By CLARISSA COTTRILL, The Journal
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — Sleeping Fox Farm, an eventing and thoroughbred nonprofit rescue in Martinsburg, offers sanctuary and rehabilitation broken down and injured horses after years on the track.
"There is life after the racetrack and that's what we're all about," said Angie Francart, who owns the nonprofit with her husband, Gary.
"They have so much more to give and normally when they're coming off the racetrack they're young — they're really young still. They have a whole life ahead of them."
Francart competes the horses who are able in eventing and trains budding equestrians to do the same. It's a way to give the horses a new life and purpose and to show them to potential adopters, she said.
Eventing includes jumps, cross country and dressage — which is the art of sand dancing derived from wartime tactics — and shows the versatility of the horse, according to Francart.
Francart and her team do individualized work with every horse that comes to the rescue, often teaching them not only eventing but also social skills and basic training while nursing many of them back to health.
Some of the horses that find their way to Sleeping Fox Farm need more nursing than others, often with intense injuries and cases of starvation. The farm works with Jefferson and Berkeley Animal Control in West Virginia and Montgomery County in Maryland, among others to locate horses in need. Many come from Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.
The horses that have been sick, injured or broken down do not compete, but rather live out their days as part of the farm's sanctuary herd — meaning they are forever retired.
"To a race industry, that's a worthless horse because it's not going to make them money," Francart said of one of her recent rescues, Lucky, who went through years of hard racing and competition before being found abandoned with a severe leg injury.
"Every horse here has a story — a reason they ended up here," Francart said. "We take in the horses that no one else will. This is their soft place to land."
Francart, who has been around horses her entire life, started her rescue story by happenstance. During her continuing education in the health care field, she became critical of the racing industry's consequences to horses and decided to use thoroughbreds as part of therapy work. She and her husband took in one horse at a time until the effort snowballed into becoming the nonprofit rescue and sanctuary.
Today, she and her husband work with their small team of volunteers to provide care to 20 horses — and a handful of barn cats — with much of the responsibility falling on the Francart family.
Each horse is handled every day and given human interaction and care, according to Francart. The horses are all blanketed based on temperature, given a series of individualized supplements when necessary, provided with medicine, veterinary care and fed at least one bale of hay per day — which costs $5 each.
While that sounds like an around-the-clock job, it doesn't stop Francart and her husband from working full time off the farm as well. It's necessary to fund the rescue, according to Francart.
Despite being a nonprofit, Sleeping Fox Farm currently receives a low number of donations, so Francart and her husband are footing almost 100 percent of the multiple costs that come with operation.
"It's ungodly expensive, but we do it because we love what we do," Francart said with visible emotion. "I wouldn't give it up for the world. I would go work at McDonald's 17 hours a day if I had to just to afford the rescue and make sure my horses are taken care of — just to never lose the farm. . It's a real fear — we get scared. But then we buckle down and work harder."
Some of the working volunteers, like Amanda Buzzbee and Elaina Maze, organize and facilitate fundraisers at local restaurants and stores in order to offset some of the costs.
"We're hoping to break into some more fun ones that might also help, too," volunteer Sina Jenkins said of upcoming fundraising prospects. "We're hoping to maybe organize a haunted barn tour in October."
The fundraisers bring in money and show off the horses, which can lead to adoptions and new spaces for more horses in need, according to Francart. The rescue takes donations in many forms, including through its website at sleepingfoxfarm.com and through GoFundMe for specific needs. People can also donate their time and volunteer to care for horses, which is a never-ending job.
"It's a lot of work," Francart said. "But that's what this rescue is about: Doing the right thing for the horses."
'Life after racetrack': Farm takes on horse rehabilitation
By CLARISSA COTTRILL, The Journal