Nonprofit helps struggling horse owners care for their animals

  • Becky's Gift founder Kathy Lang, right, and nonprofit president Linda Barnes, left, stand for a portrait in Barnes' The Tack Room shop Friday. The pair work to provide support for horse owners falling on hard times. Elodie Reed—Monitor staff

  • Becky's Gift items are for sale in The Tack Room in Andover. All proceeds from those particular sales go towards supporting horse owners in need of help. Elodie Reed—Monitor staff

  • Bow High School graduate Becky Lang was 23 when she died in a car crash. A local nonprofit aiming to help support horse owners was started in her memory. —Courtesy

  • Bow High School graduate Becky Lang was 23 when she died in a car crash. A local nonprofit aiming to help support horse owners was started in her memory. —Courtesy

Monitor staff
Saturday, December 17, 2016

Before two starving horses were rescued from a Weare property this week, Becky’s Gift Equine Relief received a call.

The nonprofit, started by Canterbury resident Kathy Lang in memory of her daughter, Becky, helps horse owners care for their animals before the situation gets too dire.

In the case of the Weare horses, they were past the point where Becky’s Gift could help them. The town’s animal control officer decided the horses needed to be immediately removed and sent to Live and Let Live Farm in Chichester. 

“We don’t take horses – we support and work with Live and Let Live very closely,” Lang said Friday. “We go out, we check the horses, we make sure the people are able to take care of them.”

“Sometimes,” she added, “they’re not.”

The owner of the under-nourished Norwegian Fjord mare and pony in Weare may be charged with a crime. Weare police said they are investigating.

“People lose their jobs unexpectedly, or their family member is suddenly ill,” said Linda Barnes, Becky’s Gift president and owner of The Tack Room shop in Andover. “Their farm may be foreclosed on.”

She said one woman called and told her that she had to make a choice: heating oil for her family’s home over the winter, or hay for her horses.

Lang and Barnes said when they receive a call for help, they go out to the farm to assess the situation. The owners, they said, are often in tears and distress, and initially struggle in asking for aid.

But, Lang said, “We’d rather have them ask for help instead of their animals starving.”

“Or being on the front page of the Monitor,” Barnes said.

When help is requested, the nonprofit’s volunteers – also horse owners – have to put aside any emotion they feel at seeing the condition of horses they might find.

“It’s paramount to us we approach the owner non-judgmentally – we’re willing to work with the owner where they are at,” Barnes said.

Lang said Becky’s Gift isn’t about trying to take people’s horses away from them, but keeps both the owner’s feelings and the horses’ welfare in mind.

“We don’t throw the owners under the bus,” she said.

Instead, they give them hay for the winter, pay for veterinarian or farrier bills, or contact the nearest riding club to provide help doing barn chores.

All of this is intended to be short term, Lang said, until the owner gets back on his or her feet.

If that isn’t looking likely, that’s when Becky’s Gift starts looking at rehoming horses, either through Live and Let Live Farm or other local barns. Both Lang and Barnes said that’s more rare, as is involving authorities in a case.

“We try to offer them other options,” Lang said. But, she added, “There are some people who don’t want to make the next step.”

Filling a niche

In the seven years Becky’s Gift has existed, Lang said, the nonprofit has helped “hundreds” of horses. It’s assisted with 75 horses so far in 2016 and was working on calls for 15 other horses when the call from Weare came in.

“It’s filled a niche that was very needed,” Lang said. People in other states have called the nonprofit, asking for similar help with their horses, but it sticks to New Hampshire, both for tax reasons as well as the large workload.

“New Hampshire keeps us very busy,” she said.

Four volunteers respond to farm calls, and any aid they provide is wholly provided by donation.

“I think the funding is certainly an ongoing source of concern,” Barnes said. In past winters, the nonprofit has received large donations – sometimes $5,000 – and that’s what has kept operations going.

Other times, Lang and others have paid for hay or veterinarian bills out of their own pockets.

This coming winter, Barnes said everyone is concerned about the lack of hay caused by this summer’s drought.

“We’re really going to be experiencing a shortage,” she said.

Lang said she’s already making whatever deals she can with hay dealers to ensure provisions for clients.

All of this takes a lot of time and energy, but both women feel the work is about giving back to the friends and loved ones who have kept them going in the face of trauma.

For Lang, it’s done for her daughter, Becky, a Bow High School and University of New Hampshire graduate who died in a car crash in 2005 at the age of 23.

“Becky – she was a beautiful girl,” Lang said. “She spent her whole life helping animals and people.”

The nonprofit, Lang said, was established especially with Becky’s love of horses in mind.

“I tried to channel my grief into this forward motion,” Lang said. “It’s her gift and that is still in our heart – we carry that very heavy with us when we go out on our calls.”

Lang said the nonprofit also recognizes the importance of people having – and caring for – the horses in their lives, since her own horse helped her get out of bed in the morning in the days and months following Becky’s death.

“Very much, my horse saved my life,” she said.

For Barnes, she is also giving back to the animals that kept her whole as a 10-year-old girl. That’s when her mother passed away unexpectedly.

“She was the one responsible for me having my first horse,” Barnes said. In the aftermath of her mother’s death, she said she struggled to express her emotions, but found comfort in returning home from school, hopping on her horse and riding in the nearby fields.

“That was my way of surviving,” Barnes said.

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)