Most North Americans don’t consider horses a source of food, and many recoil at the idea. Yet unbeknownst to most, Canada is one of the biggest exporters of horsemeat and live horses destined for consumption, thousands shipped and stuffed into crates per year, in the world. For years, activists have been trying to expose the industry and shut it down, while behind the scenes, advocates have been rescuing horses bound for slaughter.
Keryn Denroche, founder and director of Kindred Community Farm Sanctuary on Canada’s west coast, is one of those advocates, and the sanctuary’s resident horse, Badger, is proof that horses are friends, not food.
‘If he hadn’t been [rescued], the trucks are there waiting to load up the horses who get passed by. The kill buyers.’
In 2008, Badger found himself at the Fraser Valley Auction, where animal owners auction off their stock to the highest bidder. When it was time for Badger to enter the ring, he came up lame.
“Here is a horse being auctioned off to people who want to ride horses, and he’s lame,” says Denroche, “that’s not good.” Badger’s owners had worked him too hard as a baby, she says, “before his bones were formed,” to train him for Western-style riding. “You get them going really fast and then you tell them to stop, and they have to stop on a dime.”
When he eventually became lame, he was sent to auction.
Thankfully, a local horse rescue group was on site that day. They saw something special in Badger and saved him. “If he hadn’t been [rescued], the trucks are there waiting to load up the horses who get passed by,” Denroche says, clarifying: “the kill buyers.” Badger would have been bound for slaughter.
The rescue group originally wanted Badger to be used for trail riding, but he just wasn’t able to do it. “They heard that we were working with animals and we weren’t interested in riding,” says Denroche, so the group contacted her about taking in Badger.
‘What we do here is pair the animals with people and children who have experienced trauma. They heal with one another. It’s pretty powerful stuff.’
“We went to meet him, and we said yes!”
Badger has now been at the sanctuary for eight years, and Denroche says he has thrived. He now has other animal friends, and a rare kind of freedom. “We do something not a lot of horse keepers in Canada are doing,” she explains. “[creating] a trail system for your horses where they have movement 24/7; they are not in stalls like your typical riding ring.”
A secret trait, exclusive to horses: ‘They can mirror back what a person is feeling, and it helps the person to recognize a feeling they are hiding.’
Badger gets to choose his daily routine, she says, “he gets to choose when he comes up to hang out with you, or walk with you.”
Badger has also helped hundreds of people through the sanctuary’s animal-assisted therapy programs. “What we do here is pair the animals with people and children who have experienced trauma,” says Denroche. “They heal with one another. It’s pretty powerful stuff.”
Most recently, Badger helped frontline workers in the sanctuary’s program “for healthcare workers who have been working through the pandemic.” Along with working with a clinical counselor, participants of the program also benefit from what Denroche describes as a secret trait, exclusive to horses: “They can mirror back what a person is feeling, and it helps the person to recognize a feeling they are hiding.”
By simply spending time with the horses at Kindred farm, Denroche says that participants are able to slow down and take a break. “They are with such a big animal, so they pretty much are not thinking about the healthcare system, not thinking about the pandemic; it gives them a chance to just think about what’s going on with them.”
From the auction ring to sanctuary life, the story of Badger, “of being unwanted, resonates with many children who feel the same,” says Denroche. “His story of finding love and kindness, and his unconditional love of people, it gives children hope that they are worthy of love and kindness, and can make the world a better place.”