former livery yard in Wittersham.

Here this extraordinary woman, who has had to sell everything she and her husband Alan own (including their house and all but the most essential possessions) to keep the refuge going, looks after 50 abused and abandoned horses.

Some have been re-homed, around 200 are out on loan but here are the ones that are too big, too dangerous or just too plain sick to be cared for by anyone but Sara and she simply dreads moving them again.

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Many simply wouldn’t survive: they can’t go out in daylight due to eyesight problems, or have arthritic limbs and wouldn’t be able to balance in a lorry, four need to be checked day and night as they have narcolepsy, causing them to fall into positions they can’t get up from. 

“I take in the untouchables – others would shoot the horses we take in,” she tells me, close to tears. “We will loan out horses, but if you remove the ones that remain from here, they’ll regress and become dangerous and aggressive.

“We’ve had horses that have been attacked with knives, sexually abused, acid thrown on them, their faces kicked in. It’s unbelievable, it’s just sick.”

Despite what you may have read in the press recently about ‘celebrity endorsements’, The Horse Refuge is literally on its last legs: emotional pleas from the likes of Simon Cowell and Katie Price don’t pay for the food and bedding or the services of a vet, farrier and dentist needed on a daily basis by the animals at Dobell Farm.

Alison Jones, one of the band of volunteers who give their time (and money) to help the animals, explains: “We’re very grateful for Simon’s support but it’s been picked up wrong by the press, as has the input of our celebrity friends. It works against us, because the public think we're rolling in it! Celebrities may give support by putting a word in for us, but they haven’t got the funding to help us.”

The recession doesn’t help; horses are expensive to keep, especially the bigger ones. “A lot of charities don’t like to take large horses because they eat enough for two smaller ones and the ground damage is so much worse,” says Sara. “The costs are monumental on a daily basis: food and water can’t be stretched out and most of our horses are on the large side.”

Tender hearted from childhood, when she used to have a sick room for everything from pigeons to mice, hedgehogs and rabbits, Sara still can’t turn away any animal in need.

As well as her beloved horses, there’s Colin the goat, Wiggy the piggy, ducks, geese, chickens (all named), a houseful of parrots, two blackbirds, feral cats, four Bassett hounds, even a a Macaw in a cage who was abandoned by its owner in broad daylight.

“They’ll drive up and just dump their animals, or tie them up and leave them at our gate for dead. It’s just sick. We’re not a nice nation.”

Although the Horse Refuge has always been a charitable organisation, it has fallen below the required donations for registration – which Sara is currently applying for – and had to rely on private donations.

Sadly, despite every effort, Sara and her team have failed to reach the target of �600,000 to buy Dobells Farm, so the future is bleak indeed unless a major donor comes forward.

Future plans include getting sponsorship for ‘Big Bertha’, believed to be the world’s tallest mare, and opening a visitor centre to help generate an income. But the immediate need is for a home, ideally the one they are clinging onto by their fingertips.

If you can help, now is the time. 

Get in touch

The Horse Refuge

Dobell Farm

Moons Green, Witersham

Nr Tenterden TN30 7PR

Tel: 01797 270555 or email: thehorserefuge@hotmail.co.uk