Once Prized, Then Forgotten: Peach Gets a Second Chance
Peach’s rider, Nolan Reilly, flanked by Michael Reilly and William Greenwood, and led by Emma Rose Greenwood. (Photo courtesy CEMORELIS Photography)
Of the 20 horses adopted from Gerda's Equine Rescue (GER) during last year’s ASPCA Help A Horse Day competition, none evoked more emotion than Peach, a blind Appaloosa pony who had been waiting three years for a new home.
“Peach’s adoption brought tears of joy to all of our eyes,” recalls Gerda Silver, president and founder of the Vermont-based nonprofit that rescues slaughter-bound horses. “Even more remarkable was that she was adopted by a family-run therapeutic riding center. We got teary as we watched her go. But it was great.”
Once a prized show pony, Peach competed in a variety of events before she began to lose her sight. Appaloosas are noted for their increased risk of equine recurrent uveitis (ERU), an ophthalmic condition that’s the leading cause of blindness in horses. As Peach’s sight deteriorated, so did her prospects for a future home.
“Peach came to us with some vision, but it was very compromised,” Gerda explains. “We had to remove one of her eyes. Her other eye eventually shrank, and in time she lost her sight completely.”
Being blind did nothing to slow down the impact of Peach’s charm or will to do everything she had done before going blind.
“Everyone who met her fell in love with her,” says Gerda, who founded GER in 2005 with her husband Bob, a retired dentist. Their 17-acre farm is a temporary home at any one time to 25 rescued horses—most rescued from slaughter and all of whom will be rehabilitated, trained, and placed into new homes—as well as donkeys, mules, and pot-bellied pigs—all rescues.
A Second Act
Though no one wanted to take a chance on adopting a blind horse, Peach’s second act began when Gerda’s daughter, a horse trainer, rode her for the first time.
“Not only did she canter, but Peach did everything that was asked and even jumped a small cross rail,” says Gerda. “Her blindness makes her cautious, but trust in her rider gives her confidence she can rely on. Watching her, you’d never know she is blind. She’s very smart about her surroundings and once she knows them will gallop around.”
As time passed, others noticed Peach’s talents, and one day she caught the attention of Melanie Greenwood, founder of Leaps and Bounds Physical Therapy in Keene, New Hampshire. Leaps and Bounds has eight horses—seven of whom are used in hippotherapy—horseback riding as a means of therapeutic or rehabilitative treatment for humans to develop core strengths and movements.
William Goodwin, riding Peach, led by Maggie Thomas with Kim Young, speech language pathologist, in background. (Photo courtesy Heather Goodwin)
“All the horses in our program have a story, and Peach’s is what drew me to her,” explains Melanie, a physical therapist who works with clients from age two to 22 who suffer from autism, seizure disorders and multiple complex medical issues. “Once clients reach a plateau with in-office therapy and need a new motor challenge, hippotherapy can be very motivating. Most clients are thrilled and appreciate the horses’ stories. They rarely say no to the therapy.”
For 12 weeks each summer, occupational therapists and speech language pathologists work with Melanie’s team to integrate hippotherapy into their clients’ care plans. At first, Melanie wasn’t sure how a blind horse would fit into her program, so she evaluated Peach for work with her daughter, Emma Rose. They put Peach through her paces to see what she would tolerate.
“Peach never flinched,” explains Melanie. “We took out the rattles and rings and toys that we use, and short of being curious, she didn’t care. She trusted and relied on our voices and movements. Honestly, I couldn’t see any reason not to adopt her.”
Peach has her own paddock on Melanie’s ranch, and her best buddy is a miniature pinto named Hallie.
Melanie makes sure the therapy horses have no more than three hours of interaction time each day, and no more than two hours of back-to-back work.
Photo courtesy of Gerda Silver
Gerda and Peach
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Gerda moved to the U.S. in her teens. She eventually married, raised three children, and founded the Long Island rescue group Save-A-Pet, which is still operational. Six months after moving to Vermont, Gerda suffered a debilitating stroke during a riding lesson. With intense physical therapy she eventually regained use of her body and got her life back.
“I knew I didn’t get a second chance at this stage of my life for no reason,” says Gerda. “I became even more devoted to saving as many horses as I could, giving them the miracle of a second chance, just like I got.”
Gerda no longer mucks stalls but is very involved in running her organization, which depends solely on public donations to raise funds for the rescue and care of horses whose fates she has changed. Since its founding, GER has rescued, rehabilitated and re-homed more than 1,000 horses. In 2018, they placed 51 horses—their best year ever.
“The ASPCA is dedicated to ensuring equines nationwide live good lives,” says Dr. Emily Weiss, the ASPCA’s Vice President of Equine Welfare. “Through innovative programs and partnerships with organizations, we’re helping horses find homes.”
Photo courtesy of Gerda Silver
“Our rescue is only getting better,” says Gerda, who plans to participate in this year’s ASPCA Help a Horse Home Equine Adoption Challenge.“I hope Peach’s story will inspire people to think twice about adopting a handicapped horse. They are not broken, and they don’t carry around self-pity. All they want is a chance to prove themselves.”