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Rancho Santa Fe’s Little Hooves Rescue is saving the lives of mini ponies

Savanah Stuart of Rancho Santa Fe's Little Hooves Rescue.
(Courtesy Little Hooves Rescue)

Little Hooves Rescue in Rancho Santa Fe is dedicated to saving the lives of miniature ponies.

The little rescue is making a big impact: Since its formation in March 2019, Little Hooves has rescued over 150 animals, mostly minis but also donkeys, mules and the occasional full-size horse.

In the first year they rescued 40 horses, which doubled to 80 in 2020 and so far this year they have rescued close to 40. After some love and care, the littles find new homes.

“I actually can’t keep up with the demand,” said founder Savanah Stuart, 25, of her waiting list for adoptions of the cute and fun minis. “They are not with us very long.”

While she works to find forever homes for the ponies, there were two she couldn’t help but hold onto for herself: named Pip and Squeak.

Both terribly neglected, one was a three-month-old baby that was taken from its mother too early—Pip acts as a mother for her adopted son, the baby blue-eyed Squeak, and holds the unofficial title of queen of Little Hooves Rescue.

Stuart has a long had a love of horses but didn’t start with the smaller set. She starting riding at age 10 when her family lived in Las Vegas. When they moved to “horse country” in Rancho Santa Fe it gave her the opportunity to pursue competing in hunter jumper, where she had a lot of success, including becoming the U.S. Hunter and Jumper Association World Champion Hunter Rider in the 15-17 division in 2014.

In 2018, Stuart suffered a devastating injury in a competition in which she broke her back and she was no longer able to compete.

“In the time off from competition, I got more involved in rescues and started fostering,” Stuart said. “That completely shifted my relationship in the horse industry from competing to solely rescue and advocating for animals.”

When she first started fostering in Ramona with her friend Taylor Loew, she didn’t have a lot of experience with mini ponies. The more she learned and the more animals she helped save made them want to start their own rescue. Originally, Stuart ran the rescue out of her parents’ property but she is now working out of her partners Taylor and Terri Loew’s property in Rancho Santa Fe.

“I wish I was at the barn all day,” said Stuart, who still works full time in commercial real estate and spends weekday afternoons at the barn and most weekend days.

She handles logistics, social media, animal socialization and adoptions, and Little Hooves has established a good cadence of about five rescues a month and some times as many as 12.

The majority of rescues come from Texas and Oklahoma, although there have been some from Alabama and Louisiana. While they receive some owner relinquishments, many are ponies who have gone up for livestock auctions—there are private buyers at the auctions but some “kill buyers” will wait until the closing when the price drops to buy the animals to export to Mexico for slaughter.

“We try to step in at the auctions to stop that from happening,” Stuart said.

Many of the auctions are online and Stuart works with a trusted team of individuals for pick-ups and transports—many are connections made during her time on the hunter jumper competition circuit.

Many of the ponies that Stuart rescues have suffered severe neglect—they are underweight and untrained, some are wild and feral and many are scared and defensive. She gives them a second chance to find a new home with rehabilitation and socialization, the animals working with herself and the Loews.

“It’s always really incredible to see the transformation of the animals,” Stuart said. “I love taking before and after pictures, I’m always struck by how much they have changed.”

Being in the business of rescuing animals, Stuart said many people ask her if she is sad to see them go when they are adopted. She said it’s impossible to be sad when she sees how excited the new families are to get them—the most rewarding part is receiving photos and videos of the animals getting a second chance, being loved on and spoiled and living a life that would not have been possible without rescue.

Ideally, Stuart would like to secure her own property and facility to run the rescue and have all of the animals in one place—right now several Rancho Santa Fe property owners serve as fosters.

And she would love to grow: “I would love to rescue hundreds at a time,” she said. She is also interested in taking in more full-size horses—Little Hooves recently rescued four Belgian draft horses, some with severe injuries, that are now in Arizona starting rehab.

Like her rescues, Stuart was also given a second chance when she fell off that horse in competition. Her focus shifted, she is saving as many lives as possible.

“In that moment it was hard to accept but looking back, I’m so happy that it did happen to me,” Stuart said. “Training and competing was work..I got to reconnect with why I fell in love with these animals in the first place and I feel I found my life’s passion.”

There are many ways to support Little Hooves, from sponsoring treatments or treats to sponsoring an animal. To learn more, visit littlehoovesrescue.com.


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