Laurie Clements’s horse rescue effort needs your help

— Photo courtesy of Laurie Clements

Hurricane Sandy got the headlines but unexpected gale force winds and rain a week later did the real damage, Laurie Clements said last week at the shelter she runs for ponies and miniature horses in West Tisbury.

Just a few weeks before the big blow, Ms. Clements had erected a 10- by 20-foot pipe and canvas barn to shelter 130 hay bales to feed the 14 equines and one donkey on a patch of land made available for her rescue mission by John and Janet Packer.

“We came through Sandy fine, but that next storm was disastrous,” she said, standing by the twisted and broken piping and canvas lying on what had been its roof in a grove of scrub oak trees about 75 feet from its original site, she said.

“I can’t imagine how it made it through all those trees,” she said, attempting to straighten a twisted metal stanchion. “I was able to salvage about 20 of 150 bales, but this was just a disaster.”

The scene — and Ms. Clements’s spirits — were far different last Friday than they were in late September when the barn, for which she paid $600, and $1,500 worth of hay bales were in place. “I was saving to buy the barn and to stockpile hay for the winter,” she said. “I’ve wanted to do it for years and finally it was in place.”

Ms. Clements is a one-person nonprofit foundation, dedicated to rescue and adoption of miniatures. She has been doing the work for 12 years. The majority of her funding comes from her pocketbook and contributions in coin jars at SBS feed and grain in Tisbury, Cronig’s supermarket, Shirley’s Hardware on State Road in Tisbury, and at Jim’s Package Store in Oak Bluffs.

The annual cost of maintaining the shelter is $12,000 to $15,000, Ms. Clements estimates. Grants for maintenance of the animals are hard to come by, so she underwrites 90 percent of the overhead herself. “It will cost $1,500 to $2,000 to replace the garage and the hay and I can’t afford to do it twice,” she said.

Reaching out to the community for help, Ms. Clements has created and distributed a poster outlining her plight. Tax-deductible donations may be mailed to Vineyard Miniature Horse Rescue (VMHR), PO Box 199, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568. And, SBS has set up a “Hay” account accepting donations for VMHR.

An affinity

As Tisbury’s animal control officer, Ms. Clements has an affinity for animals, but her equine charges have a special place in her heart, she explained, while preparing feed buckets and shepherding the minis and ponies into open-air stalls for their lunches.

“Horses are still regarded as utilitarian animals. People want to ride them, jump them, whatever the use is. But often, if the ponies can’t do that job anymore, people don’t want to keep them,” she said, noting that one of the herd was literally saved from the glue factory.

“I believe that these wonderful creatures should be allowed to just be, that they have a place in the world,” she said, moving among the herd. The horses give every evidence of agreement and serenely follow her direction and respond to her voice.

“I’ve had about 100 horses come through here over 12 years, and about 75 have been adopted. Each horse has a name and a story. This is Sammi,” she said, patting the flank of a standard-bred chocolate palomino pony. “She’s 14 years old and was bred as a trotting horse. When she couldn’t race anymore, we became aware of her and were able to get her over here.”

Ms. Clements is listed on horse rescue sites nationwide, and after years she has developed a word-of-mouth network of contacts who alert her to horses in need of rescue. She pays to transport the horses to the Vineyard. “These two cost about $700 to bring in from New Mexico,” she said, gesturing to two demure miniatures patiently awaiting the feedbag.

Other horses have come from as far as South Dakota and as close as mainland Massachusetts. “We have a staging area in Falmouth — a store with a huge parking lot they make available to us. When the horses arrive, I go over and trailer them to our site,” she said.

While there are some potential adoptables in the current herd, other ponies, several over 40 years old, are living out their days in pastoral contentment. “Ponies and miniatures can live a long time,” Ms. Clements said. Because of their size, they live longer than horses.

“They are also more affordable to feed than horses are. This group will eat in a day the same amount that two full-size horses eat in a day.”

As in every community, there are friendships and problems. For example, Annie, the lone mini-donkey, is corralled separately from the horses. “Some of the horses just won’t accept her,” Ms. Clements said. “And she is the sweetest thing. I remember when her owner brought her over. He was a gentleman getting on in years and couldn’t care for her. Tears were streaming down his face when he left her here, I’ll never forget that.”