The rather handsome chap in this picture is called Zippy. He is a Gelderlander, a breed of horse developed in the province of Gelderland in the Netherlands. These horses were originally bred to be stylish carriage horses, yet versatile enough for farm work, but the breed declined in popularity during the middle of the 20th century. Zippy lives at the Ada Cole Rescue Centre in Essex, one of four Visitor Centres operated by Redwings, the largest horse sanctuary in the UK. At the age of just seven years, Zippy can look forward to a long and contented life at Redwings, where all his needs can be met. Sadly, just over five years ago, his outlook was decidedly less positive as he faced a very short and bleak future.
Zippy was one of the many horses, ponies and donkeys removed from the horrors of Spindles Farm near Amersham in Buckinghamshire in January 2008. A visit to the farm by RSPCA inspectors revealed more than 125 equines in a state of utter neglect, with many close to death. The remains of 32 dead animals in various stages of decomposition lay amongst those still alive. A massive rescue operation was launched on 9th January involving the RSPCA, the police and a coalition of equine welfare charities including Redwings Horse Sanctuary. Redwings alone contributed 30 staff and 8 horseboxes to the operation. A total of 115 equines were taken away from the farm, but sadly a number of others were too far gone to have any chance of recovery and had to be put down on site. The operation hit the national media headlines and provoked outrage and disbelief amongst many members of the general public. 21 of the equines were taken to Redwings on the evening of the rescue, with the others being dispersed to a number of other sites around the country.
In June 2009 horse trader Jamie Gray, the owner of Spindles Farm, was sentenced to six months imprisonment, fined £400,000 and banned from keeping horses for life, the maximum penalty available to the court on charges of causing unnecessary suffering to animals and failing to protect animals from pain, injury, suffering and disease. Other members of the Gray family received lesser sentences. With the court case out of the way, ownership of the rescued animals was transferred to the RSPCA and other charities involved in the rescue operation. In addition to the equines that first came to Redwings, a number of others were transferred from RSPCA boarding facilities. In total, Redwings now has ownership of 66 equines associated with the rescue, although this does include 6 foals born to animals taken from Amersham.
After investing a great deal of time, care and patience into the surviving Amersham rescue animals, all have gone on to recover physically. However, many of them still have complex psychological issues and still require ongoing work from the caring staff at Redwings. Some of the animals that are physically fit, but not suitable for re-homing have been added to the popular Redwings Adoption Scheme. Hence, Zippy the Gelderlander now has a permanent home at the Ada Cole Rescue Centre at Broadley Common, where he has become a very firm favourite with visitors, and recently celebrated his birthday on 18th August. The picture shows the 16hh gentle giant with one of his greatest fans, Monika Korsak. Monika regularly drops in to the centre to say hello to her friend.
As mentioned above, Redwings has four Visitor Centres across the country. In addition to the Ada Cole Rescue Centre (EN9 2DH) there is the Caldecott Visitor Centre in Norfolk (NR31 9EY) the Oxhill Rescue centre in Warwickshire (CV35 0RP) and the recently-opened Aylsham Visitor Centre in Norfolk (NR11 6UE). Entry to all of the Visitor Centres is free, but there are seasonal opening times so please check the Redwings website for details if you are thinking of paying a visit. Redwings HQ is at Hapton in Norfolk and is not normally open to the public. It does, however, open for two special weekends each year. The next open weekend at Hapton is on 7th/8th December 2013. Again, details of this can be found on the Redwings website.
(This article was first published in “MK Pulse” magazine in October 2013.)