Susan Fyfe’s suitcase landed with a thud inside the front door of her spacious farmhouse near Sherwood Park, Alta., a satellite community of Edmonton. It was 2 a.m. on a Monday in March and Fyfe was returning from a five-day workshop in New Mexico. She crawled into bed for a little sleep before her usual early morning start. A nurse, motivational coach and mother of four kids ages 16 to 23, Fyfe also runs Keno Hills Stable and Tack Shop, breeding Arabian horses and coaching show riders.
Up at 6 a.m., her first stop was the barn, where she found her father, who lives nearby, already working.
“Did you hear about the hundred horses?” he asked her. “I saved the newspaper article.”
“I’ll read it tonight,” she said.
As she worked her way though her to-do list-feed mill, doctor, groceries-people asked, “Have you heard about the hundred horses?” Then, about 3 p.m., at the Canadian Arabian Horse Registry office, someone asked again. “Tell me,” Fyfe said, exasperated. And she listened with growing horror.
Ten days earlier, the SPCA had received a complaint about an Arabian operation near Edmonton. They discovered nearly 100 horses in various stages of neglect and starvation, some mere days from death. They also found 27 carcasses. Stunned, Fyfe returned to her farm.
That evening, as kids arrived for lessons, one parent said the SPCA, charged with overseeing the care of animals in the province, was planning to auction off the horses. Concerned that they wouldn’t fare well, Fyfe said, “We have to do something. Who here can help?” Everyone raised a hand.
By morning, Fyfe had dozens of volunteers lined up to set up a foundation and, under friend Donna-Rae Coatta’s direction, raise funds, alert the media and place the horses.
“Donna-Rae was my right hand. Without her, my job would have been very difficult,” says Fyfe, who got
commitments from a veterinarian and a farrier. Donations of money and goods, such as feed and equipment, started rolling in. Fyfe had her lawyer call the SPCA to tell them she’d house and rehabilitate the horses and find them homes.
The next day, March 12, Fyfe, veterinary assistants, volunteers and SPCA staff met the first load of horses. The trailer pulled up, the driver opened the doors and a dozen sick horses slowly emerged. The team got to work checking, documenting and photographing them.
“Prepare yourself,” an SPCA representative told Fyfe later that day. “The next group isn’t so good.” Indeed, when the driver opened the doors, rather than the tentative snort and slow clop of hooves they’d heard with the first group, now they heard nothing. Fyfe thought the trailer was empty until she walked around and looked in. What she saw made her gasp. Skeletal horses stood motionless, some so weak their snouts rested on the trailer floor. “Let’s skip IDing them today,” Fyfe said. “They’re too weak and just need to eat and drink.”
In the ensuing days, the horses slowly got stronger. Of the animals the SPCA delivered, one mare had to be euthanized, but the rest eventually flourished under the care of nearly 500 volunteers. The last of the rescued horses was adopted in July.
Fyfe had some personal favourites but didn’t keep any. “I didn’t want anyone thinking I did this to enrich my herd. I did it to heal horses,” she says, “and people.”
The original owners of the herd have been charged with allowing animals to be in distress and failure to provide the duties of care. The case is grinding its way through the courts.
A lasting result of the efforts of Fyfe and her legion of volunteers is the Rescue 100 Horses Foundation, dedicated to caring for seized animals, educating individuals and organizations, and advocating for laws to protect animals.
“We were so impressed with the care and skills of Fyfe and her organization,” says Morris Airey of Alberta SPCA.