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Village equestrians expected to say goodbye to beloved horses, but not this way

On a hot, sticky summer day, Blaze, a mahogany Arabian, and Baby, a chocolate brown quarter horse, were standing side-by-side in front of their stalls, seemingly happy.

Perhaps they had an inkling they were headed for greener pastures after years of being saddled up for riding lessons and trail rides at the Laguna Woods Village Equestrian Center.

On Aug.1, the two were scheduled to be transported to the Sunny Oasis Rescue in the Johnsonville area in San Bernardino County. Michele Shoemaker has run the nonprofit for 13 years, providing a sanctuary for horses, dogs, goats and other animals needing a forever home.

Because Baby and Blaze, both about 35 years old, are so beloved at the Equestrian Center, Elizabeth Shied, the interim equestrian supervisor, set up appointments for club members and others to say their goodbyes and wish the horses well on their retirement.

“Some people learned how to ride on them in the Village – they deserve to be lazy now and live out their lives,” Shied said.

But it was not the goodbye anybody expected.



After a delay in transportation plans, the two horses had sudden health changes that prompted a checkup at Mission Equine Hospital in San Juan Capistrano, Laguna Woods Village spokeswoman Eileen Paulin said in a statement on Aug. 11.

The vet determined that Baby and Blaze were suffering from pain, and one of them was losing the ability to eat, Paulin said. Both horses were quickly deteriorating beyond the point where surviving transport and living out their lives in retirement elsewhere was possible,

“For these reasons, and with very heavy hearts, a joint decision was made among the veterinarian, GRF board members and Recreation staff to end the animals’ suffering and euthanize Baby and Blaze,” Paulin said. “May these beautiful horses rest in peace.”

The two horses had been residents at the El Toro Road stables for years — 14 for Blaze and eight for Baby. The Equestrian Center offers boarding for horses owned or leased by residents and a riding program for residents and their sponsored guests.

In early August, Shied was making final preparations for the horses to leave the center, home to 10 others owned by the Golden Rain Foundation.

Baby and Blaze were to live together at Sunny Oasis in a 24’ x 36’ partially covered stall area with access to a two-acre turnout and arena. They were to have no duties other than to enjoy their retirement.

“Blaze has been the mascot for the stable and an off and on staff horse,” Shied said at the time. “His leaving is bittersweet.”

Instructors and volunteers alike were excited for the horses — and some turned out to say their goodbyes.

Hailey Yocham, a volunteer and riding instructor, said she was thrilled the horses would be transported together.

“They will be stabled together and spend their last days together,” Yocham said in early August. “They are buddies and love each other and have quite the love affair.

“I’ve always believed horses that do jobs like these two deserve to be old, curmudgeonly farts, and live their remaining days happy,” she added.

Mike Settipane, the now-retired stable supervisor, recalled the two horses he had brought to the stables and the riding program.

“Both horses were part of our rental business of 10 horses,” Settipane said. “Given the age and performance of all our horses, all of them were special to me, our clients and visitors.”

Ashley Huey, 21, was a volunteer and rider at the stable for seven years.

“As I look back at my teenage years with a smile it’s because of a little place called the Laguna Woods Village Equestrian Center,” the Mission Viejo resident said. “I started riding there when I was 12 years old.”

From the age of 10, she was fascinated with horses and begged her mother to take her to the center so she could learn to ride. At the center, she developed a passion for horses.

“For me, I was volunteering every weekend, during school sessions, and every day they were open during the summer. I would volunteer, ride and take care of the horses, including being allowed to give them bubble baths sometimes,” Huey said.

Two of the horses she and her mother, Christina, volunteered with were Baby and Blaze.

She remembers Baby as “a little black mare who was always used as an example to teach the new people how to properly saddle, and how to care for a horse because she was just so sweet and well mannered,” Huey said.

And Blaze, the oldest horse at the center, was somehow the horse with the most energy, even though he had gray hair and crusties in his eyes.

“He has the heart of a little wild mustang,” she said. “The first time I rode him I could feel his energy underneath me. I could tell he wasn’t some old man with nothing left to give.”

During a bubble bath, she recalled, Blaze had “happy horse ears” the whole time and, in the end, he shook and got Huey wet and “neighed like some comedy movie,” Huey said.

It is a memory she will never forget.

Huey was one of those who came a few weeks ago to help send off Baby and Blaze into their retirement years.

Blaze nuzzled her and Baby came right into her arms and let her hug her.

Weeks later, Huey learned the two horses were to be euthanized, and was thankful, at least, that the two bonded horses would be together to the end.

“They will be a very cherished memory for the community, and their memory and love will be carried on by all of the horses and people that have had the opportunity to create bonds and friendships with them,” she said.


Source: Orange County Register

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