People: A horse shelter

Morika Hunter assists a boy off a horse. The Horse Sanctuary was started by Morika Hunter and her daughter Nylla. Picture: SUPPLIED

When one thinks of horses their immediate perception of them may be as farm animals and as a mode of transport for farmers and rural dwellers.

In Vakabalea, about a five-minute drive from Navua, there is a refuge for them.

The Horse Sanctuary was started by Morika Hunter and her daughter Nylla.

“She started the sanctuary with me and has the same passion, it was our mother/daughter dream,” said Ms Hunter.

“She grew up around horses in Savusavu and also in the US where her father is from. I’m pretty sure I’ve been rehabilitating horses all my life, taking the sick and weaker ones and providing the care and love, turning them into loyal, strong riding horses.

“Seeing the mistreatment of horses in Fiji was the catalyst to do something different and hopefully make a change for a cause that was dear to her heart.

“The idea for a sanctuary came from growing up in Fiji and witnessing so many horses that were not being treated with proper care or given the basics like water and horses with terrible injuries just left to die a painful death on the side of a road, as well as the many horses we pass with wire or chains cutting into their mouths.

“The sanctuary is one step in providing care for rescued horses as well as to educate horse owners across Fiji in the basics. Although hindered by the pandemic, the purpose of the sanctuary is to provide care for rescued horses both in the sanctuary as well as those in settlements and villages through their outreach program and were about to branch out into therapy.

“Our outreach program is in partnership with Fiji Horse Care NZ that donates preloved horse equipment.

“We take the equipment into villages and settlements and provide a few hours of basic horse care, then fit horses with proper bits for their mouths and pads and or saddles and bridles. We know we will help Fiji’s agriculture sector by educating horse owners that better care for their animals will lead to stronger, healthier animals and thus a larger contribution to agriculture.

“Another one of our goals that was just getting off the ground pre-COVID-19 was to create a safe place for people who could use a ‘leg up’ such as children with disabilities and people who have experienced trauma through hippotherapy which is physical and occupational therapy using horses.”

Hippotherapy is the use of horse riding as a therapeutic or rehabilitative treatment, especially as a means of improving coordination, balance, and strength. Despite the pandemic, life goes on at the sanctuary where 14 horses are cared for.

“Not all are rescues as some are ‘sanctuary babies’ which are the result of roaming stallions which is an issue prevalent throughout Fiji due to the difficulty of getting stallions gelded. “Fiji needs more equine or large animal vets and a horse care policy.”

She says the sanctuary is hoping to work on this with the Animal Health Section of the Ministry of Agriculture. Rescues come in from all over Fiji with the last four coming in from Korovisilou and Natadola, including a mare (female three years and older) and her colt (male four years and younger) who were emaciated and slightly deformed.

“They are slowly but surely recovering, they probably won’t ever be riding horses, but they are the sweetest and most gentle creatures one can imagine and will be great as ‘horses for healing’ once the sanctuary can provide that type of service.

“The other two were a gentle mare and a stallion (male over four-years) rescued by two benefactors. Other than our babies, all the sanctuary horses have had previous owners.”

She said one of the difficulties they faced was that some owners of horses were not well informed or educated on how to look after their horses.

“Simple care such as ensuring the horse has regular access to water and fresh grass, being kept in the shade when possible, not ridden too young or roughly, kept away from the road and so forth, is often missing.

“Horses are generally used for a purpose whether that be transport, such as going back and forth to the plantation, ploughing fields or carrying tourists on their backs and while some horse owners treat their horses with love and affection, others view horses as being replaceable and of no use if they are injured or lose condition.

“In these cases, rather than seeking to find out why their horses are not well or ways to heal them, the owners are likely to abandon them and expect the horses to fend for themselves.

“There are also some owners who treat horses brutally and completely lack compassion.”

A behaviour she suspects extends to family members. “It has been demonstrated that cruelty inflicted on animals often extends to generally cruel behaviour towards others such as family members or neighbours.”

Since the sanctuary has been open she has experienced an isolated incident where someone has claimed a roaming horse before being caught and rehomed by the sanctuary.

Horses are large animals which can make them intimidating, but she maintains that they are beautiful, inside and out.

“People often don’t view horses as approachable and sensitive, they think they need to treat them forcefully.

“Looking after horses requires patience, empathy and understanding. Being attentive to a horse means allowing oneself to be quiet and unrushed. In return, horses have a great capacity to bring calmness and they reciprocate with love and kindness, and we all know we need limitless amounts of that in Fiji and the world.”

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