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Competition, education part of Cowgirl Spirit mission Drill team riding to the rescue

Riding rescued horses, from left, equestriennes Allyson Petrenko on Salsa, Juliane Hanley on Dandy, Elisabeth Escobar on Zoe and Lise Escobar on Class take part in a 2008 competition. The riders are part of the Cowgirl Spirit Rescue Drill Team, performers as well as saviors to horses who might otherwise be killed. - Courtesy photo
Riding rescued horses, from left, equestriennes Allyson Petrenko on Salsa, Juliane Hanley on Dandy, Elisabeth Escobar on Zoe and Lise Escobar on Class take part in a 2008 competition. The riders are part of the Cowgirl Spirit Rescue Drill Team, performers as well as saviors to horses who might otherwise be killed.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Every year, thousands of horses are sent to slaughterhouses in this country.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly 23,000 horses were slaughtered in 2007 alone. A large number of these horses are sold by owners who have simply lost interest or can no longer properly care for them.

Many people are troubled by this practice, but few go to the lengths that Juliane Hanley and her Cowgirl Spirit Rescue Drill Team do to save horses and give them a new lease on life.

The Cowgirl Spirit Rescue Drill Team saves horses from slaughter auctions, feed lots and neglectful homes and trains them to perform in drill competitions all over Washington.

The idea came about when Hanley wanted to form a drill team, but discovered that most of those interested in participating didn’t have horses of their own. The solution was to find suitable horses, stable and train them at her farm in Fall City, and bring in team members who wanted to help care for and train the horses and take part in competitions.

Hanley acquired the first two horses, a pair of Arabians, at an auction in 2005. During the course of the auction, she learned that many of the horses being bought were destined for slaughterhouses. She then knew that her goal had to be about more than just forming a drill team.

“We could rescue horses and train them to do drill,” Hanley said.

The Cowgirl Spirit Rescue Drill team now rescues and trains about a dozen horses a year. The process can be difficult, especially with horses that were abused or have never been ridden before.

“Each horse seems to have different needs,” Hanley said.

Whatever those needs are, the team shows the horse affection, gets the animal used to being ridden and cared for, and introduces it to drilling. Ideally, after a season of competition, the team will find a new home for the horse and start all over with another rescued animal.

The team competes every other week during the season, which runs from May to August, and they usually finish at about the middle of the pack. Considering that the team’s horses have literally been brought back from the edge of death, it’s quite an accomplishment.

“It’s pretty amazing that our horses are able to go out and compete,” Hanley said.

Many of the team’s rescued horses get adopted by other drill teams and go on to bigger and better things, a testament to the training they receive with the Cowgirl Spirit Rescue Drill Team.

Even owners who don’t compete with their adopted horses appreciate the benefits of the animal’s time with the team.

“They’re all extremely happy with our horses,” Hanley said.

In addition to competing, the team aims to educate the public about horse slaughter in this country. They bring in Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops for tours, publish a monthly newsletter, and hand out brochures at competitions.

They are also always looking for any kind of help they can get, either from an experienced rider looking to take part in drill competitions or someone who just wants to spend some time around horses, helping tend to their needs.

No matter what level of involvement, every little bit helps, and Hanley believes that making a difference for abandoned and neglected horses is well worth the effort.

“I’m very proud of what we do,” Hanley said.

For more information on the Cowgirl Spirit Rescue Drill team, visit their Web site at www.csrdt.org.

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