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They've earned their oats

Foundation cares for retired service horses

Foundation cares for retired service horses

July 11, 2002|by CAILIN MCGOUGH

cailinm@herald-mail.com

When Gary Owen arrived at the Ranger Foundation last September, he had earned his retirement.

For years, the horse played polo and was paraded at Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pa. But at more than 30 years of age and blind in one eye, Gary Owen was no longer suitable for sport and show.

For the Ranger Foundation, however, he was perfect.

The non-profit organization located on Greenbrier Farm in Keedysville is home to 10 retired service horses. Ann Corcoran, who owns the farm with her husband, Howard, said service horses that were government property often faced a bleak future.

"In the past when they had to retire horses, they had to be put up for bid, and the meat man was the highest bidder," Corcoran said.

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Many owners do not have the luxury of keeping old horses, she added.

"It's a matter of economics. Once a horse can't perform work every day, they are useless to them," Corcoran said.

The first retired service horse came to the farm in June 2000 after the stable manager at Valley Forge Military Academy, where Corcoran's son attended, called to ask if she would be able to take a horse too old for military training.

Corcoran, who already boarded horses at the farm, agreed.

"When they called again, that's when we decided we should set up some kind of organization. I mean, if we're going to be taking truckloads ..." Corcoran said.

Foundation president Lynn DiCarlo, 49, of Keedysville, said the foundation took the name of its first horse, Ranger.

Horses have since arrived from Valley Forge Military Academy, Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Chester Springs, Pa., Dicarlo said. Next week, the foundation will welcome its first local arrival, 31-year-old Poco, a retired therapeutic horse from Star Equestrian Center in Hagerstown.

Special treatment is necessary for many of the horses, some of which suffer from arthritis or are unable to chew hay, Corcoran said. Others receive massage therapy to help ease pain and address old injuries.

The extra attention is free, but veterinary care and supplements for the horses come from a "shoestring" budget, Corcoran said.

The foundation received a $1,000 grant last year from the Maryland Horse Industry Board. Now established as a charitable organization, the foundation hopes to garner more donations, which are tax-deductible.

The foundation hopes to expand onto the 300 acres the farm encompasses as funding becomes available, Corcoran said. It also plans to continue involving volunteers in the care of the horses as more are obtained.

"We try to keep everybody focused on keeping these guys happy," foundation vice president Suzanne Thackston said. "They spent their whole lives working for people."

Last October, the foundation began offering free, self-paced lessons twice a week in which complete horse care, rather than riding, is stressed, DiCarlo said.

People of any age - from children to "middle-aged women who have always wanted to have a horse" - can attend, Corcoran said. Orientation sessions are held the first Wednesday of each month.

After completing 15 lessons and passing a verbal test, participants move on to a second level of training.

Charlotte Whalley, 9, of Hagerstown, who attends several times a week, said she likes grooming the horses, especially "the old boys."

"When you're done, you know they really enjoy it," she said.

Volunteers hope for a big turnout at the Geriatric Horse Jubilee beginning at 9 a.m. Oct. 5 at Greenbrier Farm.

Free and open to the public, the fund-raising event will feature riding demonstrations and a show for horses over 18 years of age, where the premier class will be for grooming, Corcoran said.

"Anybody can bring an old horse out of the pasture and show him off that day," Corcoran said. Pre-registration is not necessary.

The festival will also include an eight-acre corn maze, a silent auction, Civil War wagon ride tours, food and a horse-and-rider costume competition themed "Horses in History or Legend."

More information on the Ranger Foundation is available at www.RangerHorse.org

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