There have been few things in Chelsea Burton’s life worth putting everything on the line.
That is, until last December, when the Ottawa elementary school teacher stumbled upon a picture on Facebook. In it, she saw a shaggy, bay Thoroughbred so depleted of spirit that Burton became haunted by the image of the sad eyes belonging to a dejected animal no one wanted.
“When I saw her, I just got this feeling in my gut,” Burton says. “I couldn’t leave her there.”
She tried to convince friends to take the mare. With three horses of her own, which she was paying expensive board to keep, she felt that taking on the cost of another horse was too much.
But when both friends passed on the sad animal, Burton took a deep breath, and did the only thing she could. She agreed to take the horse, and in doing so, set in motion a series of life-changing events.
From the first tender moments she spent with the shabby creature, who wouldn’t make eye contact with other people, but who walked right up to Burton and rested her head against the school teacher’s chest, to today, Burton has been seized by a calling.
She answered it quickly.
Race name: Rapid Speed
Barn name: Breeze
Foal date: 2008Soon after the Thoroughbred she now calls Breeze arrived, Burton and her husband found a 40-acre property that has ample room for her own horses, and others in need of emergency shelter.
They expect to close on the pastoral property next month.
And, in March, Burton convened the first meeting of the nonprofit horse rescue she is creating. With a board of directors enlisted, the newly formed nonprofit will operate under the name Partners for Essential Equine Rescue, or PEER.
“Years ago, while I was on maternity leave, I was watching Oprah, and she was talking about defining moments in life,” she says. “I think this horse will turn out to be a defining moment in my life.”
As head of PEER, Burton is guiding toward nonprofit certification, and will operate with strict adherence to regulations and transparency guidelines, she says. The treasurer of her organization will provide all financial data to all who request it, she says, noting that she wants to instill confidence in all future supporters and contributors.
“I want people to know where I’m spending money,” Burton says, adding, “We have a real need in the Ottawa Valley for a rescue. We’re a farming community, and I’m hoping to help raise awareness” that there are alternatives to slaughter.
Breeze, who was identified through her lip tattoo as the ex-racehorse Thoroughbred Rapid Speed, was purchased from Tracey Thompson-Hoogeveen at Need You Now Equines. They advertise horses of all breeds that have been reportedly pulled from feedlots in Ottawa.
Whatever her horse’s past circumstances, Burton’s aim now is to give her the best life possible.
The skinny mare is being fed a nourishing diet consisting of hay, hay-stretchers, beet pulp, flax seed, and other nutrients. Additionally, her water is served warm, to help her avoid expending unnecessary energy, Burton says.
Slowly, she is regaining weight and shedding her thick, tufted coat.
Recently, Breeze came out of her funk when she was put into light training. First, she was lunged, and more recently, Burton’s daughter rode her. “She seemed a little depressed until we started her in light work,” she notes. “Now, she seems much happier.”
Before Breeze, Burton did not have any experience with ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds. Dazzled by the gentle, friendly disposition and honest work ethic of her mare, Burton is committed to helping as many as she can.
Once she settles into her new farm, and her newly formed nonprofit is going full-force, she vows there will be “no stopping” her.
Although she can’t take them all, with her new farm and rescue operation, Burton plans to help as many as possible.
“I always said that if I ever got a property here in Ottawa, that I was going to open a rescue,” she says. “Once I made the decision to take Breeze, everything started coming, not necessarily easily, but quickly.
“I can almost hear the little clicks when everything falls into place. Breeze has changed how I feel about OTTBs—I highly recommend them— they have the most amazing work ethic.” And Breeze has changed her life.
“Breeze came along and it’s like everything else dropped in my lap.”