How one woman and a small group of volunteers found homes for more than 900 horses

All Animals magazine, March/April 2018

By Kelly L. Williams

Elaine Nash
Elaine Nash, executive director of Fleet of Angels, gets a sniff from a curious stallion. Some of the "wild" stallions aren't so very wild after all. Photo by Wendy Francisco.
Hallelujah Horses
Wild mares and youngsters, originally from the famous White Sands herd in New Mexico, recover in Colorado after surviving a harsh South Dakota winter with no shelter and little food. Photo by Wendy Francisco.

Elaine Nash didn’t know that the call she received in October 2016 would take her away from home for nearly a year, requiring all her professional skills and a healthy dose of fortitude. But even if she had known, she still would have taken it.

On the call, Nash learned that police in rural South Dakota had seized a group of horses when a veterinarian determined they were being neglected. The state’s attorney asked Nash to find homes for 270 of the horses.

Nash had no involvement with the seizure and didn’t live in South Dakota. But as the founder and executive director of Fleet of Angels—a nonprofit that connects horse adopters with affordable equine transporters—she was uniquely skilled to manage the crisis.

Rehoming 270 horses would have been enough of a challenge, but then Nash learned what was going to happen to the hundreds more horses who had been impounded. The original owner was unable to reimburse authorities for the cost of their care, so they would be put up for auction. Nash knew what would come next: So-called “kill buyers” would purchase the horses, then send them to slaughter in Mexico or Canada. She had to intercede.

With the help of The HSUS and private donors, Fleet of Angels and partners raised funds to pay off the lien on the horses and cover their costs going forward—with the caveat that they had to take possession of them. As of December 2016, Fleet of Angels was on the hook to find homes for 907 horses in total. They had a name: the Hallelujah Horses. “The general public cheer was, ‘Well, hallelujah! We saved the horses from the auction,’” says Nash.

A small team convened in South Dakota, braving frigid weather. “Wind chills were down to 50 below zero; wind was up to 40 miles per hour. It snowed all day every day, hard blowing snow, for weeks,” says Nash. Many of the horses were ungelded stallions or wild mustangs who didn’t respect pens, and Nash’s team worked on foot to sort and ready them for adoption. “We didn’t have helicopters or horseback or four-wheelers,” she says. “It was all done just luring horses into pens with feed and getting little groups in at a time and trying to move them in the ice and the snow and the cold and the wind.”

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