Abandoned, abused horses get a second chance at life

Abandoned, abused horses get a second chance at life

Litsa – short for Thrylitsa – is 12 years old and used to be racehorse. After her racing career ended, someone bought her and took her to Crete, where she was later abandoned. Lakis suffered the same fate. He was found scared, undernourished and dehydrated at the age of 20 on Spata Avenue outside Athens. Foivos was even less fortunate: At the tender age of 2 he was found wondering alone with a fractured bone in one of his hind legs. Another former racehorse, Angel, was found hungry and injured in Argolida. One of her limbs ended in a swollen, shapeless mass, missing a hoof.

There is no reason to feel uncomfortable when reading these stories because they come with a happy ending – or most of them at least. Litsa, for instance, has enjoyed plenty of hay and tenderness and thanks to the efforts of her dedicated trainer, Stavros Vergis, has started trusting humans again. Lakis lives in a safe environment where he is taken care of and will never be hungry again.

Following a successful amputation procedure (the choice for his vets was amputation or euthanasia), Foivos now has a prosthetic limb. Still recovering, he’s quite the hero. Although the prosthetic limb will have to be replaced by another one as he grows, he will lead a normal life.

Following several months of over 2,500 euros’ worth of therapy, Angel can now put her foot on the ground and even have a bit of a gallop every now and then. She will never get back to her former racing glory, but at least she is no longer in pain and she now has a tremendous appetite for life.

The four horses live at the facilities of the Hellenic Society for Equine Welfare (ESPI) in Markopoulo, southeast of Athens. It’s hard not to be moved by their stories. In their eyes you can detect a sense of sadness – not surprising, considering what they’ve been through – but also serenity that has come with their new lives. Thrylitsa allowed me to touch her, while Angel was friendlier with Kathimerini’s photographer, Elisavet. They are beautiful, intelligent and noble-looking creatures. How could anyone hurt them? you might ask.

“Many people think they can keep a horse or donkey – but they can’t, either because they can’t afford to or because they don’t know how to handle them,” noted ESPI treasurer Christina Alexandrou. “So the animals are often abandoned. There is also plenty of barbarity: A young donkey was found underneath a tree in the Peloponnese with its head and legs tied together – left to die. They brought it to us in a sorry state.”

These kinds of incidents led a group of animal-loving friends to establish ESPI in 2006. They were motivated by the case of 64 horses living in appalling conditions at a farm in Aspropyrgos, east of Athens, where most of the animals were destined for Italian slaughterhouses. In setting up ESPI, their aim was to protect and treat abused and abandoned equines while at the same time raising awareness about how they should be treated.

Earlier this year, the association moved to new premises near the Markopoulo Racetrack, where the monthly costs, including rent, come to over 3,000 euros. This is covered entirely by ESPI members and other donors who contribute the symbolic annual sum of 70 euros to sponsor a horse. Since it was established, ESPI has treated more than 150 animals – with the majority being adopted at a later stage.

“We need more volunteers,” noted Alexandrou. “People who are willing to come over and contribute – not just to spend a few pleasant hours with the horses.”

“When you approach horses you have to treat them with respect, they have every right to refuse contact. If they do accept you, and especially if they end up trusting you, it’s a huge honor.”

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