Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Questionable Practices at Spirit Horse Rescue

Update 2/24/13:

The latest evidence of Spirit Horse's financial problems were published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in this article. Although the article details how hay shortage and high feed prices have hit everyone hard, Spirit Horse comes across as the most desperate. "Every day, we just hope a check arrives that will keep us going another week," [rescue manager Dee Dee] Golberg said.

The article goes on to say that Spirit Horse now has forty-one horses in its care. "The sanctuary relies on donations, which haven't kept pace with the soaring price of hay." Mmm, but no one forced them to take in and keep dozens upon dozens of horses they struggle to feed.

Original Blog

Spirit Horse Equine Rescue near Janesville, WI has some amazing fundraisers, has participated in some major rescues, has won awards for their natural horsemanship, and provides frequent updates about the rescue through its Facebook page. Yet there are, shall we say, some inconsistencies in their approach to horse rescue.

First of all, Spirit Horse has at least three, possibly four studs who have remained ungelded since they were rescued four years ago...

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...yet their adoption application specifies that you may never breed an animal, you must provide full vet care, you must agree to surprise inspections, and they maintain the right to seize any animal you've adopted if they suspect anything, including "emotional abuse." So clearly, they're theoretically all for good practices.

Yet Spirit Horse adopted out an old pony as a stallion a couple of years ago. "Sheik," "...jumped through a barn window at his foster home and bred their pony mare! The fosters had to have their mare receive shots so she did not become pregnant."  

Adopting out an ungelded stallion doesn't sound like good practice to me, but rescue manager DeeDee Golberg says in her blog about Sheik that he was too old to geld. (Apparently he was young enough to jump through a barn window though.) Well hey, maybe all the current studs have some sort of medical condition so they can't be gelded. Riiiight.

Curious, I emailed Spirit Horse as a potential adopter wanting more info about the mule studs. (As you know, I DO want to adopt a long-ears some day.) I cooed a bit over how cute they were, then just asked why they weren't gelded-- did they have health issues? Or maybe they were gelded, and the website just hadn't been updated (in years)? I just wanted to know before I pursued adoption any further.

The reply I got:
"I am sorry, but we do not respond to e-mails that do not have a person's name on them. Perhaps you would like to resubmit your inquiry. Naturally yours, DeeDee Golberg"

Huh. Kind of a strange response for such a basic question. Spirit Horse is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit rescue, meaning basically, they rely on the goodwill (and donations) of others. You'd think they'd be a bit more... friendly? Open?
Speaking of lack of information, none of the animals on the website have adoption fees listed. Only a couple have any information about their rideability. One horse "was ridden extensively on trails." Two more horses were described in two words: "trail ridden." That's it-- no info on whether an experienced rider is required, if they are okay for light riding only or able to compete, or anything. On the other hand, each and every one of the 24 critters on the website has a "Horsenality" listed (example: "Right brain introvert").

Hmm. On the Spirit Horse website and blog, DeeDee Golber comes across as extremely Parelli-oriented, to the point that she more often uses Parelli jargon than plain old everyday words.

"... [he] learned to follow a feel (what traditional people call 'halter broke' and 'broke to lead')..."
                                                                                               -DeeDee Golberg

Now look folks, I'm not against "natural horsemanship." I like, and personally use, many NHS techniques. But as I've said before, and as I'll say again, it seems to me that too many of its devotees fall into the trap of spending more time with the jargon/fan-club side of NHS than using it to actually put training on a horse.

You want to "play games," buy three dozen videos and spend $60 on a stick with a rope on the end? Absolutely go ahead. You want to practice being "calm-assertive" so you can start touching your wild mustang "in zones 1 and 2," and move on to using a "savvy string?" No skin off my back, sister. Knock yourself out with that Parelli lip balm and ride that Equisizer machine! Heck, everyone needs a hobby.

I have no idea what this Parilli game has to do with horses, but it looks dang fun!

However, when being too NHS-obsessed seemingly gets in the way of getting a horse actually trained (and thus more adoptable) I become concerned. Seeing as how many of the horses/ponies at Spirit Horse are described as "Working on: Continued acceptance of humans," despite having been at the rescue since 2008, weeeelll, we might be seeing just a bit of that syndrome here.
But whatever. If the public wants to support Spirit Horse, a little too much Parelli and a few too many studs (for whatever "natural" reason) is a lot better than an abuse or neglect situation. It's not like Spirit Horse is dead broke, overcrowded and possibly putting its animals in poor conditions.... right?


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These images were taken by a volunteer for Spirit Horse in late fall of 2012. Word from this volunteer is that DeeDee Golberg refused to have two mules and a pony gelded. When others reminded her of the consequences of having intact animals around the place (babies and fights) DeeDee said she'd move them elsewhere. Again, according to this volunteer, they were moved-- to these small, muddy corrals with no shelter. Apparently now and in the past, they've also been kept separated from each other to prevent fighting. When one volunteer became upset at their isolation, lined up a vet and offered to pay for all the gelding surgery themselves, DeeDee refused.She purposefully kept them studs, forcing them to remain in isolation.

What. The. Hell?

Further compounding the situation, in November there was a complaint at a local city board meting about too many animals (morally and legally speaking) on Spirit Horse property.

Moving on to the rescue's troubled finances, in an article in the Janesville Gazette,what was meant to be a sympathetic story about horse rescues and hay prices turned into an expose of Spirit Horse's financial insolvency:

"We have been managing week to week,” Golberg said. “Most weeks we make it.”
And the weeks they don’t?
Golberg pays. Or one of her board members pays. Or it goes on a credit card.

And on their Facebook in December of 2012 they claimed to be "struggling financially," so much so that they've "hit the wall" caring for their 35+ equines.

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Here's another message on Spirit Horse's Facebook page, talking about how the rescue has "zero" in its bank account, and was in arrears with the local vet, to the point that the vet refused to come out to the rescue in the future:

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What is going on at Spirit Horse Rescue?? 

Too many animals, most with too little training. Financial irresponsibility. Seemingly little drive to get horses adopted. Ungelded studs. The only difference between a hoarding situation and Spirit Horse right now seems to be that Spirit Horse's animals still look to be in good shape-- at least the ones we've seen in the media.

There are those who would say that I am unfairly smearing Spirit Horse. Hey, did you read my very first sentence? Let me just repeat that for you:

"Spirit Horse Equine Rescue near Janesville, WI has some amazing fundraisers, has participated in some major rescues, has won awards for their natural horsemanship, and provides frequent updates about the rescue through its Facebook page."

So stick that in your pipe and smoke it, eh? I fully believe DeeDee Golberg and every one of the volunteers and board members at Spirit Horse have good intentions. I've watched a video of DeeDee herself, and the sincerity and caring pouring out of her are easy to see.

HOWEVER... good intentions pave the road to Hell, or so I've been told.

Dear Spirit Horse: it's time for a major adoption push. List more horses on your website. Include descriptions beyond very basic details and "horsenalities." Actually list adoption fees. Lower your adoption fees if you're asking for a lot. Get some of those fuzzies halter broke.

If you agree that Spirit Horse needs to make some changes, there are several things you can do. First, vote with your dollar. There are other horse rescues doing a better job who could use your support, until Spirit Horse starts to fix things. I know, know, it seems like troubled times are when donations are most necessary. However, throwing money at this rescue won't change its bad habits. Handing them your donations says "good job!" when the message you want to send is "don't do this crap!" Remember, reinforce GOOD behavior, not bad behavior! You can always donate money later.

Secondly, try volunteering. Sometimes, rescue managers and their regular volunteers get so caught up in day-to-day chores that they don't see worsening conditions until a fresh face says, "Uh, can I help move that  mound of manure? Or maybe work on halter breaking one of these five guys?" It seems to me that Spirit Horse has just buried itself in work. Even with only 24 equines, Spirit Horse can't possibly be handling them all regularly-- half an hour for each horse would be a twelve hour day for one person! You could help with that. Maybe you could also offer to help Spirit Horse update their website with pictures and information on their horses.

Finally, contact DeeDee Golberg and the Spirit Horse board members-- their emails can be found here. You can also write to Spirit Horse Equine Rescue
4107 N. River's Edge Drive, Janesville, Wisconsin 53548.

Oh, and since Spirit Horse is a 501(c)3, the have to provide their tax records to anyone who asks... anyone want to take the time to go through the bureaucracy and post a copy?


  1. I'm not sure that the animals from the "largest rescue" are all that much better in the rescues hands, than before they were surrendered.

  2. Good for you for putting this out there.

    I see this time and again with rescues where I live - Good-intentioned people get in way over their heads, become inflexible (why on earth have those animals not been gelded?!), and start losing volunteers. Pretty soon they're deeply in debt, close up shop, and it's the animals who suffer and the remaining rescues who have to scramble to pick up the slack.

    Rescue groups should never take on more animals than they are prepared to care for indefinitely. Sad, but true. You never know when adoptions will slow or stop. And it's the highest-cost animals (the old, the sick) who are the last to get adopted.

    Thanks again for posting this - I hope you don't catch too much flack for it.

  3. Good blog. I wonder about the gelding policy. How hard is it to get any stud gelded? If need be (and sometimes there is a need) they can be darted by the vet, gelded, vetted, teeth checked, sheath cleaned and their feet trimmed a little too! No rescue should ever adopt out a stud or send it to a foster home either. It's a liability to even keep one at a rescue. The sooner they are gelded the sooner they can begin a normal life. My 2 cents worth.

    1. Depending on the age and the size of the animal it usually isn't all that hard to geld even the aged stallion. As usual one has to look out for the major arteries and other vessels, but gelding is gelding.

      I have to agree, keeping entires in a rescue defeats the purpose. There is an over breeding issue with back yard breeders and those that once they bring a life into the world and have used it up, seem to believe that they are disposable altogether.

      From my knowledge of rescues in WI the reviews on here are spot on... Many times you are better off adopting an animal rather than just donating cash. First of all you free up a spot for another to be rescued and you provide the much needed funding that the rescue requires.

  4. i would like to point out that i gelded my 20+ yr old mini. he was just fine came through like nothing ever happened. as long as they are healthy gelded is always better

  5. Dee Dee is not a nice lady and her horse handling techniques are nothing close to quiet. Watching her and her group load the ponies and such from the 08' rescue was like a zoo. Chasing them around with lung wipes it was uncalled form She could habe had many homes for horses ponies and the mules from the 08 rescue but she didn't want to work with anyone. The animals from that rescue went feom being in a huge pasture to confined in small gated pens. And im sure she still has half of them spread across rock county

  6. I have information in relation to the animals listed above. I want you to know that I had an inside source that could verify that all of the information is true, especially in relation to the specific animals mentioned above. Due to the adoption contract, I do not want to jeopardize their home. I can let you know that all three, Rio, Lashes and Scout have a great As soon as they arrived, they were gelded, had medical care and had their feet done....for the first time in the then 5 years of their life. Scout, due to injuries sustained while in their care, was not able to be gelded. He is kept segregated, but close enough to other horses to socialize and shows no dangers of jumping through a window. Due to the handling they had before, the mules still have trust issues, but they're working on it. While these guys are safe and loving life, I would still question, based off of what I've seen and heard, what happens behind their closed doors. Supposedly, they have 40 animals on site at the moment. Please continue your questioning. I won't because I will not endanger these three.