TOWN OF JANESVILLE
DeeDee Golberg wants the Midwest Horse Fair, which bills itself as the country’s largest annual horse showcase, to be a vessel for rescue horse education.
But the Midwest Horse Fair does not include a show class exclusive to rescue animals. That makes it difficult for Golberg, founder of Spirit Horse Equine Rescue and Education Center in the town of Janesville, to change some people’s attitudes toward rescue horses, she said.
“There’s a perception out there that rescue horses are trash, they’re something nobody wants,” she said. “That’s just not true. It’s like the dogs and cats at the shelter. It’s not their fault they ended up where they ended up.”
Golberg started an online petition encouraging the Midwest Horse Fair to change its policy. More than 800 people had signed on as of Tuesday afternoon.
She called the petition a “last-ditch” effort after roughly a decade of phone calls and emails that went nowhere.
The Midwest Horse Fair, held each year in Madison, does allow rescue horses to participate if they enter a specific breed or discipline class. They don’t have their own division because rescue horses don’t encompass one breed or fall under a certain riding discipline, according to a statement emailed to The Gazette by fair Executive Director Megan Hanuszczak.
When rescue horses blend into the rest of the class, they don’t get the same promotion they might if there was a class dedicated to rescues, and people can’t learn about adoption methods, Golberg said.
Adoption is key for horse rescue organizations such as Spirit. Much like a humane society, a horse rescue has limited capacity and needs to keep space open for new animals, she said.
Most of Golberg’s horses come to her after either being neglected or voluntarily given up by an owner who can no longer care for the animal. She has about 50 horses total, most of which are placed in foster horse homes scattered across Wisconsin and Illinois, she said.
But the number of horses that need to be rescued outpaces the number of vacancies at rescue organizations. More awareness—possibly achievable through the Midwest Horse Fair—could change that, she said.
“We’re trying so hard here to save lives. This is what we do, save lives,” Golberg said. “How can anybody be against that? Lots of people say, ‘Well, why?’
“I’m not the one to answer that question. They have to answer that question or just change the policy.”
Elaine Nash, whose Colorado horse rescue operation won the ASPCA’s Equine Welfare Award, said altering the policy would be a win-win decision. It would raise adoption awareness and generate revenue for the fair, she said.
Nash once rescued more than 900 horses from a failed sanctuary in South Dakota, and she placed nine of those with Golberg. She called Golberg a knowledgeable advocate for horses and hoped the effort would be successful.
“It’s very difficult to find homes for them because of this perception that rescue horses have no value and they’re throwaway horses,” Nash said. “The more people understand how nice a rescue horse can be, what a nice addition a rescue horse can be, the more will be adopted.”
Not everyone is so supportive. A few other rescue organizations Golberg declined to name told her they preferred the policy remain in place, she said.
She thinks those groups are afraid to anger the Wisconsin Horse Council, which owns and operates the fair. Golberg said the council holds immense influence in the equine industry.
“It’s very much a David-and-Goliath thing. We are a tiny little ant,” she said. “People say you don’t want to burn a bridge. I say there never was a bridge. How can you burn a bridge that never existed?”
In her email, Hanuszczak wrote that the Midwest Horse Fair has previously organized a handful of events reserved exclusively for rescue horses. She acknowledged Golberg’s petition and said the board would reconsider its rescue horse policy after this year’s event, which takes place this weekend.
Golberg is hopeful she will finally have a dialogue with Hanuszczak and other event officials to get the policy changed. Despite her frustration over the past decade, she knows how important the Midwest Horse Fair would be for the rescue mission.
“It’s the biggest event around. It’s a huge opportunity. That’s why we want to be a part of it,” Golberg said. “We’re just asking for a seat at the table. We’re not trying to take it over or tell them what to do. We would just like an opportunity to be considered.”