Mini Ha Ha Horse Haven in North Canterbury, New Zealand, is a place where miracles happen. Neglected, sick and severely laminitic horses that in their previous homes have often, quite literally, had a hole dug for them, come to the Haven and they survive. Often, they begin to thrive. Unfortunately there is no waving of wands that can create this particular brand of magic: it takes fierce dedication, deep knowledge and experience, a fair bit of money, and relentless hard work.
Mini Ha Ha Horse Haven is run by Jen Heperi and her husband Lindsay and is currently home to 23 miniature horses and ponies and two donkeys. Recently I taught a clicker training foundations clinic hosted at the Haven. I was just blown away by the facility, the hard and selfless work going on behind the scenes and all the happy healthy horses. So as a special treat, I thought I would blog a bit about it so you can all learn a bit more about the Haven and what they do there!
Click on the photos to read captions:
With 23 horses, Jen is the first to acknowledge that the numbers are starting to creep too high, but despite the difficulty of rehabilitating a foundered horse, it is still much easier to rehabilitate and retrain than it is to rehome these little guys. Their diet must be strictly managed (the health and survival of laminitic, metabolic or cushings horses depends heavily on diet) which means they cannot be just left to graze a front lawn or used as a full-time paddock-mate for a riding horse. Foster carers and adopters must be prepared to educate themselves and commit to the long-term health of the horse.
It is immensely satisfying for Jen and Lindsay and their volunteers to see the results of all this effort happily trotting around in the sunshine, but it is also relentless and often heartbreaking work. Requests come in on a weekly or even daily basis from members of the public asking the Haven to take on yet another horse, often accompanied with dire warnings such as "the dog tucker truck is coming tomorow" or "she's been abandoned and the property owners will shoot her". The horses often turn up virtually (or literally) crippled, with grotesquely overgrown feet, full-blown cushings or laminitis.
Photos by Tracey Agnew (photographer and treasured Mini Ha Ha volunteer).
Join the Mini Ha Ha group on Facebook to see regular updates on the lives of these little horses.
Treatment starts the moment they arrive and with pain meds, foot soaks, dentals, corrective trims, and a strict grass-free diet with soaked hay and supplements from Calm Healthy Horses, the horses steadily improve. (Now let's not get carried away with the talk of miracles though, these are often very elderly and severely compromised horses with long-term or irreversible damage to their health, and so for some the "miracle" will not be a complete recovery, but perhaps just to be relatively pain free, or the hope of a few more years of life. That in itself is no small feat).
When they are well enough the horses are integrated, where possible, into the larger herd where they have acres of grass-free tracks to run on. The challenge is then to find a loving home that will ensure they are appropriately cared for and that won't undo all the hard work and let them slip back into unsoundness or sickness again. Some of the horses will never be able to be re-homed and will live out the rest of their days at the Haven. One horse costs on average $2,500 per year to care for (with 23 horses currently at the Haven, you do the maths on that one!).
After many years of funding themselves with the help of sponsors, Mini Ha Ha is now a registered charity. There is a small group of volunteers who help with the daily mucking out, feeding and medicating routines, as well as fundraising and enrichment activities for the horses like training tricks, liberty and jumping or taking them for little walks to the river. Unfortunately, with the nature of people's busy lives, it is challenging to get enough committed volunteers and Jen does the vast majority of the work on her own.
Regular volunteers are part of the lifeblood that keep Mini Ha Ha running - can you help?
All these years of practical experience have given Jen a unique and valuable store of hard-won knowledge in the rehabilitation and care of these sorts of horses. When I was there for my clinic Jen had just returned from a very long-awaited visit to her children in Australia, and I got the impression that having a rare few days break away from the Haven had sparked something of an epiphany. She had come home determined to find ways to ease the time and financial pressure so that she can stop chasing her tail quite so much and instead have a chance to focus more on the educational 'branch' of what she does. This seems eminently sensible - by sharing her knowledge with the wider community of horse owners, she can make a bigger difference to a larger number of horses. I'll be watching with interest to see what she comes up with and cheering her on from this end of the country.
Thanks again Jen and Lindsay for your hospitality, and for all that you do for these special little horses.
P.S. If you can help by donating toward feed and medical costs or warm rugs to keep the sick and elderly ones warm in the freezing Canterbury winter, the ponies would be so grateful. If you live locally and can spare some time to help Jen with caring for these wee mites, she'd dearly love to hear from you.
A few photos from the clinic - we had about 18 people come along, with eight horses of varying sizes. Thank you everyone! I've been asked to return and do a full weekend clinic so if you're a Cantabrian, keep an eye out for date announcements.