Decades into a lifestyle of riding horses for pleasure and sport, Audrey Reynolds received a rude awakening about the industry.
Reynolds, who had been riding horses since she was 8 in Ireland, discovered the animals were being sent to auctions and, eventually, slaughtered once they reach mature ages, when they can develop special veterinary needs.
"There are too many horses and not enough forever-loving homes," Reynolds, now 60, said. "Sadly, within the horse industry, there's a lot of use-up and throwaway mentality, and that's across the board. It's not just the racing industry; it's everybody. Everybody is responsible and irresponsible. ... For me, to think someone can just throw away a horse like a piece of trash, it's just heartbreaking. I don't know how anybody can do that."
While many horses are dumped as young as 16, the animals can, in fact, live into their 30s, Reynolds added. However, more than 100,000 are sold and slaughtered each year for their meat, hyde, tail, hooves and other body parts, she said.
An animal lover, the Encinitas woman said she couldn't sit idly by. Twelve years ago while living in Alpine, she started Saving Horses Inc., a nonprofit aimed at rescuing equines up for kill from auctions and feedlots.
"I couldn't live with the guilt of knowing what I knew and not doing anything," she said. "I'm a real activist when it comes to the wrongs of animals. I decided I was going to go to auction and save a horse. One horse ended up being four horses and it just snowballed from there."
Since the formation of her nonprofit, which relocated to Encinitas five years ago, Reynolds has rescued more than 175 horses. Currently, she cares for eight horses. Others have either passed away due to old age, have been taken to foster homes or have been rehabilitated enough to move to different farms.
Ideally, Reynolds said, she'd like to have more horses on her farm, but a lack of funding and help make it difficult.
"I think I do a good job," she said. "I can bring in a sick, starving, skinny horse, and I can make it well in a short space of time. I can turn it around and make something of it, like a light riding horse and find a home for it."
Reynolds also knows the animals can help people just as much as people can help them. Her foundation offers a therapeutic riding program for paying individuals, as well as equine therapy sessions for women rescued from human trafficking situations, special needs young adults and at-risk youths, thanks to partnerships and grants.
Reynolds said she has seen the horses form amazing bonds with people. One woman, for example, had only known a life of prostitution since she was a young girl and developed deep trust issues as a result. Reynolds partnered the woman with a mare named Belle, who had been used and abused for breeding.
"She and this young woman connected from day one," Reynolds said. "It's been an amazing transformation and an observation watching these two connect and watching this woman feel more confident because she now has met someone like her. You can see the confidence level in this woman has already started to rise."
But that program only takes place for a few months a year; Reynolds has to rely on additional funding to keep it going throughout the year. Additionally, the private therapy sessions — the only ones involving riding a horse — stopped late last year when the horse used for that program passed away due to old age.
Reynolds will host two events in the coming months that are aimed at continuing the therapy programs and helping her nonprofit thrive overall. Last year alone, she spent $40,000 on veterinarian bills and $100,000 on operation costs.
On July 22, beginning at 11 a.m., Saving Horses will host its annual yoga and meditation workshop for people of all levels with Jane Fijak, an Orange County-based yoga master. Guests will also be able to visit with the horses.
"Horses and yoga really go together," Reynolds said. "It's kind of a zen environment. Being around the horses is very peaceful."
Saving Horses will also host its annual wine and beer tasting event on Sept. 22, beginning at 6 p.m. That occasion will include tastings from local wineries and breweries, food donated by local restaurants and silent auctions.
Both events will take place on Reynolds' farm at 3224 Wildflower Valley Drive.
For more information, visit www.savinghorsesinc.com.