Brittany Rostron lives a different life than most young women her age – the 22-year-old spends each day at her own horse rescue, founded when she was 16 to save unwanted horses from agonizing deaths by starvation or foreign slaughterhouses.
“They’re weighed and that’s what they’re worth is,” Rostron said of the value assigned to horses at auctions, where they often end up once their racing career is over or their owners are unable or unwilling to continue caring for them.
Rostron’s passion for horses started early. She began riding at the age of 6, and got her own horse, a rescue named Sage, when she was 13. When Sage died two years later she decided to get another rescue, and began adopting them out one at a time.
“It kind of took off from there. I said, “if I could do one I could just keep going,’” she said.
Rostron, who lives in Valley Stream, said most of her early support came from her parents, animal lovers themselves who have always adopted their pets rather than buying from breeders or stores. Rostron’s high school guidance counselor was more skeptical. He encouraged her to pursue something with a better chance of success.
When Rostron adopted out her first horse she sent him a newspaper clipping about it – “as a little gift,” she said.
Project Sage is now a certified non-profit organization with a staff of some 75 volunteers of all ages. She leases a three-acre facility on Bread and Cheese Hollow Road formerly known as Ketcham Horse Farm. Rostron currently has 21 horses in her program, more than usual due to owners getting rid of their horses in lieu of the more demanding care required during winter.
Rostron said the main expenses are medical bills and feeding. Each horse costs about five hundred dollars per month to feed, more for starvation cases. It costs between seven and eight thousand dollars per month to run the rescue, Rostron estimates, and between ten and twelve thousand when she has as many animals as she does now. It takes an average of six months to rehabilitate a horse, she said.
The facility survives on donations. What began with Rostron selling candy bars has evolved into one major fundraiser held each month. Rostron said Facebook is “huge,” bringing attention and donations from as far as England.
Horses arrive at Project Sage through several avenues. Some are forfeited by owners, others bought at auctions in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. Rostron travels to these auctions regularly, trying to outbid “kill buyers” who want to purchase the animals for shipment to Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered for their meat. There was a de facto ban on horse slaughter in the U.S. since 2006, when Congress eliminated funding for USDA inspections of horse meat processing plants.
That may change due to a Department of Agriculture bill signed into law Nov. 18 which reinstates the funding. Some lawmakers questioned whether the ban actually increased the suffering of horses due to their shipment to slaughterhouses outside USDA jurisdiction. The domestic horse slaughter industry also meant tax revenue, generating upwards of 60 million dollars annually before 2006.
Rostron said she feels an emotional toll by way of people’s indifference toward these horses’ suffering.
“I’ve become hardened because of it,” she said, recalling one “heart wrenching” scene of a young horse she bought at an auction as it was torn away from its mother as she was loaded into a truck destined for a slaughterhouse.
With the heartache come some profound rewards. Her oldest equine tenant is Apache, a 35-year-old retired member of the Nassau County Police Department. After his retirement he passed through several private owners, eventually falling into neglect and starvation. When Rostron rescued him and posted his picture on Facebook, the policeman who used to ride him contacted Project Sage. Upset over his former partner’s fate, he now visits Apache regularly, feeding him and taking him for walks.
When a horse finds a new home, Rostron said, the satisfaction she feels is potent. The horses are adopted out for under one thousand dollars – cheap, compared to the seven thousand dollar price range for other horses on Long Island – and are visited by volunteers to make sure they are being cared for properly.
Rostron said she also loves to see the many children who volunteer, many of them who have stayed with her for years.
“I have teens that grew up here with me,” she said. She sees their education as the key to helping more horses in the future.
“I don’t feel like our adults have been educated enough on what happens to them, and they think they’re disposable,” said Rostron. “My big thing is if we can teach the kids that they’re not disposable, the horses will have a better future, and the kids – I teach all the kids responsibility for their animals. Animals aren’t disposable.”
Click here to go to Rostron's website.