MCCONNELLS — Terri Stemper has spent many nights sleeping in the barn near her McConnells home while caring for young foals that need round-the-clock feedings or medication.
Stemper, a home health care nurse by day, tends about 30 horses and foals that she and others have rescued under her nonprofit organization, Dream Equine Therapy Center. The aim is to rehabilitate rescued horses, then adopt them out into “forever” homes.
Spring, when the foals are typically born, is her busiest time of year. Most of the animals she rescues are nurse mare foals, born at Kentucky horse farms to mothers bred solely for milk production.
The mothers are leased to horse farms to nurse expensive thoroughbred foals while those foals’ mothers are being bred again. The nurse mare foals, she said, are killed or left to die.
The rescue work, Stemper said, is “life consuming” because many of the young animals require intensive care and costly veterinarian services. Volunteers come and go.
Stemper, 34, also said few people stay in horse rescue work for very long. “Everybody only does it for a couple of years, because it’s so expensive,” Stemper said. “It’s costly and time consuming.”
The economic downturn has made it difficult to find good homes for horses, she said, because many people can’t afford the animals’ feeding and care. Some of her rescued horses have been adopted, then returned, when owners realize their care is too costly, she said.
But Stemper, who rescued her first horses more than a decade ago, said she always wanted to rescue horses. She has rescued as many as 30 to 50 foals each year since forming Dream Equine as a registered nonprofit organization about five years ago.
She travels to horse farms in Kentucky, where she used to live and still has connections, to pick up the animals and bring them back to McConnells. This year, she took in 25 foals. She also owns about 10 horses.
“I have never seen anyone work the way Terri works with rescue animals,” said Gina Greer of Aiken, who visited Dream Equine a few years ago while looking to adopt a horse for her daughter.
Greer, who has since adopted two foals from Dream Equine, said she was also searching for a charity to help with her fundraising abilities. She wanted to see the operation at Dream Equine, on a 5-acre property off Gordon Road where Stemper lives with her boyfriend, Mark Hill.
Greer was so impressed with Stemper’s work that she launched an annual spring fundraiser to benefit the horse rescue. It’s a horse show, luncheon and silent auction that has become a popular event in the Aiken area.
“Terri has got the heart and the energy, and she’s really doing it,” Greer said.
But Greer said Stemper needs donations and volunteer help, because most of the horse care falls to her. “She gets people that come and go,” Greer said. “It’s very high turnover in the animal rescue industry as far as volunteers go.”
Stemper said when she rescued foals earlier this spring, she went weeks without a full night of sleep. “When it’s foal season, and she’s out there in the middle of the night doing IVs and everything, I don’t know how she does it,” Greer said. “And then she’s a nurse and works all day.”
Stemper said she and Hill are in the process this month of moving Dream Equine and their home to a larger, 22-acre property west of York, where they have more land for the horses. They plan to sell or rent the Gorden Road property.
Stemper grew up in Wisconsin and showed horses in 4-H. She lived in Kentucky for a time and worked in the horse industry, where she saw the abuses. She now works with five farms in Kentucky where she rescues foals.
In the past, Stemper also has provided equine therapy to patients at nursing homes or at the farm, although she isn’t doing that right now because she’s busy preparing the new property for the horses.
One of her missions is to make people more aware of the problem. “A lot of people don’t know about nurse mare foals, even a lot of people who have had horses for 40 years,” she said.
Stemper, who also trains horses for riding, urges people who are looking for a horse to consider adopting. She said the foals she rescues are “the best I’ve ever owned and the easiest to train, because they are so willing to please.”
Greer said she and her family have been pleased with Leila and Ace, the now 4-year-old horses they adopted as foals from Stemper. Said Greer of Stemper: “She can’t save them all. But she has saved so many.”
For more information about Dream Equine Therapy Center, to make a donation, or to find out how to adopt a horse from the group or how to volunteer, visit the website at dreamequinetherapycenter.org.