RIVERVIEW — They have heartwarming stories of victory over torture, starvation and abandonment. But some days there are no smiles. Just desperate attempts by dedicated volunteers to right the horrific wrongs inflicted on their charges.
RVR Horse Rescue, tucked in a rural corner in Riverview more than a shout from congested suburbia, is sometimes the last stop for once-majestic steeds whose owners have beaten them, starved them or simply left them to fend for themselves, with little hope of survival.
It is a recurring phenomenon that keeps the rescue in business.
“We are all about those who are on the edge,” said Shawn Jayroe, cofounder of this bastion of healing. “We are not a dropoff for people who no longer want their horses. On a scale of one to 10, we are taking the ones — those that nobody else wants to take in.
“If there’s a fight in their eye, I’ll fight with them. If not, we’re their hospice for their last days,” she said, walking from one stall to the next, telling of the tragedies these enormous but dependent animals have endured.
“We have one that was royalty — Princess Brittany. She was one of six in Keystone Heights from a place we call the ‘Barn of Horrors.’” The former Breeder’s Cup winner was living surrounded by rotting and dead horses, with no food or water.
Shadow was living on a plot in Wimauma filled with metal and broken glass, being fed under a collapsing metal roof, said Kit Kelly, rescue and adoption coordinator for RVR, who talked the owner into giving him up. “We take in the worst of the worst.”
The most prevalent issue, said co-founder Sandy Johnson, is starvation.
The goal of RVR, she said, is to rehabilitate, socialize and desensitize the horses — and, when possible, find them adoptive homes.
It’s an expensive endeavor, costing about $10,000 a month just to buy feed and hay, said Jayroe, who purchased the 40 acres eight years ago so she would have a place for the abandoned and starving horses she already had.
Joia’s Fabulous Pizza and Martini Bar and 4 Paws Veterinary Hospital are teaming up to help with a fund-raiser for RVR, scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday. Guests are invited to wear country attire and enjoy drink specials and pizza, enter drawings and write checks to help with the mission.
Joia’s is roping off a portion of the parking lot to make room for some of the horses, so people can see, firsthand, where the money goes. They’ll see horses like Romeo, who was tied in a yard with his head down, starving. His owner had tried to do a “backyard castration on him with a pocket knife,” Kelly said. And Freddie, found almost skeletal, in mud up to his knees in a hog wire pin.
Joia’s is in the retail plaza at the southwest corner of U.S. 301 and Gibsonton Drive.
RVR counts on donations, Jayroe said. Bob Judy of Green Fields Horse Pasture Services built a medical stall at the rescue with donated metal siding and volunteer labor. They call it Sara’s House, for the racehorse whose leg couldn’t be repaired. Her horseshoes are embedded in the slab beneath the stall. The DeBartolo Family Foundation, based in Tampa, recently sent in a check for $10,000. It was used to open a medical account at Surgi-Care Center for Horses. And the Triple B Riding Club in Brandon donated money to complete fencing the property, so the non-profit could qualify for an agricultural tax rate.
And there’s Carole Smith, a Wimauma woman who is writing checks to pay for all the work on a 30-stall barn at the rear of the property, so RVR can board former rescues to help fund the ongoing work there. She volunteered at the rescue for a couple of months before approaching Jayroe with her checkbook.
“I wasn’t sure what I would find, but when I went out there, I was blown away,” Smith said. “They are really there only for the horses. I’ve tried to give back my whole life, but Shawn and the volunteers have gone way beyond. Shawn told me her dream and I said, ‘You know what, let’s realize this dream.’ I am humbled by what they do.”
In addition to those hefty donations, Jayroe said she gets a lot of $5, $10 and $20 donations in the mail, “and those all add up, too. Every single one helps.”
The donations came in handy recently when the rescue took in six horses from what Johnson refers to as a “so-called rescue in Wimauma.” The Hillsborough County sheriff’s agricultural deputies took the horses after they found the animals starving. By the time RVR got them, they were in worse shape than when the sheriff’s office took the animals from their owner, she said.
Three of the six — Hank, Cochise and Sampson — could not be saved. A fourth one, Bella, died later, a devastating loss to a young RVR volunteer who stayed by the horse’s side for hours. The remaining two horses, Solo and Shasta, are on the mend, but both still are about 200 pounds underweight, Kelly said.
“People don’t realize what is happening out there,” she said. “And things aren’t going to change until people start acting.”