RURAL DEWEY — At her farm, Linda Hewerdine looks after horses who are injured, sometimes deliberately. The farm has housed as many as 72 of them at a time. Many of the horses will find safe, new homes.
Hewerdine is a certified animal investigator for the Illinois Department of Agriculture. She owns the land, including three barns, as well as outbuildings her husband, a farmer and heavy-equipment operator, used in his business.
On this day, Hewerdine is seeing to 37 horses.
That includes minis like Mitzi, who can go to pet fairs to raise money for SHARE, the Society for Hooved Animal Rescue and Emergencies.
Smaller horses live longer — one of them is 33.
Hewerdine has rescued horses from a range of counties. Eleven starving horses came from a farm near Muncie, with the owner’s permission. Others are taken, with the owner facing a charge of aggravated animal cruelty, a felony.
Sometimes the horses look out for each other. Captain, an Arabian, stays close to Chaos, a leopard Appaloosa, in the stall they share.
Get too close and Captain gives you the side-eye.
“He protects Chaos,” who lies down near Captain, she said.
Hewerdine, who moved to central Illinois in 1990, is the founder of SHARE, a nonprofit humane society in the area with investigators that cover a large portion of Illinois. The society houses and feeds the horses.
Hewerdine foots much of the $120,000-per-year cost for the large shelter; it does not receive any tax funding, so it relies on donations — and on volunteers who come by in the afternoon to do chores, and maybe stay a little later to groom the horses.
There may be 40 rescue horses on a typical day.
Barn manager Julio Arreola is Hewerdine’s medical helper six days a week, along with veterinarians sometimes called in.
“I’ve learned a little about medicine from Linda,” he said. “And the horses make me feel good.”
The SHARE Facebook page brings in a lot of help, Hewerdine said.
Volunteer Coordinator Heide Fogal went to an open house at SHARE about six years ago.
“Horses were strange to me and I decided to learn something about these animals,” she said. “As time went on, I saw their different character. Some were aloof, some liked the personal touch and some just wanted to see how quickly you could come with the grain.”
Volunteering requires commitment. All volunteers at SHARE do the same work.
“In the heat, in the cold, one waters, hays and grains the horses,” Fogal said. “At times when necessary I helped muck stalls. I would walk through deep mud to lead horses into the barns. Sometimes you lose your boot and have a foot to rinse off.”
Some of the other chores:
“In the late afternoon, they dump and refill water buckets and distribute hay and grain to stalls and bring in about 30 rescue horses awaiting adoption, being rehabilitated or in sanctuary care. We halter and lead horses to their stalls,” Fogal said.
The horses need to reach a healthy weight, and learn to trust humans again.
They might be adopted out; the rule is that those horses can’t be sold.
“Sometimes there are horses requiring special medicines. Sometimes people will stay after chores for grooming. We hope to get at least four people each day of the week,” she said.
But Hewerdine is the dawn-to-dusk caretaker.
There are plenty of reasons she’s kept busy.
Racing horses make money, if you know what you’re doing. In one year, more than 23,000 mares were reported bred.
“A lot of backyard breeders think they’re going to make a lot of money,” she said.
Jack, an imposing stallion, is a nurse mare foal who was abandoned.
“Some of these are throwaways,” the SHARE founder said.
(Hewerdine has also taken in three dogs; one had been fired at with a shotgun 4 miles away from her farm. No cats.)
Horse owners sometimes have no clue on how to take care of their animals.
“They feed them straw instead of hay,” Hewerdine said.
Straw is not a good source of carbohydrates, and a low-protein feed. Animals find it harder to digest than Hewerdine’s mainstays, hay or alfalfa.
As much as she loves to take care of horses, she never wanted to become a veterinarian.
“Vets have to put horses down,” she explained.