In 1989, Kathleen Howe first noticed Toby, the neglected buckskin gelding that would ultimately change her life and lead to the saving of more than 2,300 neglected and abused horses.
Toby was the first horse taken in by what is today Days End Farm Horse Rescue (DEFHR), a nationally and internationally known non-profit humane organization now celebrating three decades of devotion to the care of horses.
"We're really excited to be celebrating 30 years,” said Erin Ochoa, the Chief Executive Officer of DEFHR, who was appointed to the position five years ago by Howe, as she prepared to step back from her leadership role. “It started with one person's idea, and she and her husband brought together their friends and community to help horses here in Maryland and in the surrounding states.
“Thirty years later, we've been able to make a huge impact and go from helping that one first horse to helping more than 150 horses each year,” continued Ochoa. “In the equine welfare industry, 70 percent of rescues fail within three years. One of the things that Kathy [Howe] pressed on me was to stay true to the mission so you’re always steering the boat in the right direction.”
The core of DEFHR’s mission is ensuring the quality care and treatment of horses, and ever since Howe founded the rescue, they’ve approached that mission with a three-prong process—intervention, education, and outreach.
In the 30 years since its founding, DEFHR has established strong relationships with local animal control authorities and humane agencies, and it is through these agencies that horses in need of rescue come to DEFHR. Currently, DEFHR provides intervention services throughout Maryland and the surrounding states, including as far away as New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Florida.
DEFHR is also one of the few horse rescues in the country capable of mounting large animal rescue efforts, with national support efforts having included rescuing animals after hurricanes.
Once at DEFHR, the horses receive top-of-the-line care from the DEFHR team and from the more than 1,000 volunteers who give of their time each year. After successful rehabilitation, the horses are evaluated and provided the training needed to best prepare them for adoption, with a number of adoption programs currently available.
In 2018, a record 78 horses were placed into new homes.
Education and Outreach
For DEFHR, it has long been important to not only rescue and rehabilitate suffering horses, but also to provide the community outreach and education necessary to prevent further abuse and neglect.
Today, DEFHR offers a large variety of educational programs and internships, as well as sharing online resources for learning about equine welfare, rescue, and rehabilitation.
One of DEFHR’s signature educational offerings is its internship program. Upon Googling “horse internship” or “equine internship,” DEFHR is almost always a top-five result thanks to the popularity and strong reputation of the available internships.
The curriculum-based program is an intensive, hands-on, 13- to 15-week session during which veterinary track college students come from all over the world to learn equine husbandry, rehabilitation, and welfare. Students being accepted into the program leave tired but with a wealth of unique knowledge that prepares them to fulfill careers as veterinarians and animal welfare advocates.
In addition to internships, DEFHR promotes education and outreach by hosting field trips and educational events at the farm, as well as traveling to primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, community organizations, national and international conferences, and industry expos – all in an effort to raise awareness and educate the public about the important issue of equine abuse and neglect.
DEFHR also provides a number of large animal rescue training courses for both professionals and the general public, and the rescue is a leader in educating law enforcement on recognizing and handling animal cruelty cases. DEFHR’s Equine Cruelty Investigation Series features seminars held throughout the year covering topics such as “The Psychology of Animal Cruelty,” body condition scoring, horse handling and safety, and more.
“The more we can educate people and bring awareness, the more people will know what to do if they see horses that aren’t being cared for,” explained Ochoa, who has worked to collaborate with the Maryland Horse Council, the Maryland Horse Industry Board, and Homes for Horses Coalition to further DEFHR’s outreach and educational capabilities.
The desire for outreach is also why DEFHR’s doors are always open to visitors and volunteers.
“We’re open to the public every day for tours and that’s an unheard-of thing. Our customer service policy is that we’re happy to stop what we’re doing and show you around,” said Ochoa.
DEFHR's continued success would also not be possible without the hard work of many dedicated volunteers. Volunteers provide more than 48,000 hours of service each year helping to rescue and rehabilitate horses, educating the community about equine abuse and neglect, and raising funds to provide for future horses in need. DEFHR offers a wide range of volunteer options, giving volunteers of all ages and abilities the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of abused and neglected horses.
“None of this would be possible without our incredible volunteers, committed board members, and our donors,” concluded Ochoa. “Eighty percent of our annual revenue is generated by individual donors, and our volunteers are what help keep us going. And for us, the horses give us all something in return. When you look them in the eye and you can see they know you’re there to help, those are the moments when you grow from this experience.”
To learn more about DEFHR or to find out how to get involved with the 501(c)(3) non-profit, visit www.defhr.org or find the rescue on Facebook or Instagram.