x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Neglected horses find a new home

Crowded Al Rahba farm is a safe haven for animals whose owners are no longer willing or able to care for them.

ABU DHABI // It was clear Wadnan was suffering when he was too weak to stand in the box hauling him away. The 10-year-old chocolate-brown purebred Arabian "with the funny ear" was grotesquely thin, having subsisted for months on his owner's dinner scraps. His ribs poked out from his sides and he had developed mange, as well as spacing between his joints from a calcium deficiency. As she loaded him into her trailer, Tina al Qubaisi wondered whether Wadnan would survive the trip back to her home in Khalifa City A. "I didn't even know if he would last from there to my house," she said. "He was that close to death." Her intervention possibly saved the animal's life. Five years on, the now-healthy stallion - bought for Dh5,000 (US$1,360) from a negligent owner who had accepted it as a gift from a sheikh - has fathered two foals.

Wadnan lives at Dhabian Rahma Animal Rescue Centre in Al Rahba, which was opened by Mrs al Qubaisi three years ago. While new animals are always welcome, Mrs al Qubaisi is bracing for a crunch of space on the 250-by-200 metre property north of the capital. It is home to 32 horses, 40 cats, 16 dogs, numerous sheep and rabbits and a camel. Many were homeless or forsaken by previous owners. "We're not overcrowded yet," said Mrs al Qubaisi, a Briton who moved to the UAE 16 years ago. "But summer is the worst time. It's like abandonment season, and it's very urgent to be able to get these animals through the summer."

The 42-year-old expat, married to a local man who owns the land, has written the Ministry of Environment asking permission to build stables on adjacent properties that are empty. She has also approached the animal control section at the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, and is waiting for responses. "We could accommodate maybe 200 animals in there," said Mrs al Qubaisi, who works as a health and safety manager to subsidise the cost of operating the centre.

Of her 15 rescued horses, all but one had to be purchased from the previous owner. Many of them were bestowed from a sheikh to someone who was not equipped to care for it. Such was the case with Dhabian, an endurance horse who died in 2008 and for whom the shelter is named. "These horses are gifted from sheikhs and are from very good breeding backgrounds," she said. "They're expected to be looked after in the same way by the new owners, but the owners feel they can't say no, even if they don't know how."

Not every horse is as fortunate as Wadnan. It was too late for Harley, the farm's first rescue effort. "He was just a bag of bones," Mrs al Qubaisi said. "He was found in a front garden in Bahia. He was blind and totally emaciated." After a month of care, she realised he had to be put down. Soon after, she opened the shelter, moving several of her horses to the Al Rahba farm and building a home there to be on call 24 hours a day.

"Horses are a passion, they're my life," she said. "My mum used to ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I used to say it was my dream to have a big farm with lots of horses and lots of animals around." The shelter has been an expensive operation. Fees from riding lessons at Mrs al Qubaisi's Dhabian Equestrian Club help. It costs around Dh40,000 a month to care for the animals and pay staff, which is why volunteers are invaluable.

Raghad Auttabashi, from Syria, is among a group of about 10 animal lovers who visit the farm regularly, helping brush the horses and chop up carrots for feeding, as well as care for the cats and walk the dogs. "The horses are the most beautiful creatures, so I like to spoil them a little bit by feeding them some carrots," she said. The farm is holding an open house on May 21 at 4.30pm. For more information, see www.dhabianrahmaanimalrescue.webs.com or contact dhabianequestrianclub@gmail.com.

mkwong@thenational.ae