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Saving Ukrainian Horses

Ann JamiesonMay 27, 2022 (0)


Ukraine is well known for its vibrant horse culture, and like everything else in the country, that culture is under attack. Horses are subject to shells, missile strikes, fires, loss of shelter, and lack of water and food as well as every other living creature. 

Unlike smaller animals who can be carried, horses pose a particular challenge. Transporting horses out of Ukraine is much more difficult than other pets. Besides needing trailers to move them, quarantine is required, and paperwork must be processed. While small animals have been allowed to cross without paperwork (receiving vaccines and microchips at makeshift facilities after they cross the border) horses are not allowed to cross without it.

When your barn and home have been bombed and your horse is living in temporary stabling or loose in a field, paperwork is the last thing you think about.

The largest country in Europe, Ukraine's massive size makes logistics difficult. Grain, hay, shavings, and even water, are hard to come by. Many horses are simply turned loose in order to escape the bombs and have a chance at survival.

One Ukrainian woman had just such a heartbreaking experience. She set her five horses free to escape shelling in her area. Sharing her predicament on Facebook brought the war tragically home to viewers in a shocking way.

The horses were in time gathered back together weeks after the shelling stopped, with a massive loss in weight and condition. One of them was very sadly stolen. While she has found a safe home for herself, she is still dealing with frustrating bureaucracy, and hopes to have her horses join her shortly.

Russian soldiers are just as happy to commit atrocities against horses and other animals as they are to attack people. At the beginning of the war, Russians bombed a stable in Gostomel. The first building was burnt down; the horses, with no chance to escape, were burnt alive. Stable workers were able to release the horses at the second building, who fled in panic.

One of the horses who escaped the bombing, Casablanca, survived in the forest for 40 days, about 20 kilometers (~12 and a half miles) from the farm where she lived. Thankfully Ukraine is blessed with miles of fields and forests, giving horses who have been turned loose some access to food and water.

Casablanca made her way to a sheep farm, but due to the bombs no one was there to help her. Staying near the farm, she was seen by local people who photographed her, and put the photos up on social media. Luckily, her owner spotted Casablanca online, and contacted those in the area.

She arranged to have her horse picked up by volunteers and taken to a safe stable near Kiev, where the mare had the chance to recover and get a new start in life. After a few days Casablanca was transferred to a temporary stable in western Ukraine, where she and her owner were happily reunited.

They say it takes a village, and all over Ukraine villages are doing their best to help the victims of the war.

Ukraine is home to several unique breeds, including the Hucul or Carpathian, a hardy, heavily built breed that ranges from pony sized to small horse, the Novoolexandrian, a heavy draft breed, and the Ukrainian Saddle Horse, a warmblood sport horse originating from Thoroughbred, Hanoverian, or Trakehner stallions crossed with Hungarian Furioso, Gidran Arab, or Nonius mares.

The Ukrainian Saddle Horse incorporates the last bloodlines of the extinct Orlov or Russian Saddle Horse. These horses, once the pride of Russia, were wiped out in World War I through bombing, starvation, and being eaten themselves by starving Russians. Hopefully they will not be wiped out permanently in Putin's temper tantrum war.

Mykhailo Parkhomchuk, a Ukrainian horseman, couldn't just sit back and watch animals he had spent a lifetime caring for suffer and be killed. He founded the Ukrainian Equestrian Federation Charity Foundation in response to the war. (The UEFCF, as it is founded with assistance from the Federation Equestre Internationale, is completely reputable).

Based in Belgium, Mykhailo drove back to his Ukrainian homeland on day two of the war. By the fourth day, he had organized a network of dozens of volunteers and founded the charity to save Ukraine's abandoned and endangered horses.  "In some regions, it's very dangerous," says Mykhailo, explaining how volunteers first bring the horses to the relative safety of a base in western Ukraine before organizing the paperwork for their onward journey to a new home in Europe. His UEF Charity Foundation has already rescued more than 100 horses, some of them found wandering in the open, others abandoned in stables by their owners. 

Currently 40 of the rescued horses are staying at the group's makeshift stables. Volunteers at the site receive daily requests from owners via social media to help rescue horses.

It doesn't matter to the rescuers whether it's a top show horse, or family pet, big or small, old or young horse. "We are trying to help and evacuate all the horses," said Mikhailo's associate, Taisia. She was petting a horse named Karpilon, who spent 21 days alone in a forest in the Kyiv region after being let out of his stable to escape bombing. 

Like horse owners around the world, they understand. "We think that every horse is the most important and precious for their owners."

The situation, Mikhailo says, is "very overwhelming, people don't know how to help. People are bringing food to the border and people in Ukraine are trying to bring food to the horses stuck in Ukraine. Volunteers will drive food up and down to the horses. People in other countries offer stalls but it's hard to get horses out, it's hard to organize papers, it takes a few weeks. They have to take blood...We have nearly 50 horses waiting for results of blood before they can leave!"

When horses arrive at the border, they generally don't have a passport, so they have to stay at the border for 21 days. This is another example of the bureaucracy terrified owners are dealing with. Why can't horses cross the border like cats and dogs?

Stables are being built as temporary homes while the horses await their passports.  Horse owners throughout the country, as well as outside of it, work together for the horses.

Another challenge in Ukraine is the lack of trailers. Generally to attend shows, a farm will have just one trailer, which makes trips back and forth all day, dropping horses off at the show and picking up those ready to go home. It's not like in the U.S. where most horse owners have their own trailer.

On top of that, as all horse owners know, it costs a lot to care for a horse. While at home, Ukrainians had jobs, they often leave with nothing (although groups everywhere are trying to find jobs for Ukrainians as well as places to stay) so don't have the funds to feed themselves never mind their horses.

A tremendous number of show horses are for sale now at reduced prices because of desperate owners.

This week a second evacuation stable with room for 60 horses was opened by the UEFCF. In a safe area in the north-west of Ukraine, the stable welcomed the first horses from the country's farthest east province of Luhansk. Free accommodation for those accompanying the horses is provided as well.

While some owners want to get their horses, and themselves, out of the country, many owners don't want their horses to leave Ukraine. All they want is to move them somewhere they will be safe.

Feed, bedding, and free accommodation for these horses are made possible by donations to UEFCF. Mykhailo says his work is only made possible by "the kind donations from around the world."

This week he received several truckloads of supplies and feed from neighboring countries. More than 80 stables in Ukraine have been supplied thanks to UEFCF.

Donations to the foundation have exceeded €111,000. The Belgian-registered charity is supporting Ukrainian horse owners, riding schools, equestrian clubs, and stables, and besides feed, products, and transportation, offers counseling support, and other kinds of assistance.

Over 900 people and organizations have contacted the UEFCF offering help, with offers coming in from Europe, the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Singapore.

At least 200 contacts have offered transportation from the border, and offers of stabling for over 1000 horses have been received, with many also able to accommodate horses' owners and their families. In addition over 130 employment opportunities have been offered! Many contacts represent groups or organizations who can further coordinate with local communities.

In addition, the UEFCF has launched data collection from clubs and stables to determine their needs for sufficient supplies for increments of three weeks ahead.

Much is being done to support our fellow equestrians and their horses in Ukraine, but there is so much more to do. While there are an estimated 100,000 horses in Ukraine, only a tiny amount have managed to escape the country.

If you would like to help, please consider donating to Thank you!       

Ann Jamieson was writing stories when she was in grade school. In high school she wrote for the school paper. A college professor urged her to go professional.

After following her teacher's advice, she graduated with a degree in English and began writing scripts for educational films. This was followed by a weekly column for a newspaper, along with writing for equestrian and travel magazines (combining her two loves).

Ann's For the Love of the Horse series followed beginning in 2005, all collections of true stories about horses. She now has four volumes available, with a fifth in progress. In addition, Ann moved her stories online for those who prefer to read electronically, starting a subscription series called A Horse in Your Inbox.



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