Mylestone Equine Rescue: Giving Horses a Second Chance at Happiness
Photographs courtesy of Mylestone Equine Rescue.
By Taylor Smith
Mylestone Equine Rescue is New Jersey’s first all-breed horse rescue, meaning that all breeds and pedigrees of horses are welcome to its relaxing and scenic pastures. The organization, located in Phillipsburg, was founded 29 years ago by Susankelly Thompson and her husband Bruce. The couple’s children Samuel and Austin have grown up with the rescue organization and have also participated in the care and keeping of the horses, making it truly a family affair.
Susankelly Thompson has always had a deep love and respect for horses. In childhood, she had a pony named Dapple Duchess. Her grandfather and mother were also horse riders, so when she decided to take horseback riding lessons, it seemed like a natural fit.
But she soon learned that many lesson horses and camp horses (horses that are sometimes used at summer camps) end up going on the auction block once they are no longer useful for those purposes. This realization prompted Thompson to dream of one day helping the older horses that worked so hard but were often disregarded without any thought or compassion.
The idea for Mylestone began when Thompson purchased a gelding named Myles. She was looking for a horse to ride and even though Myles was only barely ridable and too thin from over exercise and jumping, she believed that she could rehabilitate him back to good health. Slowly but surely, Myles gained weight and formed a bond with her. “He was very protective of me,” she says. “I believe he knew I rescued him.”
Myles later began to develop a neurologic disease called equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) that effects a horse’s spinal column. This meant that he had trouble trotting and became very uncoordinated.
“Tragically, I had to have Myles humanely euthanized,” says Thompson. “I was just devastated. I made the decision that Myles’ legacy would live on because Myles was a ‘milestone’ in my life, I founded Mylestone Equine Rescue in his honor.”
The Phillipsburg farm property is 22 acres and currently houses 25 happily retired horses and one goat who is a companion to a miniature horse named Mini Pearl. “We have a main barn for many of the horses and the rest of the horses live outside with sheds 24/7,” says Thompson.
When asked how Mylestone learns of horses that need rescuing, Thompson explains that they receive phone calls from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, concerned residents, and the horse owners themselves. “In some situations, the actual owners call and some of them have let their horses’ conditions deteriorate for far too long before asking for help,” she says. “We do not have the legal authority to go onto someone’s property to remove a horse. Everything is done through the legal system, the Department of Agriculture, local humane societies, animal control, or the police.”
According to New Jersey state law, horses are considered livestock and have a different set of rules than domesticated animals. “In some scenarios the owners will surrender the horses to us, in which case the authorities are not involved,” explains Thompson.
Each horse at Mylestone has their own unique story. Shadow has one of the most heartbreaking. When Shadow came to Mylestone in 2005, he had terrible scars because his owners castrated him without medication. He had also become blind due to those same owners injecting him with antibiotics that were not meant for equines. Shadow then had to have one eye removed when it became infected. When he first arrived at Mylestone, Shadow was understandably terrified and completely unable to tolerate the touch of any men. Thompson was the only one he allowed to catch him or care for him.
Over the past 18 years, Shadow has healed from his emotional and physical wounds. “He now allows my husband to put on and take off his blankets and hold him for the farrier to trim his hooves,” says Thompson. “Just the other day, after 10 years, he allowed one of the board members to catch him and put his halter on. This is wonderful because up until now, I was the only one who could catch him.”
Shadow now lives in a round pen with his best buddy Jackson. “Sometimes he and Jackson will whinny because they want horse treats,” says Thompson.
Another well-known resident is Scout, Mylestone’s “gentle giant” at 17.2 hands high. Scout is a percheron draft cross breed and was rescued from Canada in 1998 when he was only 2 to 3 months old. Scout was a by-product of the hormone replacement drug industry. He had never been handled. Scout is now 25 years old and is the farm’s official greeter for tours and visitors.
“Over the years, Scout has been used in our grooming program with special needs students,” says Thompson. “Because of his large size, four to five students can groom him at a time. Scout lives up to his official name, ‘Scout’s Honor.’”
With all that these abused horses have been through, Thompson reassures visitors that they are still able to trust humans at some level. She also emphasizes that the horses are extremely sensitive beings and are thankful for their routine and natural surroundings.
“I find that they are very forgiving,” she says. “It amazes me that they can be after the horrible things that have been done to them. Sometimes the horses will ‘pick their people’ and that is who they will let work with them. Usually, when we take in a new horse that has been abused or neglected, I will start working with them by myself and try to get a feel for what they are like and give them time to adjust and settle in.”
Mylestone’s resident veterinarian is Dr. Mary Beth Hamorski of Califon Animal Hospital. Hamorski has been with the rescue group since its early days, and she typically stops by several times per month to service the animals. This may mean sedating the horses for the farrier to be able to trim their hooves or to treat ongoing medical issues or emergency visits.
While the newly arrived horses at Mylestone quickly find medical relief and much needed care, most of them will never be ridable again. Thus, while some people do inquire about adoptable horses who can be ridden or trained, Thompson will typically direct them to another rescue group.
“Since all of our horses are special needs, they are not really considered adoptable,” she says. “You reach a point where you ask yourself, ‘How fair is it to the horse to move them after they have been with us for 10-plus years?’ Horses thrive on routine and moving can be stressful.”
Thompson is quick to point out that no horse at Mylestone will ever be euthanized because they are long-term residents and/or will never be adoptable.
“Horses are only euthanized if they have serious medical complications like colic, severe injury, cancer, or their quality of life is greatly diminishing due to medical ailments,” she says.
Tango and Marley.
The horses that are the longest residents and will most likely never be adopted out are referred to as “Sanctuary Horses,” and these golden seniors are content to live out their final years at Mylestone with their horse friends and lots of treats.
Many people do not realize what a lifelong investment a horse really is. The average lifespan of a horse is 27 years, but they can live into their late twenties and thirties. Ponies typically live well into their thirties.
“It is so heartbreaking when people just want to dump their old horses,” says Thompson, who suggests that a provision for horses should be made in their owner’s will. Otherwise, these animals can fall through the cracks, causing them to be neglected and forgotten.
If someone identifies a horse that appears to be noticeably thin, ill, or in bad health, they can make a formal complaint through the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s website at nj.gov/agriculture. They may also contact the local police department and ask for animal control or the local humane officer to file a complaint.
With all the work that they do, Mylestone does maintain a collaborative relationship with other regional and national animal welfare organizations. The Mylestone Equine Relief Fund was established to provide emergency support for horses in need by partnering with humane authorities, veterinarians, and nonprofit rescue groups that are registered charities. To learn more or to donate online, visit mylestone.org/the-equine-relief-fund.
Mylestone also works with Fleet of Angels, which provides micro grants for hay and grain in areas of the U.S. that have been hit by drought and wildfires. Fleet of Angels is the recipient of the ASPCA Equine Welfare Award. For more information, visit fleetofangels.org.
Mylestone is a private farm and cannot accommodate unscheduled visitors, but visitors are welcome to schedule a tour by calling 908.995.9300 or by filling out a request form at mylestone.org/contact.
Dillon, Calvin, and Scout.
Thompson says that guests are generally initially struck by how peaceful the farm setting and the horses are. “We work very hard to meet all their [the horses’] needs, day in and day out,” she says. “Their breakfast starts at 5 a.m. and their last meal is at about 8 p.m. They are fed four times per day.” Tours generally coincide with feeding times so that guests can interact with these majestic animals.
Mylestone Equine Rescue is run with the help of trusted and dedicated volunteers, and they are always looking for new applicants. Potential volunteers must be 18 years of age or older and prior horse experience is preferred (though not required). Volunteers must be able to commit to one day of work per week at the farm, and labor is involved such as picking paddocks and mucking stalls. “If you love the outdoors and horses, this could be a great volunteer opportunity for you,” says Thompson.
As a nonprofit organization, Mylestone does not receive funding from the state or government agencies. Monetary donations are a significant help and can be made through Mylestone’s website at mylestone.org/how-to-help. Gift cards from Horseman’s Outlet in Lebanon (horsemensoutletnj.com) are also welcomed as Mylestone buys most of their horse supplies there.
To stay in touch with Mylestone Equine Rescue, follow them on Instagram at @mylestoneequinerescue where Thompson and the other workers like to post daily horse photos. You are sure to be charmed by these equine faces and their heart-touching stories!