A forgotten, potholed road turns from the bustle of SH 1 and winds past a cluster of forlorn deserted buildings, derelict structures that once housed the Mary Crest Catholic Girls’ Home. But once through this slightly disquieting area you’ll come across rolling hills and flat pasture – you’ve arrived at specialist horse sanctuary, the Riverside Retreat Equine Rescue and Re-homing Centre.
Passionate horse and animal lover, Amy Whitney, founded the sanctuary around three years ago. Set on 40 acres of peaceful Te Horo land, it is the only specialist horse rescue centre in the North Island (south of Auckland), and Amy says the lives of more than 300 threatened horses have been saved by herself and her dedicated team of volunteers.
“We have quite a big group of experienced, caring volunteers, some help every week, others as often as they can – they make a huge difference to the running of the place.”
Amy brings 15 years riding and horse experience (she trained as a jockey) combined with a Certificate in Veterinary Nursing, to the range of horses in her care, which currently number nine.
“The centre has grown a lot bigger and faster than I thought it would. Ten rescue horses at a time is our limit.”
Unwanted horses of various ages come from all over New Zealand, often brought in by the SPCA or vets who have arranged for her to take the animal in. Some are racehorses who need a new career after racing (many owners don’t have the time, ability or knowledge to find their horse a suitable new home) and some have been abused, neglected or abandoned, others have behavioural issues, “misunderstood horses” but all need emotional, physical and medical rehabilitation and empathetic retraining.
“The race horses are gently retrained so they can participate in eventing or maybe become a family pet. I use a no-pressure system with the horses. My aim is to instil such confidence in the horse that they want to do anything for me. Groundwork is essential for establishing a connection and forming a bond.”
That connection appears to have been well and truly formed with Noah, an ex-racehorse who “was too slow to be an effective racer.” Noah has been here for six months and Amy says he is a real character who loves being around children. Noah certainly looked pretty relaxed, a very ‘chilled out’ sort of a horse, with an apparent ‘taking life as it comes’ attitude. Like the other eight, Noah will be re-homed only into an approved, experienced, long-term home.
As well as a small group of sponsors who help with donations towards expenses such as food and veterinary bills, Amy has the assistance of Otaki-based Marten Dijkstra, an equine dentist and master farrier. She explains that it is difficult to find a good farrier but “Marten is passionate about horses and their well-being.”
She also has the benefit of a cheap lease (helpful in this shoe-string operation) and the support of her horse-loving family who have played a big part in building-up and running the rescue centre – a safe haven for those originally destined for the slaughterhouse.
For further information contact Amy 0278961847 or firstname.lastname@example.org