Horses left to slaughter will instead lead July 4 parade
By ERIKA I. RITCHIE
Each time Elizabeth Zarkos changed her body posture and flicked the training whip, Delilah charged ahead keeping her head straight and body rigid blocking Savannah.
“You little witch,” Zarkos called out affectionately watching the playful prancing horses that months earlier had been left to starve. Both horses are two of 12 now waiting for adoptive homes after being rescued from abuse, neglect or from being sent to slaughter in Canada or Mexico, Zarkos said.
Since being at Hanaeleh, a two-acre rescue in Trabuco Canyon, the two mares have each put on more than 300 pounds. Their coats glisten and their flanks are smooth. Sharp ribs that once protruded are covered with muscle. The hooves are shiny and healthy and their manes and tails flow. Each day they exercise, are trained and eat bountiful servings of hay.
Hanaeleh is Orange County’s only nonprofit horse rescue group, Zarkos said. The all-volunteer group takes in horses from throughout the state. Most are abandoned, owner relinquished or headed for slaughter. The rescue was founded by Zarkos, of Lake Forest, in 2004 after she rescued an untrained Arabian horse from a feed lot in Chino. That horse went on to compete in dressage and western shows. Her portrait is now the rescue’s logo.
On Wednesday two other rescues, D’Artagnan, a dark gray Friesian and Rio, an Arabian paint-cross, will lead off Trabuco Canyon’s 47th Fourth of July parade as the Masters of Ceremony. The parade route will travel along the flag-lined canyon Trabuco Oaks Road. Zarkos will ride Rio, an 18-year-old Arabian paint-cross. The parade is especially nostalgic for Zarkos because she is able to show off happy horses that were once left for dead.
“This is a dream come true,” she said about creating the rescue she named after a safe place in “Puff the Magic Dragon.” “When I first envisioned it, it seemed like a random idea that people believed in. it was like a castle in the sky. I had this wonderful glinting idea that somehow came true. When I’m in the arena and riding a horse that was lame and abused that trusts people or one that would have died, it makes my dream even a greater reality.”
Zarkos said she has loved horses as long as she can remember being alive. Growing up in the 1970s she remembers watching Westerns with her father. She wouldn’t watch for the storyline, she’d watch for the horse. She studied the breeds and the saddle and bridles that were used. She began riding at 11. Her parents thought she might grow out of her love for riding and horses, but her passion grew stronger. After completing college at UCI and earning a masters at Concordia, she studied and learned even more about horses and slaughter houses.
After rescuing and training Cleopatra, Zarkos continued to scour websites for outcast horses. She sold off her collection of animation cells to afford her horse rescue. She campaigned against horse slaughter and favors the passage of HR 503 and S 311, both bills in Congress that would amend the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act and would prohibit the purchase, sale or transportation of horses for the purpose of human consumption. Though horse slaughter was stopped in the U.S. in 2006, horses are still being sent to slaughter to Canada and Mexico.
“In Mexico, horses are repeatedly stabbed by puntilla knives until they bleed to death,” Zarkos said. “These are not horses who are bred for meat, but horses who could have been a little girl’s best friend until purchased by a killer buyer at an auction.”
One by one, Zarkos found horses that needed rescue. When the recession hit, times got worse. Horses were being dumped because owners could no longer afford to keep them. Those problems have lessened now but Zarkos still has days where she gets daily calls about horses that have been left to starve.
In the early years, she kept horses in private canyon stables then she got a chance to lease the land she has now. All the horses now are kept in big corrals. The rescue is run by 25 volunteers, only a veterinarian and a farrier are paid. The horses are barefoot unless they need protective shoeing. The rescue is run solely by donations and an annual fundraiser at the O.C. Fairgrounds on Sept. 30.
Zarkos hopes one day to own her own land where she can build a facility and offer more public access. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Pony Club members now come out to the site. There are also volunteers that bring adults with disabilities.
“Horses are great therapy for all sorts of people,” she said. “We just want them to go to forever homes and end the suffering they’ve gone through.”
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