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Help a Horse Day raises awareness about local rescues

Oscar came from a New Jersey kill shelter, with less than 24 hours to live. Molly was skin and bones when she arrived, underweight by at least 200 pounds. Oliver, a thoroughbred chestnut gelding, was a jumper on the A-circuit before he injured his hind leg and was scheduled to be euthanized.

After spending time at Phoenix Rising Equine Rescue and Rehabilitation in Clarence, all three are doing great. Oscar is a favorite among visitors. Molly has regained her weight and energy. And, after a year of rehab, Oliver is jumping again.

[PHOTO GALLERY: Help a Horse Day]

Among the 14 different rescue horses at Phoenix Rising, there are 14 different rescue stories. Each of them tugs the heartstrings. But the community might not know about them if it weren't for ASPCA Help a Horse Day.

To observe the day Saturday, horse shelters across the country opened their barns to raise awareness about the plight of rescue horses and teach the community how they can help. Enticed by the promise of face painting, pony rides and visits with the horses themselves, more than 600 people showed up at Phoenix Rising last year, and Saturday's tally was expected to be even higher.

"Word of mouth is really the best thing," said Karla Deacon, secretary of Phoenix Rising. "Telling other people about the horses makes a difference."

It takes $300 per month to buy grain, hay, bedding and stall cleaning for each horse. That doesn't include veterinarian, dentist or farrier visits. Spruce Meadow Farms, which Deacon owns, covers most of those expenses, but donations are crucial. County Line Stone donated a truck full of driveway stone last year. A young girl sponsors a horse that came from a kill pen and visits Phoenix Rising regularly to groom and graze it. Others donate money, time, supplies or host fundraisers. Most of the rescued horses at Phoenix Rising are also eligible for adoption. Phoenix Rising was founded in 2009. Participating in Help a Horse Day puts the rescue in the running for a grant from the ASPCA.

The six Lundquist siblings take after their grandma, who is a big fan of horses. They couldn't believe how tall horses are in person – much taller than the toy horses they play with at home. If it was up to them, they would've adopted a horse of their own Saturday.

"I literally fall in love at first sight," said Amaya Lundquist.

Brandy Loveland of Amherst went to Help a Horse Day with a little girl she mentors.

"This is an awesome event for kids," she said. "Where else besides the zoo do they get to interact with real animals?"

People often ask if any of the horses are from Beth Hoskins, who lost her horses after facing more than 50 animal cruelty charges. None are, but only because Deacon didn't have enough room for them.

"I only had space for a couple of them and they wanted to keep them all together," Deacon said.

But there will always be more horses that need help. And Phoenix Rising hopes it will always be there to help them.

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