Corro Stories

#CorroCares Spotlight:
Rising Starr Horse Rescue

By Riesa Lakin

At Corro, we are obsessed with horses. Recently, we had the opportunity to learn about some really incredible programs and organizations that help rescue and protect horses from all walks of life. As a result, we’ve made it our mission to help shine a light on the amazing work being done by the organizations and people who really go above and beyond to love and support these beautiful animals. This month we are spotlighting Rising Starr Horse Rescue.

Rising Starr Horse Rescue is a 501(c)(3) non-profit volunteer organization located in Wilton, CT that saves, rehabilitates, retrains and re-homes abandoned, neglected or abused horses, and provides education about at-risk horses and the importance of protecting them. Founded by Kelly Stackpole, a veteran rider and horse trainer with over 30 years of experience, Rising Starr was created as a way to give back to the animals she loves and to provide children with a place they can participate and express their own love for horses.

We sat down with Kelly to learn more about Rising Starr, which is truly a unique and empowering place for both horses and humans. Rising Starr offers a wide variety of opportunities including adoptions, boarding, lessons, leasing, life coaching, equine yoga, team building, and school and youth programs. Find out what makes Rising Starr so special and discover ways you can help!

 

How did Rising Starr come to be the organization it is today?

By trade, I am a trainer and riding instructor. I used to do it competitively, but then later decided to open a non-competitive lesson farm in 2005. While searching for some new school horses for the farm, I met a horse, Bert, that I ended up purchasing. He had just come out of New Holland. I had no idea what New Holland was at the time—it’s one of the largest auctions in the Northeast that a lot of horses out of their ship to Canada to be slaughtered. After finding out about that and spending time working with Bert, I started searching out more and more horses from there and other places to rehabilitate. They have so much more to give, so much to get back, and from being somebody who has had Olympic showjumper horses in my barn, these guys deserve just as much.

So, it was then that I started a non-profit horse rescue to save one life at a time. We didn't have any money. So, after my normal day job, I would sit at my computer and learn how to get our 501(c)(3) status. A lot of the kids that rode with me started doing fundraisers to raise money to get our first horse. So, really 90% of the money to get our first horse was a bunch of school kids. Some of them became part of our Junior Board, who are kids all under 18 years old. We currently have a board of five that are between the ages of 13-16 years old and all of those kids, except one, have been with us since the very beginning. In 2016, [through donations helped raise through the help of these young members] we got our first horse Griffin.

Image of Griffin courtesy of Kelly Stackpole

 Today, we have 18 horses and one in the oven! One of my little ponies that came out of the kill pen surprised us with being pregnant, so we will have 19 soon. Six of them are program horses, which are not available for adoption. And now, we also have some horses where we allow riders to lease an adoptable horse. You're also able to adopt a horse and board it with us. We have two horses that are available for adoption that are fully leased—I should say fully sponsored. And we have a horse here that was adopted, and he remains with us for training and boarding.

When you refer to horse adoption, does that usually entail the horses leaving your program? It sounds like a lot of the adopted horses end up staying with you.

Up until December 5th, we had horses in four different barns. So, we just purchased this property we’re at now in Wilton, CT. Most of our horses get adopted and move off property. But we now can offer the opportunity where if somebody wants to come in and lease one of our adoptable horses for a month, they can to make sure that's the horse they want. All of our horses, if you're approved for adoption and you commit to adopt the horse, you can move them off property, onto your farm. In 10 days, if they don't work, we’ll give you 100% of your adoption money back. But we’ll take the horse back.

 We don't want these horses coming back because we want them to find the right home. But we don't want you to decide three months later that you don’t want the horse, so we’ll always take them back. If it’s beyond the 10 days, though, we’ll take them back but you’re just not getting your adoption fee back.  

 

With all of rescue organizations, a lot of horses get returned. And if you can't take them right away, you've got to worry, if somebody really doesn't want them, where they’re going to end up? So, we follow our horses for life. We own our horses for two years after they’re adopted so that we can follow them. We’ll always take them back, but we don’t relinquish ownership for two years. This has been helpful for us because if a horse isn't being taken care of and you have relinquished ownership, it's hard to walk on the property and take the horse off the property. Our horses even go out with boarding agreement, so if you're going to board your horse somewhere else, the actual farm owner has to fill out a boarding agreement. They have to realize that we own that horse. So, if it's not being taken care of properly, if it’s not being looked after, if it's being abused, or if they see anything, they are liable and they need to call us. We can't sit on top of people all the time, so we require every month for the first two years that the owner must send us a picture of the horse with no blankets on when possible.

We have horses in Vermont, New York, Connecticut, and Georgia, so we can't get there every month. But the ones that are close to us, we actually go and check on them, which allows us to keep an eye on them and get answers to questions. You know, you can answer all the questions and you can talk to a vet and the new horse owner, and in six months, things may not go well. And that’s really important to us to make sure they don't end up back in situations like that [back in a kill pen, abandoned, etc.].

Additionally, every horse that comes through our door gets microchipped, registered for life, and they have to stay in our name. So, if you ever scan one of our horses, even if it's a horse like Griffin, who has been legally owned [by his current owner] for eight years, he comes up in our name.

Image courtesy of Kelly Stackpole

There are 100,000-125,000 horses every year in the United States that need help—whether they go to slaughter, are cast-offs, are abandoned, or whatever. There may even be more. There aren’t enough rescues to make a dent on helping all of those horses.

It sounds like you really go above-and-beyond with horse adoptions and educating the equine community. 

Yes, we offer courses to anybody who's interested in adopting. We provide them with videos they can watch and to come for free lessons with their adopted horse, so we can educate them more. We will teach them as much as they need to know to help them be a responsible owner.

There are 100,000-125,000 horses every year in the United States that need help—whether they go to slaughter, are cast-offs, are abandoned, or whatever. There may even be more. There aren’t enough rescues to make a dent on helping all of those horses. One of the really important things that we’ve decided to focus on, especially sitting in an area with plenty of certified riding centers, is education because we can't save that many. It is impossible to save that many horses. You have these rescues that 25-30 horses are going out of month, but what you don’t necessarily hear are the number of horses that come back. So, what we have decided to do is to educate.

We have a volunteer orientation every month since we've moved into this farm with about 70 people show up for the last two orientations that we've done. It's amazing. You can bring your five-year-old as long as you stay with your children. We take children of all ages. We start through the barns and go over some basic rules, but we essentially just talk about how who we are, what we do, and then show everybody the entire barn by doing a walk through and sharing what we expect from a volunteer. Then, if they want to stay and actually start to participate, we have groups that will go off and work in different parts of the farm.

Is it a lot more work for us? Yes. Out of those 70 people who show up, we get around 10 that maybe come whenever they want or show up, but we get about 5 who are really going to make a difference here at Rising Starr Horse Rescue. But those 70 people who showed up have just been educated. So, whether or not they’re involved in our organization, they're hopefully going to make better decisions for America's horses as they grow up and come into contact with different situations. That's probably the biggest thing that Rising Starr can do for America's horses is educate people like that. So, that's really really important to us.

Additionally, in our huge volunteer base and organization, we do lessons because we’re really working on not having to just rely on donations to survive. There's too many non-for-profits out there and it's such a big question mark on whether you’re going to get the money this month from donations. You hear about people shutting down, so we really want to be as sustainable as possible. We do a lot of programs to supplement donations to help operate Rising Starr.

Image courtesy of Kelly Stackpole

That’s really great! Rising Starr offers quite a bit of programs beyond adoptions. Can you tell us a little more about these programs?

We’ve decided that we're all about wellness and showing people that the horses have more compassion for humans than humans do for them.

We are a non-showing horse farm, but as a national trainer, we offer really good training, which includes learning how to tack up your horse, help with grooming, and putting your horse away. We offer teaching. We’ve decided that we're all about wellness and showing people that the horses have more compassion for humans than humans do for them.

We do equine yoga, which is not just doing yoga in a field with horses. Horse yoga starts up in the barn by participants stretching, getting their horse groomed and ready, and then leisurely walk down to our indoor arena, where we will have helpers to help you stretch on the ground. And then, we actually have them get on bareback for some fabulous stretches with our horses that they love and enjoy. It’s a pretty interactive class for both the humans and horses.

We also do life coaching, which is something new we’ve just started to offer. We have a certified life coach who helps you work with a horse in a small paddock or a round pen. I used to think this was hoodoo voodoo when I first heard about it. But, essentially, horses are mirrors. So, if you go in to a round pen with a horse and if you’re in a bad mood or in a bad place, the horse isn’t going to walk up to you because they can tell how you’re feeling. Through working with our life coach and the horse, the horse really allows you to kind of look into your soul. The horse really tries to help you see what's really important to you and how other people see you. It's a really cool and positive experience.

Image courtesy of Kelly Stackpole

We also have a lot of different sponsorship programs for people who can come in from the city. They can sponsor one horse or they can do a monthly sponsorship and then come up for an hour or two for a discounted trail rides a couple times a month. It depends on what you do. We have 42 acres and 110 acres behind us that we're able to trail ride on. And we use as many as many of our rescues as possible. We’re showing people that you can ride—that these horses are useful.

The other thing that we do that we are trying to get donations and grants for is to offer all of these services and all of these programs that we offer that people pay for, we would we offer them to Veterans and their immediate family for free.

We also work with local libraries to read to the rescues, where the local libraries will bring in kids that will sit on little mats and read to the horses. We have this one lady who's amazing—she sits and reads to them too, especially the unhandled horses that come to us that don't know how to lead or anything. Just getting used to humans through the reading sessions makes a huge difference.

Additionally, we work with the local high school, who has a transition program for 18-21 year olds who might have autism or something else. They’re not going to college, but they are still are productive members of society. We have them come in and work with us. We teach them how to feed, how to care, and how to groom horses.

Wow, that's really impressive! How do you go about selecting the horses that you save and bring into your programs? 

You know, it's just a feeling. Gunner for instance, he just looked like another horse that was near and dear to me. I don't  know. You do want to take them all, but I often say it's the eye contact—sometimes it's eye contact through a picture for quite a few horses. We also have gotten  phone calls. And a lot of times, we have an open stall. We make sure we have four months’ worth of what it costs to take care of a horse before will even take one in. Some people are like, "well, you should just put it all on the line." I can't! I'm responsible for all these horses for the rest of their lives really. I've got four empty stalls right now, but I have to make sure that if I have horses that don't get adopted, I'm able to take care of them before I can open more.  We do have boarders. Hopefully, those stalls will someday not need to be supported by boarders and will support rescue horses, because our programs will bring in enough money. But the bottom line is you have to be able to pay for the horses.

There are people wanting to just give their horses away—like phone calls every week. Some of the horses are in kill pens. There's no rhyme or reason in the back of my mind. Do I look at them and say, "Yeah I can get this horse a home?" Definitely, but we are not a sanctuary.

The thought is always that we'll be able to repurpose them for something—hopefully as a riding horse. But you don't know what you're going to get just like that. I have a 16.3 hand 10 year old beautiful, gray, sound mare. She's not going to stay sound. She's been bred too many times and her hips hurt. We tried her out and she was sound, but you start working her and she just is miserable. So miserable! I think of myself as a fairly good trainer and we tried lots of different things. But you just get to a certain point of her not loving her job, so we pulled her shoes and I told her we're going to figure something else out. We're not going to ride you. As a result, this horse has gotten so much sweeter. By taking that pressure off of her, you can groom her now without her trying to kick anybody's head off. It's just amazing. I think she's finally like, "Oh my God, you're listening! You're finally listening."

Image courtesy of Kelly Stackpole

They all have something to do, but we just have to figure out what that is best for them, instead of what people want the horse to be for them.

To learn more about Rising Starr Horse Rescue, visit their website or follow them on Facebook. Corro is committed to helping organizations like Rising Starr generate awareness and community support. This weekend, to celebrate National Protect a Horse Day, we're teaming up with Tough-1 to help stock rescue organizations with Stable Staples. February 28th through March 1st, when you add a Tough-1 brush to your Corro purchase, we'll donate a Tough-1 brush to one of our partner rescue organizations like Rising Starr! Shop today