Visiting Blue Acre Horse Rescue in Old Windsor
PUBLISHED: 10:32 24 March 2016 | UPDATED: 10:45 24 March 2016
A frosty winter's morning visit to Blue Acre Horse Rescue is an eye-opener and sheer delight for Jan Raycroft and photographer Maureen McLean
Three dancing and prancing goats are gently head-butting a couple of smiley rescued Lab crosses, demanding that the dogs carry on chasing them in circles. If the dogs stop the game, one of the goats leaps kung fu style in their direction to get it going again. An elderly mare trots from a stable into this mayhem, seems to think about joining in, shakes her head and then canters off like a spirited young filly to the field of her choice.
A collie dog looks on with what might be disdain, eyes up the numerous chickens wandering between assorted animal and human legs and lies flat, apparently deciding that they don’t need herding out of the way right now.
Welcome to the morning roll call at Blue Acre Horse Rescue in Old Windsor where a Shire horse is likely to plod past at a stately pace, followed by two Shetland ponies, legs going 10 to the dozen. And all this is accompanied by numerous ‘cock-a-doodle dos’ courtesy of the cockerels in what is literally a ‘pecking order’ competition, with a backing beat provided by waddling ducks trying to out-quack each other around a giant puddle. Add in what starts as booming warning barks when you arrive (but turns to ‘We’ve got visitors!’ when the dogs realise you are expected), and the scene is set.
In the middle of all this stand Caron North and Bob Regan – two animal lovers whose chat in a local pub many years ago eventually led to them becoming co founders of a rescue and rehabilitation centre. Blue Acre has now been operating 14 years. Aided by volunteers and fundraisers, they’ve managed to survive a constant struggle against the odds and operate on land leased from Thames Water, who have a treatment plant next door.
It’s a higgledy-piggledy mix of donated stables, old farm sheds and portable loo surrounded by fields of grazing horses that would seem miles from anywhere if it wasn’t for the near constant planes making their way in and out of nearby Heathrow. It might have started with horses, but it’s a right old menagerie there now.
Caron looks over those fields and tells us: “One of the volunteers tried to do a count of the horses here the other day. It’s definitely around 40, our maximum, but they move around so much.”
What seems an easy-going approach is actually the result of a huge amount of hard work behind the scenes. While Bob and Caron head up the day-to-day welfare and maintenance work, their team of supporters, whether mucking out stables or organising events, helps to ensure the centre remains a going concern, even though the pennies are always tight.
You can’t help but admire this dedication – and love the way in which the animals at Blue Acre mostly wander the site at will. Of course it’s all fenced and locked off, but within the grounds they have a remarkable haven.
The centre is named after Blue, an ex-Arab racehorse of 29, the first they took in. So where do all the equines who have followed in his footsteps come from? “Sadly, many are simply abandoned in fields, old, sick or just dumped at the roadside,” says Caron. “They can have a lot of health problems, so need care and veterinary treatment. It’s not unknown for people to turn up demanding ‘I want my horse back’ after we have gone all through getting them back to decent health.” While we are chatting, a chicken with a bandaged leg flaps up onto the fence beside us, appearing to listen in. “She had a injured foot after walking under one of the horses. We splinted it up and she’s doing fine now,” Caron explains.
The animals really are a mixed bunch, and some are ancient. There are ponies at least 40 years old ambling into the sunshine. Most of the chickens were originally battery farm stock. When one lot arrived at Blue Acre the staff thought it might be an exotic breed until they cleaned them up and realised the markings on their plumage was spilled yoghurt from the rubbish they’d been dumped with.
There is a practical side to all this and while we are there Bob is going through feed supplies and hay prices. He also shows us something of a pride and joy, impressive second hand stables donated by Fifield Polo Club.
Much as the volunteers come to treasure the animals they care for, as many as possible are re-homed as there are always more waiting for help. Some of the horses and ponies, for instance, may no longer be suitable for riding through injury or age, but make great companions.
There is delight when this happens, but Caron, Bob and their team also have to cope with difficult circumstances and sadness. The site was awash in the big floods of two years ago, which left hundreds of pounds worth of food damaged, and without the assistance of polo clubs and others in temporarily taking in animals which could not be moved to higher ground, Blue Acre would have gone under, in every sense.
And they started the New Year with sorrow when a particular old favourite horse, Santa, had to be put down after more than a decade there. The volunteers tried lining up all his favourite foods, stayed with him day and night but Caron recognised the moment had come when the kindest thing to do was to have him put down. Weeks on, Santa’s stable at the centre of the yard still stood empty as no one had the heart to move another horse into it.
But it will happen, because at Blue Acre the one thing they are never short of is phone calls from the public and police saying: “There’s a sick horse that appears to have been dumped…”
How you can help
Donations and support are always needed and greatly welcomed. Find out more at www.blueacrerescue.org, call 07833 110526 or 07973 673010. You can also contribute right now through their page run by supporter Rebecca Underhill at www.gofundme.com/4y3kwut8.
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