Employees at A Horse Tale rescue farm in Vaudreuil were abuzz with excitement on a windy, chilly January morning. They were preparing to welcome two more former calèche horses that are now retiring. They’ve seen six come through their doors over the last few years.
“Oh, he’s here, he’s here,” said one employee, jumping up and down as a horse transport vehicle pulled up in front of the small animal rescue farm.
The driver was “Lucky” Luc Desparois. He’s the controversial calèche owner now suing the City of Montreal over its ban on calèches that came into effect Jan. 1. While he once had 20 horses, since the ban, he’s been slowly selling or retiring his herd. He’s now down to nine horses.
“It feels good because I can’t feed them all and I need some help,” Desparois said. “They are really nice and cute but it’s very expensive to feed them every day and to take care of them.”
The two horses retiring are Maximus — a 30-year-old, tall, black draft horse weighing over 1,500 pounds — and a smaller white draft horse, Freddie, only about 15 years old.
While the horses at the shelter spend most of their time outside grazing, Maximus and Freddie will stay in the barn while they are slowly introduced to the other animals.
For Desparois, saying goodbye to his horses isn’t easy, especially Maximus, who he worked with for 17 years.
“I know how they are with the animals. They have the heart in the right place,” he said of A Horse Tale, wiping away tears. “They do this out of their goodness of their heart, not to get a cheque. They do it because they love what they are doing and it shows.”
A Horse Tale rescue was founded seven years ago. It takes in animals in need of retirement or ones that were abused.
“We always stay neutral about their backgrounds,” said executive-director Mike Grenier. “We focus on going forward. Focusing on the past won’t change anything.”
The shelter has a maximum capacity of 12 horses. It relies on 80 volunteers coming in to help clean, feed and exercise the animals. Some of the animals are rehabilitated and put up for adoption; many of the workhorses will simply retire. Some that are too injured or ill may be euthanized.
“They have worked their lives. I am giving them their retirement,” Grenier said. “They are here just to live out their lives. We give them the best quality of life we can while they are here.”
The rescue fully relies on donations to operate. It’s expensive, costing at least $10,000 to care for each horse annually. But employees say the animals thrive in the bucolic environment.
“It’s like a beautiful end to a story,” said barn manager Caroline Hendy. “Just to be able to see them relax and see them just hanging out in nature, spending their days with each other and just getting love from all the humans who come here as well, it’s heartwarming.”
The shelter is proud of its Experience program, where groups such as women’s shelters and children with disabilities visit the horses.
“Groups with special needs come on a weekly basis just to be with the horses,” Grenier said. “We have the MS Society, autism and downs, Canadian Armed Forces, women’s shelters, come out on a regular basis just to be out in the country and participate, so the horses are actually giving back.”
The rescue hopes to raise enough money to buy more land and expand, eventually with hopes to house 40 horses.
A Horse Tale is open to the public. It holds an open house almost every Saturday from March 15 to Nov. 15.