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Pony Tales Refuge & Rehab: how one woman’s fight with cancer is now saving equine lives

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — Depending on who you talk to, foals from the nurse mare industry either end up at rescues, end up well cared for at the farm where they are born and placed in good homes — or end up slaughtered and made into leather wallets and purses.

Cindy Prince of Colfax, the founder and a member of Pony Tales Refuge & Rehab Inc., drove out to Maryland the first of May and hauled home six newborn foals from nurse mares.

Prince suspects that the six foals, all thoroughbred crosses except for one pony, were destined to become leather wallets and purses.

“A lot of thoroughbred and racing enthusiasts will say that doesn’t happen. They say they’ve worked in barns and have never seen it. Not around here it doesn’t. But Kentucky. The east coast. The nurse mare farms don’t advertise,” Prince said.

The nurse mare industry is what one would surmise: mares are bred so they will produce milk, and when their babies are born, they are taken away, and the mares are given a more “valuable” foal to raise. In the meantime, the mare who had given birth to the “valuable” thoroughbred foal is shipped off to be bred again during what is known as her “foal heat.”

“It’s a disgusting industry. The thousands of babies that are discarded every year could be 90 percent eliminated if the Jockey Club would allow embryonic transfers. They are one of the only registries now that don’t allow it. They can’t use artificial insemination or embryonic transfers for race horses or Jockey Club thoroughbreds,” said Candice Aspen, a close friend of Prince’s who is volunteering her time at Pony Tales.

Baby formula

The first installment of formula for the six foals cost about $3,000 and will last five to eight weeks. The babies will need to be fed the foal formula for three months, Prince said.

Prince feeds the foals five or six times a day, every four to six hours, including the middle of the night.

One of the foals, a pure white baby with blue eyes, is a pony and about half the size of the others. Prince has named him Casper.

“I was nervous on the way back. Little Meg worried me the most. She was lying there all the way home. I noticed Casper had a little bit of a cough. Sunday it got more frequent. Monday I called the vet, and she said he had an upper respiratory infection. I got antibiotics, and she said to watch the rest of them. By that night, they all had runny noses and watery eyes. Then I started giving all of them meds,” Prince said.

The foals were two weeks old on May 7.

“I think a lot of rescue horses make good horses. I think they are appreciative. I think they know they got out of a bad situation,” Prince said.

The foals, handled so much from early age, will end up being good horses for someone, she said.

“They are learning kindness and trust right now,” Prince said, noting that in their first week of life, the babies’ interactions with humans were not so great.

“I knew they were out there, and I wanted to find some. But like I said, (the nurse mare farms) don’t advertise, and to try to find someone to connect you to them was hard,” Prince said.

“And to find them before they became wallets and purses. Obviously those contracts are going to pay more … a lot of those contracts have been in effect for years, if not decades, between the (leather) plants and the farms. It’s a matter of convincing them to change their practices, until the Jockey Club will allow for embryonic transfer and artificial insemination,” Aspen said.

Combined with what Prince had to pay for the foals, the cost of the milk replacer, and the gasoline to drive to Maryland and back, she had already spent $5,000 on their care by the time the youngsters set foot on the place.

“These foals are not easy to get. I’ve been working on it since January,” Prince said.

Cancer

Pony Tales Refuge & Rehab came into being in August of 2014 when 501(c)(3) non-profit status was officially granted by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

The rescue, Prince said, is what kept her going last summer as she went through chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.

Being diagnosed with cancer caused Prince to take stock of her life.

“I decided (after the breast cancer diagnosis) that something was telling me to stop what I was doing. I was in law school. I was going to be a lawyer. I was really stressed and working (hard),” she said.

“This is something I have always wanted to do. But it never seemed realistic. Then I realized I should do it while I have the chance because something could happen to me at any time,” Prince said.

Prince and her husband, Nate, have lived at the location of Pony Tales since 2009. The rescue is located east of state Highway 40 and north of the Howard Town Hall.

“It was all woods. Little by little, we’ve been clearing it out,” Prince said.

And yes, Prince’s husband is Nate Prince, owner of Nate’s Towing, who has rescued countless people in the Colfax area when their vehicles have broken down or there has been an accident.

Blood clot

Even before Pony Tales officially was recognized as a 501(c)(3), Prince has unofficially been taking in rescue horses.

Kirby, for example — the one-eyed 18-month old Arabian horse that no one else wanted.

As it turned out, Kirby is an absolute sweetheart who is willing to please and tries his best at everything that is asked of him.

To know Kirby, Prince said, is to love him.

The night before Prince went to get Kirkby, she dislocated her knee cap.

“Then I ended up with a blood clot and was off work for a while,” she said.

The blood clot, in retrospect, should have served as a warning sign.

“The doctor said he thought I’d had the blood clot because of the cancer,” Prince said.

Other rescues

In the middle of May, Prince travelled to Kentucky to bring home a pregnant mare.

Along with the emaciated nine-months-pregnant mare with a body score of 1 (which meant the horse resembled a patch of hide draped over a skeleton), Prince also acquired a seven-month-old horse and a nine-month-old.

At this point, whether the pregnant mare and her foal survive is anyone’s guess. But the mare was rescued out of a feed lot, and she and her unborn baby would have surely been dead by now without the help of a couple in Kentucky who took the mare in until Prince could haul her home.

Red Tail Arabians near Elk Mound is fostering the pregnant mare.

And then there’s the little pony named Rose who also is out in the paddock with the foals.

Rose came to Pony Tales with very bad feet. And while she is slowly recovering, she keeps herself away from the babies since it would be difficult for her to get out of the way if one of them kicked at her or if they are all started romping around and playing.

And then there’s Indy, an over 16-hands paint-thoroughbred cross who fell on hard times after his 37-year-old owner died of a blood clot in her lungs.

Indy came in about 400 pounds underweight and has only recently been re-introduced to riding now that he has gained some weight and has gained back some of his strength.

Indy was trained as a dressage horse.

Prince hauled the black-and-white gelding to a dressage clinic with a trainer from southern Wisconsin at the end of April, and he behaved like a gentleman every step of the way.

“I had a horse as a kid. I rode a lot as a kid. Then I got out of riding in high school. I wanted to do dressage, and my horse wasn’t (a good dressage prospect), but my parents wouldn’t get me another horse. As soon as we got out here, I wanted a horse again,” Prince said.

Prince grew up in this area, south of Elk Mound, toward Downsville.

Rescue business

Prince operates from the standpoint of being non-judgmental about the horses who need rescuing.

People can get into financial trouble or have medical problems or they can lose a job, or there could be any of a number of other reasons they are unable to take care of their horses, she said.

The only thing that matters is getting the horses to Pony Tales where they can recover and rehabilitate and where Prince can work on finding a forever home for them.

“I never want to judge people because that would make it harder for them to turn over their horses,” she said.

All donations to Pony Tales are tax deductible, and Prince said she is happy to provide a certificate of donation for tax records.

Adults with prior horse knowledge and particularly foal experience would be welcome to help out with the foals at Pony Tales, Prince said.

“Anyone is welcome who would like to clean the barns for me,” she said with a laugh.

Donations can be made to the Pony Tales account at Bremer Bank. Pony Tales also has a PayPal account set up for those who would like to make donations online.

For more information, visit the Pony Tales Refuge & Rehab Facebook page or visit www.ponytalesrefugeandrehab.org