Equine rescue group works to educate

Published 2:40 am Sunday, September 27, 2009

When Marilyn Thorpe moved to Carriere five years ago, she was looking for a quiet farm to raise and train her horses. She had a successful business in New Orleans as a psychologist, was a John Lyons certified horse trainer, and among other things, a long time member of a Louisiana equine rescue organization. Then Hurricane Katrina hit and turned that life upside down. “It was impossible to hire professional help after Hurricane Katrina,” she explained. “I decided I was going to come home and train horses.”

As she started to settle into farm life near Anchor Lake, Thorpe soon discovered that the feed store she patronized, Cale’s, was going up for sale. That triggered a thought in her head that perhaps running a farm supply store would be her new career. “The feed store came up for sale and I thought it was a good match,” continued Thorpe.

But, before long, working every day in the feed store, Thorpe began to realize there were a lot of horses, donkeys, and mules in the area that were being neglected — not from spiteful or mean owners, but from owners who did not know how to properly care for them. “I realized there were horses in need of help,” said Thorpe. “So with some other horse people, we set up (the Mississippi Equine Rescue Association — MERA) and became incorporated.”

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Member Sharon Bonnecarrere, who investigates cases and does follow-up visits, said the goal of the organization was not to take the animal from the owner, but to educate them on what needs to be done to bring the animal back into a good state of health. “Sometimes they have a little land and think, hey, wouldn’t it be great to own a horse, and so they get one,” explained Bonnecarrere. “But there is more to owning a horse than putting it in a field.”

Showing one of their fact sheets on horse ownership, Bonnecarrere noted that most of the people they see did not intend to let their horses become emancipated or neglected, but that they didn’t know what to do when a health issue or basic care need came up. Such as, she said, regular worming, hoof trimming, and access to good forage, such as a large, well-grassed pasture or hay.

She added, though, in some of the cases, the animals are intentionally neglected and abused, and that is when MERA steps in and encourages the owners to release the horses to them so that they can have the proper medical care.

One of the most heart breaking cases, said Thorpe, was a retired thoroughbred that had been described just four months earlier as “magnificent.”

“It was a race horse about four months off the track,” said Thorpe. “When he came to us he was emaciated, foundered, and had a leg injury.” But as much as the organization tried, she said, they were unable to save the 17-hand gelding. “He had too many things going on all at once,” said Thorpe. “We tried to save him — God knows we tried.” He was, she continued, the only one of the dozens of rescues the group has performed in the last three years that they have lost.

But, it hasn’t been easy for the organization. Thorpe said that at first, MERA was taking on horses that people said they no longer wanted. “People use to call us and say they didn’t want them, so we’d take them,” Thorpe said. “But we can’t do that anymore.”

Pointing out that economically times are difficult on everyone, Thorpe said that the cost of feed, housing, and medical care taxes the organization. “The feed and the vet care are very expensive,” said Thorpe, adding that they have been pretty successful in fostering the ones they do have to take. The organization has also recently paid for surgery on another rescue, and has two-special need horses that need “special” foster homes. Those two, she said, needed someone who could “nurse” them due to medical issues. “There medical issues are nothing horrible,” said Thorpe, “But is has to be someone who likes nursing horses.”

As an organization that relies entirely on volunteers, Thorpe noted that they have most of the rescues fostered out, which helps with expenses. When the horses are fully recovered, they are offered for sale and the money is returned back in MERA.

With 38 due-paying members and about 15 that perform the majority of the leg and paper work, Thorpe noted that the organization recently lost its most active and passionate member — Chrissy Gaudet. “From the git-go, she was all out,” said Thorpe. “It was her passion.”

Gaudet did the majority of the investigations and follow-ups for the rescue group. A true horsewoman, she took her extroverted and friendly style and investigated some of the toughest cases. She said shortly before her death that it is a matter of listening to the owner and then trying to find a way to help them. “I listen to their stories and everything they have to say,” said Gaudet. “And then we get down to what we need to do.”

She also said that not every call of an abused animal leads to a case. “What someone’s idea of an abused or neglected horse is, is not necessarily what it is,” she said. “Your idea and my idea might be totally different.”

Gaudet, who had two of her own horses — Sunny and Star — was devoted to the rescue group, and, as a volunteer, spent her own money for gas and took from her own work schedule to investigate the cases. “She did the majority of the investigations and home evaluations for fosters for MERA,” said Thorpe. “She was good at fund raising and meeting with the public and promoting MERA. It was her passion.”

And with the loss of Gaudet, Thorpe said the organization was going to have a difficult time replacing her. “I told the members at our last meeting that it would be hard to replace her — that is was going to take more than one person to do what Chrissy did.”

One of the last fund raisers Chrissy helped organize before she died Sept. 4 is a dinner/dance and auction to be held November 6 at the Crystal Palace on MS Hwy 43. The price for admission is $5 for a family and includes a spaghetti dinner with garlic bread and salad and drinks. The Skeeter Bait Band will be playing music for dancing and entertainment and an auction will be held. Some of the items being offered at the auction include an original Buck Taylor print, passes to Hollywood Casino Golf, and a weekend in the French Quarter.

Thorpe said that if people are interested in attending the dinner/dance or joining the organization they can call MERA at 601-798-4271.

In addition, she said, since Chrissy’s family did not have medical insurance and are now facing huge financial debts, anyone wanting to help the Gaudet family can make a donation with the organization’s treasurer, Connie Bourgault, and designate it for the Gaudet’s. Bourgault can be contacted through the MERA number.