West Bountiful • After 37 years of teaching German at South and West High Schools, someone advised Marty Smith to follow her heart when deciding what to do in "retirement."
The former teacher knew she loved horses and realized there was a need to save the lives of homeless horses.
So, following her heart, she purchased a home zoned for horses on one acre of land in West Bountiful, rented two more acres and got help from a neighbor who donated another three acres. Then Smith founded the non-profit Bountiful Equine Rescue Ranch (BERR).
"My idea was to rescue these horses and then retrain them so baby boomer women could ride them," she said.
And, of course, she hoped to save horses that would otherwise be sent to slaughter or die in the desert where they are sometimes abandoned.
The eight horses currently in the rescue organization represent a cross-section of animals who needed to be rescued.
Three came from a feed lot where they were likely headed to Mexico for slaughter. Two were skittish, retired thoroughbred race horses that were abused and would need plenty of loving training to become saddle horses. There was an off-the-track chariot racing animal that was abandoned in the desert, where it would probably have died. And there were two abandoned horses from Sanpete County found by animal control officers who, through word of mouth, found BERR.
On a recent Tuesday morning, Smith was joined by volunteers Adrienne Charvos, Linden Schmid and Cari Schultz, who used a training technique called "natural horsemanship" to get the animals some exercise and work them toward adoption.
The overwhelming feeling in the area that includes a small arena, a pasture and a barn is love. Smith and the volunteers care deeply for these animals. That's reflected in both the care the animals receive plus the way they are trained.
A new horse coming into BERR receives work on its teeth, many of which have jagged points that can cut inside of a mouth or tongue. She does not believe in horseshoes "They restrict the blood flow up to their legs and cause them to go lame," so her animals go "barefoot." A farrier helps make that happen about every six weeks. Horses are vaccinated and wormed. They are fed four times a day, and each animal is given a separate place away from the other horses.
"We try to be as environmentally friendly as possible," said Smith. "We collect all of the manure every day and turn it twice or three times a week. We sell it as a product called Equine Mist. Mist is German for manure and, remember, I was a German teacher. We recycle feed bags, fill them and sell it for $5 a bag. I make rugs out of hay bale strings and give them to my volunteers for their hard work."
Perhaps the biggest boon to the fledgling organization was a $10,000 grant it received last year from the William H. Donner Foundation in New York. That allowed Smith to spend money bringing in trainers to teach natural horsemanship techniques to her and her volunteers.
Smith said that technique evolved when trainers watched how horses played in fields or in the wild and determined there were seven major games: The friendly game that develops rapport between trainer and horse; the porcupine game, where the horse learns to move with a gentle touch; the driving game, where they move away; the circling game that teaches different gaits; the yo yo game, where they go out and back, and the squeeze game, where they learn to squeeze through narrow passages.
"The whole goal is to get them safe to ride," said Smith. "If they are not safe to ride, they end up right back in rescue places."
What strikes a casual observer is just how much work the training and care of these animals involves. But it's an obvious labor of love to see a skittish and angry horse turn into a gentle, faithful friend through hours of work.
P For information on donating, volunteering or adopting a trained horse from the Bountiful Equine Rescue Ranch, contact Marty Smith at 801-231-9520.