LIVINGSTON — Draft horses are the largest breed of horses, with some being more than six tall just at their withers and some easily weighing more one ton. They are bred for the heavy labor of pulling carts and farm work. Sadly, once these horses are no longer able to work or if they get injured or sick, many are cast aside and put down.
But the United In Light Draft Horse Sanctuary in Livingston is giving these gentle giants a new lease on life.
It has been in operation since 2003. Founder Deborah Derr started her career working as a chiropractor and found that she could not only help people, but animals as well. After helping to rehabilitate a draft horse rescued by some friends, she was hooked. She sold her practice and United ILight was born.
Today, the sanctuary is home to 15 horses from all over the country, which is no small feat.
“We solely work on draft horses, the elders that have been injured, neglected and abused in one form or another,” said Derr. “So they can’t be ridden anymore, they can’t drive anymore. Those are the ones we get. The reason why, there’s not a lot of people that do what we do. It’s expensive.”
The sanctuary pays not only for the rescue of these horses, but for their upkeep, food, and medical bills. As a 501-C-3 charity, United In Light is completely dependent on donations and volunteers. Needless to say, the pandemic has hit them hard. Donations dropped nearly 90% during the first few months of Covid-19 and all their open houses were canceled. But things are looking up at the moment.
The Park County Community Foundation recently helped to raise more than $14,000 for United In Light, giving them enough money to buy hay for the winter. Though donations can be made at any time, several other fundraisers are currently in the works, and they are even planning to start open houses again with limited attendance.
The meet-and-greets really are a time for these horses to shine. Equine therapy helps reduce stress and anxiety in people, and over the years these gentle giants have worked with folks from all walks of life suffering from illnesses and trauma.
“These horses, because of the situations they have been through - they have been treated more as equipment, livestock - they have been abused in one form or another," said Derr. "A lot of people that come out here, these horses know. They know what you have been through. Certain horses will go to certain people. The joy that people get being with these big guys, and they can be a little intimidating, but they are huge teddy bears. The one thing you get is, everything washes away. You get an amazing grounding presence. These guys have such an amazing presence and you can’t help but be happy.”