26 June 2023

Horse heaven mourns old friend - but you can help save other lives

| Sally Hopman
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Woman with two Clydesdales

Karen Hood with two of her large charges at Heavy Horse Heaven, a sanctuary near Yass. Photo: Supplied.

He was what is known as a “paddock ornament” – a horse that was probably bought initially to make a youngster’s dream come true or to do some cheap heavy labour on the farm.

When the youngster realised how much work was involved or the adult decided a tractor was a more efficient option, the horse was left alone, neglected, in the paddock.

Colla was one such heavy horse, a black Clydesdale. And for Karen Hood, who founded Heavy Horse Heaven (HHH) at Lade Vale, near Yass, he was a favourite with everyone from the start.

“He was such a sweetie,” she said. “He was a part of our family.”

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But earlier this week, the 14-year-old horse’s big legs gave way and the HHH is in mourning.

He has left a big gap in the life of the HHH “family”, both humans (volunteers) and residents (horses) on the 40-hectare sanctuary near Yass.

Memories of him have been gracing the pages of the HHH’s social media platforms, with hundreds of people wanting to share their memories or pay tribute to him.

“He was a sweetie,” said Karen, “but because he was a stallion, it was quite challenging to work with him at the start. But then we got him gelded.

Clydesdale horse

Volunteers at the Heavy Horse Heaven sanctuary near Yass are mourning the loss of Colla, who died last week. He was 14. Photo: Supplied.

“He came to us in 2015 as an unwanted paddock ornament,” she said, “and quickly stole the heart of everyone who was lucky enough to meet him.

“He was a lucky boy to be loved by two beautiful mums during the eight years he spent with Heavy Horse Heaven – both loved him unconditionally and cared for him so beautifully.

“But sadly age took its toll on him and his back legs decided they’d had enough of holding his beautiful body up. As much as our hearts are shattered we are so grateful that this sweet boy was part of our family.

“Old age took him,” she said. “I had to make the call to let him go, it was heartbreaking but sometimes you have to make the call to let them go. The right decisions are often the hard one.

“Some people need to learn that sometimes, the most loving gift you can give them is to let them go.”

Karen said the big fellow was known as “a sucker for a massage”. “You’d see him almost drool when he got one.

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“Everyone who met him fell in love with him – that’s the sort of horse he was – very handsome.”

A not-for-profit group, Karen and her volunteers have been running HHH on the 40-hectare property near Yass since 2011. Her vision is simple, although in practice, it can be heartbreaking: rescue, rehabilitate and rehome heavy horses from across eastern NSW and the ACT.

Sometimes the owners just give up the horses because they can’t give them the life they deserve while other times, they are rescued from dire situations.

Regardless of whether they find their forever or foster homes, Karen keeps track of every one. This is so if circumstances change, the horses can return to the Lade Vale sanctuary.

The HHH is currently “full” with 21 horses, although you know Karen would never turn a horse in need away. She has some out on foster care because there’s not enough feed in the paddocks.

“At the moment, we have about 90 acres of gravel,” she said. “We’ve seeded about 30 acres but that’s been at a decent cost – we’re just waiting for that to come through.

Two horses

In happier times, Colla with his best mate Smurf at Heavy Horse Heaven. Photo: Supplied.

She’s also not running at full steam herself after what she calls a slight mishap.

“I was doing feeds in the dark and stepped into a hole,” she said. “But our volunteers were amazing. They went round and made sure everyone got fed and watered. They really are the best.”

The rescues can sometimes come at an emotional cost, but always at a financial one. A heavy horse can weigh up to 800 kilos and can cost around $2000 a year to feed. Add vet bills, paddock care, tack and other equipment and the cost spirals.

Heavy Horse Heaven’s Tax Time Appeal is now open. Donations can be made to the not-for-profit organisation as a tribute to Colla. To help, go to the HHH website.

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