A noble life deserves a second chance is the motto of Equus Rescue and Therapy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit horse sanctuary in Millstadt, Illinois. However, in the case of this unique initiative, both horses and humans come together to save each other.
Margo Sutter, Equus (Latin for horse) founder and executive director, says they rescue and rehabilitate horses who are retired or injured from the race track, living in horrific conditions, and from kill pens on their way to slaughter. "We give them a second chance at life, whether that be a career, a new home or a dignified retirement."
She wishes more people got to witness the power of healing from horses, who have a keen sense for syncing with people and their emotions. "Horses are the queens and kings of nonverbal communications, and they know what we need."
She adds that Equus Rescue also gives back to the community through programs serving at-risk youth, such as their Equine Angels program. "These are four-day camps for youths, and along with learning how to care for horses, we teach the cowboy code of ethics about respect, responsibility, commitment and leadership, all in positive ways."
Within the Equus Readers Program, children read out loud to the horses to practice self-confidence and public speaking. Youths typically are brought to the program by parents, church groups or school educators. Margo says this activity is especially geared toward reading-challenged children who are younger than third grade because the horses are nonjudgmental and provide an adoring audience. She adds that the program was suggested by 10-year-old Aleksandra Ross, daughter of Natasha Chekoudjian and Jason Ross, the husband/wife team behind luxury belts and jewelry brand Artemas Quibble. Natasha is a St. Louis native who became a fashion designer, and the family relocated back to the region during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aleksandra first raised money for Equus by operating a snow cone stand in 2022. She and her younger brother, Oliver "Oli," raised $1,000. She then discovered personally the value of reading to the horses, and now is expanding into selling stuffed animals for the nonprofit.
"We're also expanding Warriors H.E.A.L., a program that honors our returning war veterans and active duty forces. The acronym stands for Horses Enlighten Awareness and Learning. Veterans facing PTSD trauma have much in common with our horses who had to face their own traumas," explains Margo. "Our horses come to us 100 percent in the way they've survived, with color and texture of what happened, and they learn to go forward here, with unconditional love. So can veterans."
Margo says horses and veterans understand each other very well. "Equine therapy can achieve in 15 minutes what talk therapy achieves in 15 years. An abused horse cannot live in the past, or it will die. Ugly things happen to them and to people. Humans tend to relive the past, trying to sort it out, and get locked up in emotional chains. With the help of these horses, our veterans can release the ugly things that happened."
For veterans interested in "connecting the dots" through the H.E.A.L. program, Margo says the Equus team is hosting a three-day training at the facility during Nov. 17, 18 and 19.
Equus does place some of the rescued horses into loving, private homes, but many of the horses are permanent residents of the farm. This rescue/therapy program relies solely on generous donations and kindness from others. Margo says legacy gifts or leads on foundation funding would be more than appreciated and cherished.
HOW TO HELP EQUUS
SPONSOR A HORSE
Financially sponsoring one of the rescued horses is a way to assist remotely, or makes a lasting gift to give in someone's name.
Dedicated volunteers take parts of morning or afternoon shifts. Prior equine experience isn't required.
Choose from among identified needed supplies to donate from Chewy or Amazon.
The Equus facility is the perfect setting for gatherings.
Since 2009, the Equus team has rescued or transitioned from auctions, dispersal sales, kill pens and other dire situations nationwide more than 700 horses in peril due to neglect, starvation or risk of slaughter. Equus currently cares for 70 horses and is led by volunteers and no paid staff. The farm and facility is located at 8743 Le Pere School Road in Millstadt, Illinois.