“He is Koral”, Sonny Richichi says and points at a gallant black and white horse that walks in front of us in the pasture. Koral is a very special one. He sparked the beginning of IHP Italian Horse Protection Association and rescue center.
Sonny, the president and founder of the association, used to go horseback riding as a hobby. He was thinking of buying a horse to himself and at the stable where he went they were willing to sell one they didn’t want to keep. Koral was that horse. He was stubborn, wild and described as difficult, which meant he was not very useful for a riding school. Sonny decided to take the challenge and started to train the horse with the methods he had learned when riding. The results were horrible, as he describes himself.
As the situation had gotten even worse, Sonny decided to trust his instincts. He had noticed he had sensitivity to horse behaviour and started to work with Koral’s terms. Within couple of months Koral was a different horse when it came to interaction with people. Koral opened Sonny’s eyes to the ways horses are mistreated and Sonny started to stand up for these animals, that are so often misunderstood and abused.
Sonny had been working long time with animal rights and in 2009 IHP was founded, the first association to speak solely for equines and their rights in Italy. Now Koral shares the 16 hectars of fields in Montaione Italy with 57 other horses who have gotten a second chance in their lives with no need to serve people.
Ignorance is the Worst Mistake
The abuse of horses is often lack of knowledge, Sonny states. The intentions might be good, but even some of the experienced owners treat their horses in ways that are harmful and unnatural for the animals. “Ignorance is the worst mistake with horses”, Sonny says. It can be for example ignorance of their natural behaviour, need for space and need to have social relations. Then there are the cases when horses are semi-abandoned on a field or left to live in a small space. IHP works with authorities to rescue the abused individuals to the center but also educates, spreads knowledge and works to influence the legislation and attitudes of people.
There definitely is work to be done and it is everything but easy. As Sonny points out, when you speak of horses, it is a huge world that consists of many smaller worlds. Horse abuse is also exceptionally wide: horses are used in every activity where animals can be used, e.g. legal and illegal sports and races, carriages and other entertainment for tourists, vivisection, meat and fur industry and transport. At the same time horses have no special recognition in the Italian legislation.
In Italy there are around 50 000 horses slaughtered every year. It is the biggest amount in Europe and a number quite hard to comprehend. Slaughter is a straightforward opportunity for an owner to get rid of a horse that is no longer profitable. Horses live a long life, even over 30 years, but their span in sports and other activities is much shorter, especially in case of an accident or an illness.
It is also quite easy to make horses disappear: no one in Italy has a comprehensive register of the horses. Some of the horses end up to illegal slaughterhouses in Sicily and from there their meat to food stores and restaurants.
When IHP was started it was the first association in Italy that focuses on horses and their rights. After 8 years it still is, but it has gained followers and interest in Italy. The biggest operation yet was in 2013, when 210 horses were rescued. They were owned by a man who was making money with illegal business and had animals on his fields for his entertainment but didn’t take any care of them.
When the authorities found out about the situation, they didn’t know how to act. First when IHP got the media interested, rescue operation started. It lasted more than a year, but all the horses found a new adoption home. Not an easy task, since the new homes had to be good ones. Luckily the media coverage helped to spread the word.
Meeting Libero and Other Lucky Ones
The horses in IHP live in herds, where the other horses have similar condition and they can have natural social life. Horses that come to the rescue center have often both physical and psychological issues. It might take from weeks to many months of work to make a horse to trust people again.
On top of the nearly 60 horses living in the rescue center there are eight horses living in another pasture. They are positive to Equine Infectious Anaemia test. As IHP points out, they are perfectly healthy but due to a law they are risked to be slaughtered or living alone in isolation for the rest of their lives. It is one of IHP’s missions through scientific research to show that these horses can live normal lives in good shape and in heard with other horses. Sonny tells, that at the moment many horses with positive test results are killed with no reason.
IHP is a non-profit association and funded by donations. Besides Sonny and a small team of regular help including vets, there are volunteers who help taking care of the horses: feeding them, assisting with therapies and other daily activities. IHP is trying to find a bigger and more affordable space. At the moment they are not able to host new rescues. Most of the resources go to run the rescue center’s everyday life, balancing between what they would like to do, achieve and make come true and what is possible with the resources right now.
We walk from Koral’s pack to another pasture to the top of a hill. Behind us there are beautiful Tuscanian hills with wine yards and olive trees. Most of the horses continue eating when we arrive to a hay pile, but some get interested of us. I feel the warm breath on my skin through the big nostrils that wander around my arm. Libero was born at the rescue center in 2011. His mum was rescued because of mistreatment just couple of days before Libero came to the world. Libero means free in Italian. It is the aim of IHP, to give horses their fundamental rights, freedom to live as horses that don’t have to earn their value by benefiting humans.
How to Help?
IHP is truly a wonderful place and it is so great to see the enthusiasm and effort given to the cause. When we visited Tuscany couple weeks ago, there was significant drought. In some parts it had not rained since February! After our visit there have been huge rains and also IHP was suffering the floods. Find out the best way to help on IHP’s webpage. You can donate or support the cause by adopting a horse, which means you pay a small monthly fee and get updates how the horse is doing. If you are planning to visit Italy (or you are already there, you lucky person!), volunteering is of course a great option.