RANCHO SANTA FE — At first glance, the horses, ponies and donkeys at Laughing Pony Rescue’s ranch look as pleased as can be — lounging in the sun, eating from a hanging bunch of hay or chasing each other around a pen.
Two of the rescue ranch’s donkeys, Daisy and Dyn-O-mite, even took part in an equine wedding ceremony — with many volunteers and supporters watching on as the pair walked down the aisle to Etta James’ “At Last.”
But Daisy and Dyn-O-mite, as well as the other dozen or so animals at the ranch, have all come from difficult, abusive and often shocking circumstances.
The Rancho Santa Fe nonprofit, Laughing Pony Rescue, attempts to save these horses and rehabilitate them so they can be adopted by loving families. The rescue’s founder, Celia Sciacca, estimates the rescue has saved as many as 1,500 horses, ponies and donkeys from slaughter since they opened their gates in 2009.
Sciacca said about 150 animals have been saved this year alone.
The rescue is assisted by a large network of volunteers and good Samaritans, based primarily in Texas, Washington and Tehachapi, California.
Volunteers will go to nearby auctions to either bid or monetarily assist families in bidding on unwanted horses in order to save them from being bought by kill buyers and sent to slaughter.
Many of the horses saved by the rescue come from either auctions or feedlots, but others have been rescued from Premarin ranches, where pregnant mares are used for their urine, a primary ingredient in the drug Premarin.
Volunteers will sometimes house the rescued horses, but many also end up at the ranch from locations as far as New Mexico and Canada. Sciacca said she has held up to 19 horses, donkeys or ponies on the ranch at a time. The ranch relies on the efforts of a handful of local volunteers to take care of the animals.
Many are in bad shape — malnourished and covered in scratches. Others have suffered broken bones, teeth, or damaged organs. Sciacca said it sometimes takes months to get these horses back on their feet, and then the rescue is faced with the challenge of finding them a loving home.
For Sciacca, rescuing horses is a life passion. Although Sciacca has been running her own rescue for the past 10 years, she has been involved in rescues for other nonprofits for about 40 years.
“I’ve spent my whole life trying to save horses destined for bad situations,” she said.
The rescue was able to recently recognize two of these equines during their most recent fundraiser, what they called a “big fat donkey wedding” between two of the ranch’s rescued donkeys. Volunteer Jordan Evans, who helped plan the event, said both of the donkeys were saved from slaughter and fell in love after they were released from quarantine.
Evans said the event helped capture the heart-warming flip side of rescuing, which can often be a dark and “really emotional” process.
“To have something so lighthearted, kid-friendly and fun was magical for us,” she said.
To learn more about Laughing Pony Rescue, visit https://laughingponyrescue.org.
Photo Caption: Dyn-O-mite and Daisy during the Laughing Pony Rescue’s “big fat donkey wedding.” The pair is told to have fallen in love after they were released from quarantine at the ranch. Photo courtesy of Laughing Pony Rescue.