Sunbury native Rachel Bendler may be a horse’s best friend.
She and her husband, Zack, found a need – rescuing, rehabilitating and adopting out horses destined for slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico. Rachel and Zack started Bella Run Equine on 22 acres near Athens, Ohio, and several years ago gained 501(c)(3) status.
Bendler grew up on Route 61 just outside Sunbury. She attended elementary school at St. Mary’s and graduated from Delaware Christian High School in 2007. Her parents, Dr. M. Ann Mandic and Dr. Lee M. Nowac, own Sunbury Veterinary Clinic, so it’s no surprise that Bendler was into horseback riding while growing up.
Bendler attended Ohio University briefly, she said, and then her life changed dramatically.
“I didn’t graduate,” Bendler said. “When I moved down here, I started working at Last Chance Corral that specializes in the rehabilitation and adoption services for unwanted horses. That same year I bought my first rescue and fell in love with it.”
Bendler met her husband, Zack. He was from Oklahoma, but she said she dragged him into the horse world.
Bendler said that while horse slaughter is illegal in the United States, horses are shipped every day to Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered. Last year, 146,548 U.S. horses were slaughtered outside of the U.S. (that statistic does not include horses slaughtered illegally in the U.S.). That breaks down to 12,212 a month, or about 417 horses a day.
“We go to the Sugarcreek Livestock Auction where between 150 and 200 horses are auctioned off every Friday,” Bendler said. “About 90 percent of them go to slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico for human consumption and dog food.”
Bendler said there’s concern about medications given to horses that are not approved for human consumption. Buyers are told the horses are clean, but they are not raised for meat; they’re most often unwanted or neglected and abused competition and companion horses.
Bendler said they attend the Sugarcreek Livestock Auction once each week during summer months, less often during the winter. They go with $1,000 to $1,500 but, with meat prices up, they can only purchase two to four horses each trip.
“We climb in the pens and pull them out, look them over. If they’re healthy enough, we go into the auction with 10 to 15 horses on our list. There are many more, there’s a lot of young broken horses there, but we can’t get to them. It’s a very emotional thing, but we try to use our heads.”
Bendler said the Sugarcreek Livestock Auction House is not the problem.
“I don’t want people getting angry and calling the auction house upset,” Bendler said. “Those horses were dumped there by private people and dealers. The auction house gets a lot of harassment for having hurt and sick horses there, while they aren’t the ones that let the horses get in that condition. It’s a shame that the people who let the horses get in that condition get off free.”
Bendler said Bella Run has a three-horse trailer by definition, but they’ve had up to five horses in it. She said the two-hour drive home is crowded, but they said the horses are getting a cramped ride to somewhere better than if they were headed to a Canadian or Mexican slaughterhouse.
Once at Bella Run Equine, horses get a minimum 30 days before they’re placed – first quarantine, then rehabilitation, evaluation and training; and adoption requires personal and veterinary references.
“A lot of the horses we rescue are already broken,” Bendler said. “We have to ride them to know them before we place them. We work with them around cars and kids and dogs before we put them up for adoption. We want them to fit in wherever they’re going.”
Bendler said all horses leave Bella Run on a trial basis; they always take their horses back if there’s a problem.
“It’s important to us that they don’t get shuffled around after they leave here,” Bendler said. “Once they come here, we’re committed to them for better or worse.”
Bendler said Bella Run Equine has already placed hundreds of rescues headed for slaughter. Last year alone they placed 73 horses, a bit more than their average, but not by much, she said.
“Zack works in landscaping, I spend the majority of my time taking care of horses – feeding, grooming, cleaning stalls, training,” Bendler said. “Donations are down right now. We’re doing a lot of this out of our own pockets. Our veterinary bill is pretty extravagant. My parents help by getting medications at cost. Some of our friends are veterinarians, and we strive to stay in the rescue network.”
Bendler said feeding horses limits Bella Run capacity, not stable space. Each horse gets a half a bale of hay a day. A bale of hay is $4 right now so that’s $2 per horse per day for hay, and then there’s grain.
“We go through $100 a day in feed,” Bendler said. “A lot of the money we make and all the adoption fees go right back into the program. We try to break even with adoption cost. If we manage to break even, that’s great. It’s a labor of love, that’s for sure. We’ve always said we would do it anyway.”
Bendler said Bella Run Equine accepts monetary donations; as a 501(c)(3), donations are tax-deductible. There are items on their website and Amazon wish lists, and they accept individual horse sponsors.
“We used to go to the auctions every Friday,” Bendler said. “Now we go when we have money – one or two times a month. A $500 to $800 donation would sponsor one horse. It lets people who can’t have a horse know where their money goes. It’s a good program.”
Bendler said a larger horse trailer is on their wish list, but hay is a pressing daily need.
“This year has been hard for hay farmers, and if we don’t have enough hay in the barn to support bringing more horses in, we’ll keep our number steady,” Bendler said. “We have 17 horses currently. I feel very strongly about not getting overextended. If we don’t have the resources to support these animals, we won’t bring them here. Having hay donated means, in a very real sense, that more horses will be saved.”
For additional information about Bella Run Equine, go to bellarunequine.com. On Facebook, search for Bella Run Equine.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093