Horses live out golden years with 'no stress' at Buddhist sanctuary
Patricia Mailman was eight months pregnant with her son, Lucas, when she bought her horse in 1998.
Pirate, who was 18 months old, immediately became part of the family.
"I'd be breastfeeding Lucas and out feeding the horses at the same time," Mailman said. "My son, when he was small, would take his friends out in the field and Pirate would look after him."
Pirate was there for Mailman when she went through cancer treatment. She once rode him from Tignish to Souris to raise money for charity.
"He was pretty special to me."
But when Mailman moved from her farm in Bonshaw, P.E.I. to a place out of the province five years ago, she couldn't take Pirate.
Her beloved horse is now one of 72 spending their remaining years at a 40-hectare horse "retirement home" in Primrose, P.E.I., run by the Buddhist non-profit Moonlight International Foundation.
Most of the horses are standardbreds who are now too old or slow to race, like Albert Town, once a big name on the Maritime harness racing circuit.
Some are saddle horses, like Pirate. And there are a couple of Shires, working horses, spending their golden years in peace and comfort.
"We treat them with respect and there's no stress on the horses," said Wade Loane, who manages the sanctuary for Moonlight. "It's all about the well-being of the animals."
Many of the horses would have been destined for the slaughterhouse, Loane said, but the Buddhists take them in because they believe all animals should die a natural death.
Walter Cheverie, a harness racer, brought the first three horses to the sanctuary in 2012 — three-year-olds who weren't fast enough for the racetrack. He said he couldn't afford the "$3,000 a year or so" to maintain them, and heard about Moonlight's plans to open a horse rescue.
"I said 'if you do that, it's really going to grow, you're going to end up with a lot of horses,' because there's a lot of people who feel the same way that I did about those horses and they just can't afford to do anything else but to ship and to sell them off to the meat factories."
Cheverie was right. The sanctuary is now at full capacity, and there is a waiting list. Horse owners must pay for an initial exam by a veterinarian. But after that, all costs are covered by Moonlight, including food, veterinary and farrier work, and wages for farmhands who look after the horses.
"It's quite an undertaking," Cheverie said. "It's a very thoughtful and caring thing to do for horses."
Cheverie said it's nice for the horses to be around others at the end of their lives.
"Horses are herd animals and a lot of them grow up in a herd, especially the race horses, and then they end up at the track and a lot of them never get to be back in the herd, to live their life, to die that way."
Loane said many former owners still come to visit their horses. Mailman said she visits Pirate, now 21, every summer. Pirate still recognizes her, she said, and comes when she whistles.
"He's in wonderful shape," she said. "Last time I was there the gentlemen was telling me he has a little girlfriend…. Knowing that he's there really gives me peace of mind."
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