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February’s Featured Rescue: Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue


Carla commented over on Fugly blog recently and raved about these guys so we took a peek at their website and did some googling and were sold.  From all the info we could find, Christine Hajek, President and Founder, is doing a wonderful job finding loving, forever homes for these big guys in Mount Airy, MD.

As is tradition, we’re starting off with a few interviewy questions, Snarky Rider style 😉

Background/history – how did you get started rescuing horses? how long have you been doing this?

Rescuing drafts began as a hobby for me in 2002, when I stumbled upon a gem of a Belgian at an auction. At the time I had a Percheron mare, who I bought from a fancy eventing show barn. They were using her to breed TB crosses.  She has the conformation of a quality camel.  I did everything right- rode her a few times, vet check, etc- only to find out about 17 days later that she was drugged for soundness and temperament. (Oh the joys of Sarapin blocks and Fluphenazine) She was totally inappropriate for me, and I was quickly intimidated by her. This Belgian at the auction looked like such a gentleman, and he rode with an edge of bored resignation. I fell in love. I figured it couldn’t be any more a mess than my mare (who I still have and adore now that she’s a mellowed 22) so I bid and I won.  When I went to the stall to collect my new horse, the seller expressed surprise.  “Oh!  You bought him?  I though he went to the meat man.”

I stopped in my tracks.  Meat man?  I asked him what he meant, and got one very clear education of the slaughter industry.  I grew up on a small farm that bred a few Warmbloods.  I got my first pony at 6.  And I had no idea what he was talking about.  It was the perfect dirty little secret; no one spoke of horse slaughter in “proper” circles.  The horses simply went away.  Immediately I realized what must have happened to those old broodmares, the aging lesson ponies, the foals with crooked legs.

The rescue started because of that Belgian gelding, who was named Elijah.  He lived to 28 and is buried here at the rescue.  By finding him, I awoke to the realization that there were hundreds more just like him, just waiting for someone to notice their kind eye… and I had to do something.  I started rescuing a few horses at a time, and by 2005 I consistently had 4 or 5 rescued horses I was training to ride and putting miles on before they would be for sale to good homes only.   At that point, my then boyfriend (now husband) said I really needed to either go all in and form a rescue, or cut back.   We thought about it for about 30 seconds and incorporated Gentle Giants in October of 2005 with the idea to have seven rescue horses. Seven is a nice number. Seven years later, we have 63.

How does rescuing a draft differ from the lighter breeds? What are some of their ‘special’ needs?

I’m really not the person to ask this question to, as I believe drafts are superior to all other breeds by nature.  They are generally calm and eager to please, and are quite easy to train.  They do tend to have more issues with hoof care, mainly that hoof care costs much more and many farriers aren’t very excited about trimming a draft.  Due to their size, they are more prone to arthritis and ring bone, so joint care should always be addressed early and maintained through life.  Drafts do require different dietary management and a much higher percentage of fat in their diet than light breeds, but in general are very easy keepers.  The most common “special need” we see is failure of a previous owner to train the horse to stand well for trimming.  Often there is simply no training or trimming happening at all, or the horse gets trimmed in shoeing stocks.  This is the method nearly all Amish use for their drafts.  Retraining is usually fairly easy using lots of patience and positive reinforcement, but we have had some horses left so fearful from shoeing stocks that it took over a year before they could stand for the farrier without the use of sedation.  Hoof neglect is the most common thing we see, and we even see it in the barns of high dollar breeders and show competitors.  The second biggest and most irritating issue is clueless owners who get a draft and think it’s going to be a huge rideable teddy bear that farts rainbows, and they don’t realize drafts need boundaries and a leader, just like any other horse.

Do Clydesdales really prefer Budweiser beer?

No one prefers Budweiser, it tastes like piss water.

What is your opinion on tail docking? and why?

Grrrr… tail docking.  We compete the rescue horses in the local draft show circuit, and every single show the announcer gives this big spiel about how tails are docked for the safety of the driver because the horses tail could flip up and snatch the reins out of the drivers hands and he would lose control and we would all die, blah blah blah.  Really?  Because if a draft can’t use that huge neck to pull the reins out of my hands while I’m  riding, how is HIS TAIL going to manage it?  No other driving breed has its tail docked.  I don’t see Standardbreds or Fjords causing massive pile ups because of their tails.  Or is it that most people who use/d horses for daily field work were too damn lazy to keep it trimmed or braid it every day to keep it out of the britchen, so they docked them and started a “tradition?”  Horses need their tails.  We’ve been showing several un-docked horses this year with great success.  Sunrise went from nearly dead to winning 3 First Place Clyde Yearling classes, 3 Junior Champions, 2 Reserve Champions, and 1 Reserve Grand Champion, and she did it with a full tail.

Don’t even get me started on Scotchbottom Shoes (our own shameless SR guest post plug – here!).

Are drafties better swimmers because they have such big paddles? oops, I mean hooves? 😉

Absolutely.  And fat drafts float nicely too.   Here we are at the only “swimming hole” in our area we have found so far.  Light breed horses can swim out for a quite a few strides, we’re lucky on the drafts to get three or four true strokes afloat.  That’s me in the lower corner.  My horse rolled and I fell off.  Like a champ.  (Pssst… horse on left is available for adoption!)

What is this wonderful “Most Spectacular Unplanned Dismount” award you spoke of? and do you have pictures?!

Oh, how I wish I had pictures of them all.  Our lovely volunteer Carla is an accomplished rider, so of course what that means is I put her on every horse I cannot be convinced to get on.  Over the years, she’s had some pretty fantastic spills, all worthy of celebration.  My personal favorite was the one where she got bucked off over a drafts head, did a flip, hit her head (helmeted, of course) on the round pen, and landed with her face in poo.  (She was fine.)  Still to this day she swears she came off the rear of the horse; but nope… that was over the head.  Thankfully she’s only about 90 pounds, so she sort of floats down like a feather, rather than becoming a high velocity lawn dart like myself.

This isn’t her Most Spectacular Unplanned Dismount, but it’s still a fun picture.  Carla had offered to show another volunteers green TB.  It went well.

Other volunteer awards celebrated this year were “Most Likely to Taste the Dewormers”, “Most Likely to be Used as Crash Test Dummy”, and my personal favorite:  “Most Likely to Suffer Grievous Bodily Injury”.

Thanks for giving us the opportunity for this interview.  I hope it allows your readers to learn a little more about what Gentle Giants is about, and I hope it opens some eyes to the absolutely fabulous draft breeds out there and how multi-talented they can be.  (Shameless plug:  We have lots available for adoption, so take a look!)  If any readers happen to be local, we always need volunteer help and we do allow committed volunteers to ride and show with us.  But our first rule is always fun.  We have lots of Firefighters, Police, Nurses, and Military folks who help run the rescue and volunteer here, so our environment doesn’t work so well for those who would be offended by a little foul language, lots of rude jokes, or constant friendly harassment. You get the picture.

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About snarkyrider

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Posted on February 1, 2012, in Featured Rescues, Tragically Humorous Falls and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I’m in the Gentle Giants area and I have heard nothing but good about them!

    I think they may still have some Arabians lying around, too. Do they?

    (I’d volunteer but I don’t think I can get out there without a car and that’s out of the budget right now).

    • @ Jennifer–Yes, we have 10 of the Canterbury Arabians from the largest horse seizure in Maryland, which happened last April. Now they are all up to good weights, and halter and blanket broke, but we cannot put any more training on them until the court case/custody is settled.

      I am SO HAPPY that GG is being featured–I never thought that my comment would actually be picked out of over 100 comments on FHOTD. It’s also a nice perk that such a lovely photo of me and Humphrey is now circulating throughout the online horse community. As my mom said when I told her about my prestigious new award from GG, “Well, it’s nice to know that all of the money I spent on lessons for you has paid off.”

      She was being snarcastic, but I’m not. I honestly am glad that I can help the drafts when I can, and especially glad that now more people will know about GG and their good work. Thank you so much, Snarky Rider.
      –Carla

  2. @ Jennifer–Yes, we have 10 of the Canterbury Arabians from the largest horse seizure in Maryland, which happened last April. Now they are all up to good weights, and halter and blanket broke, but we cannot put any more training on them until the court case/custody is settled.

    I am SO HAPPY that GG is being featured–I never thought that my comment would actually be picked out of over 100 comments on FHOTD. It’s also a nice perk that such a lovely photo of me and Humphrey is now circulating throughout the online horse community. As my mom said when I told her about my prestigious new award from GG, “Well, it’s nice to know that all of the money I spent on lessons for you has paid off.”

    She was being snarcastic, but I’m not. I honestly am glad that I can help the drafts when I can, and especially glad that now more people will know about GG and their good work. Thank you so much, Snarky Rider.
    –Carla

    PS–The website linked to my name is not up yet but it will be in the next week or so since I am taking a blogging course and I’m going to be writing about being an equestrian in college and doing things on the cheap.

  3. PrettyPinkPrincess

    Good work! Although I was slightly offended by the Budweiser/piss reference being from St. Louis and all, and whereas I do not approve of tail docking, have you ever had an irritated draft flip his tail over your lines? If you don’t have a firm grip ( on the lines not his mouth ) they will be gone. ( shout out to retired carriage horse Rossi, who gave me that thrill. He’s chillin on pasture with his teammate of forever Martini who was briefly used for therapy work)

    You can teach them that they don’t need stocks to support their weight. It can be scary and lengthy though. The first one I worked with is still the easiest horse in the barn to handle his feet.

    • My friend Aislyn owned Martini for a while. He boarded out on my farm before he went to therapy work and then retirement. Small world!

  4. I luff me some draft horses. Especially Shires 🙂

    And, completely OT, but really amusing, check out this CL add:
    Male goat – $50 (Orange,va.)

    I have a cremorla colored male . I bought him for $200.00 & was told he was a pregnant female. …only to find out he isn’;t a she. he’s really friendly,well mannered,really sweet, eats out of your hand,wonderful with children. If interested, call xxx-xxx-xxxx;

  5. I’ve driven my friend’s shires with full tails quite a bit, and I’ve never had a tail snatch the lines away… usually the lines are long enough to compensate even if that does happen, and I was taught to sit on the excess lines to further prevent them being snatched or otherwise lost.

    I’ve been watching GG for a few years now, they are simply my favorite rescue 🙂 Too bad I don’t live any closer to them.

  6. Great entry! I really enjoyed that, particularly the comment about Budweiser!

    About the tail docking: I was taught that tail docking started in the REALLY old days before tractors. Apparently their tails would get caught in some of the machinery, not the rigging but the actual machinery. In those days, fine I get it. Time was precious, and there wasn’t time to braid every day, plus braids can fall out. But now there’s no reason for it. That line about tail swishing and ripping the lines out of the drivers hands is bs. People just want to do it for the sake of tradition/looks, and had to make up some kind of excuse to justify it.

  7. I live in the St Louis area, and agree with the Budweiser comment! LOVE love love the horses, hate the beer. Give me a good ice cold-in-the-glass-bottle Miller High Life any day! lol!

    As for the Canterbury arabians, that one just breaks my heart. She had some of the best Polish bred Arabs in the world, the Poles even allowed her to lease their best stock for breeding seasons, and she turns out to be a world class heel.

    A least the Brits wised up and banned tail docking, needs to be done her in the states.

  8. Wish I lived closer. Recently met my friends PMU rescue, a huge Percheron. I could barely reach the top of his back and just thinking about picking up the feet made me dizzy.

    But I so wanted to climb up on his back, we just didn’t have time.

    Great Job, GG!

  9. Just a suggestion… Gentle Giants is having a FB competition right now, so if you like their page before February 14 and refer others to do so also, you could win a ~secret mystery prize~!! Details below.

    SHOW US THE LOVE! This February launches our first annual Valentine’s Day Challenge! Show us your “love” by sharing Gentle Giants with some friends, and help us get to 5,000 “LIKES” by February 14th! One random “LIKE” will be chosen and will be awarded a great prize! AND… the friend who referred that person gets a great prize, too! So tell everyone you know who might “LOVE” us! The more you share, the better your chances of winning!

    All you have to do is “like” their “Facebook page to enter.

    –Carla
    Collegial Equestrian

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