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Retirement farm: Elysian Fields spares lives of Morgan horses
reprinted with the approval of the News Tribune

Web Posted Saturday, September 06, 2003 HTTP://www.newstrib.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=207&ArticleID=10729
By: Brock Cooper

Valiant Tony emerges from the barn at Top-T Morgan horse farm in rural Cedar Point. He holds his head high and sports a majestic trot marred only by a front leg dragging across the ground when he walks.

Tony, a 12-time world champion Morgan horse, broke his leg in 1992 and may have been sent to slaughter if not for the efforts of Elysian Fields, a nonprofit community for retired Morgan horses.

"He's one of the most well-known horses in the Morgan world, anyone that has been in Morgans for a while knows the name Valiant Tony," board president and Top-T owner Jann Currie said. "All these guys (horses) are here so they don't go to the glue factory.."

The Morgan is a breed descended from a horse named Figure owned by Justin Morgan. The horse has a short, muscular body, with a thick, arched neck and wide, chiseled head. The breed is considered the first American breed of horse and is today bred all across the nation.

At Elysian Fields, Currie takes care of seven Morgan horses. Top-T Farm is the flagship for a movement to offer alternatives for elderly Morgan horses.

Taking care of the elderly is a difficult task especially when they weigh 900 pounds a piece. Currie wakes up around 5 a.m. every morning and cleans half the horse stalls before going to work at a Peru furniture store. When she gets home, she cleans the other half and gives the seven mature horses the tender loving care they need and their former owners hope they would receive.

Mr. Legacy is a 27-year-old Morgan gelding from Bend, Ore., that still trots around like a horse of 17. His owner became sick and had to give up her farm, but because of Legacy's age it was difficult for her to find a home for her most prized horse.

"The woman from Oregon just wanted to find a place he would be cared for the rest of his life," Currie said. "She made him a promise that he would stay with her for the rest of his life and then she couldn't keep the promise."

If the horses were human, many at Elysian Fields would be octogenarians. Currie did not want the horses put to pasture all day, she wanted them to be treated the same as when they were younger.

"We wanted them to be treated like they had been when they were the stars," Currie said.

The fate of these world champion horses is grim once they become too old to show or breed, according to Currie. Many are sent to slaughter or used as riding and lesson horses, far cry from the winner's circle.

"That is really a tough life for them with kids on their back all day long kicking them and pulling on them," Currie said. "It's not really retirement."

One of the perks the horses receive is comprehensive health care. While the old gray mare may not be what she used to be, Currie keeps the horses in peak physical shape.

Beaming Beauty was on lease in Rockford when Currie first saw her. The 26-year-old horse was thin and looked sick, so Currie took her to the veterinarian and found out the horse had a thyroid problem.

"We got her on some thyroid medicine and she shed her coat and started to put on weight," Currie said. "She's been in good shape ever since."

For some horses, the care at Elysian Fields creates a dramatic change in condition.

Glory was diagnosed with Cushings disease, a disease of the pituitary gland that causes severe arthritis.

"This mare wound up getting so lame all she would do is lay down a year ago," Currie said.

Now, the 25-year-old horse gets to roam around the barn at night when everyone else is in their stalls to keep her joints from getting stiff.

Sandra Jones-Schauble of Compton is treasurer of the Elysian Fields board and helps Currie clean the stalls when she can. As treasurer, Jones-Schauble handles the finances and knows Currie is subsidizing much of the costs herself.

"It's not easy to raise money," Jones-Schauble said. "Our goal is to become the sole financiers for the care of the horses."

Currie has been taking in horses for about four years, but Elysian Fields only became incorporated about a year ago. The board is made up people from across the nation who care about the health and well-being of retired Morgan horses.

The fledgling organization has had a difficult time soliciting funds because not many people are aware that the organization exists and while the board members are good hearted, they are not savvy at fund solicitation, Schauble said.

"We have yet to really to go after foundations and large organizations," Jones-Schauble said.

Board chairman Linda Asher, a lawyer and horse breeder from Vermilion, Ohio, said the key to growth is donations from organizations and the public.

It takes about $3,500 a year to take care of a horse, plus the cost of any medical problems.

Asher hopes to expand the organization to more than one farm once the financial hurdles are over. She wants the board to attract someone that can handle solicitations and write grants.

"This is a long-term commitment for these horses," Asher said. "The horses continue to have a use."




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Updated: October 2005.