Brenda Fehr of Dare to Dream Horse Rescue wants people to know that many horses being sold at auction for meat are perfectly good animals. “There’s nothing wrong with them,” she said. “They’re not old, crippled or mean garbage; they’re amazing, well-bred, healthy horses.”

Brenda, 61, one of the finalists for Horse Canada’s 2017 Heroes of the Horse Award, and her husband, Henry, run Dare to Dream out of their 160-acre farm in Langdon, about a half-hour southeast of Calgary. There, they focus on saving and rehabilitating younger animals, “the ones that need a chance at life.”

Brenda was encouraged to start the venture by Paul Mitchell, who, for many years ran a large rescue of his own in the southern Alberta town of Vulcan. Brenda and Paul became acquainted when she bought a couple of horses from him. “When I called him for the next horse, he said to me, ‘Why don’t you start your own rescue?’ It’s all his fault,” she laughed.

In the decade since Brenda took Paul’s advice, the not-for-profit private rescue Dare to Dream has taken in 300 slaughter-bound horses and given them a future they wouldn’t have otherwise had.

A Gift Horse

Henry, Brenda and a legion of volunteers work to get the horses sound and strong, then begin a program of groundwork and under saddle training. The ultimate goal is to sell the horses to loving homes, but there is no time limit on when a horse will move on to new owners. The progression from rehabilitation to riding horse might even take up to five years in some cases. “It’s when the horse is ready,” said Brenda. “It’s not a matter of getting them in and getting a home quick. It’s a matter of getting horse the skills they need.”

And when the animals are deemed ready, Brenda said she is “very picky” about where they land. “I don’t sell to just anybody. I want the best for the people and the horses.”

Some horses, as it turns out, never make it to new owners. Right now, nine horses have a permanent home at Dare to Dream. One, a chestnut mare named Charlotte, came to the rescue eight years ago, three months pregnant, extremely thin and absolutely terrified. Charlotte was in such bad shape even the auction’s meat buyers weren’t interested in her. “She was one of the worst cases we’ve ever had. So bad, if you flicked your fingers at her, her legs would buckle. It took us a year to be able to comfortably halter her. It took another year to be able to even touch her tail. We worked really hard with her. Everything had to be done way slower than normal. It was years of very hard work with that horse just getting her to understand we weren’t going to kill her.”

Despite devoted care and attention, Charlotte still didn’t want much to do with humans. Except for one. She developed a strong bond with volunteer Stephanie Tomiyama. “She will do anything in the world for Steph. She loves that lady.”

And so, last fall, Brenda gifted Charlotte to Stephanie. “It was the thing to do. It’s amazing watching them together.”

“Just Want to do What I do”

While selling horses helps keep the rescue running, the operation relies heavily on various fundraising efforts and private donations of goods and money. Brenda also earns some additional income from teaching groundwork and riding. “I wish we could save them all, but we can’t. I can’t take on more than I can feed and work with. If you’re going to rescue them, you’ve got to be able to look after them.”

Dare to Dream’s current horse population sits at about 30. Brenda said they try to keep numbers between 35 and 40, but they have climbed to 60. “That was a lot,” she admits.

Debra Little of Crossfield, AB, nominated Brenda for last fall’s Heroes of the Horse Award. Although the two have never actually met in person, Debra has considered Brenda a great friend since 2011. When health issues were forcing Debra to give up her Morgan horse Legend, many in the horse community suggested she contact Brenda. With her help, Debra found Legend a loving home. “I’ve had numerous conversations with her on the phone and she’s helped with numerous things. As far as I’m concerned, she’s got a heart of gold. I would have been lost without her. And she helped me save a horse,” said Debra. “She’s a real people person and horse person.”

The way Dare to Dream operates is certainly a testament to Brenda and Henry’s open heartedness when it comes to humans too. They aim to provide a safe, welcoming place where anyone of any age and background can learn about horses in a non-judgmental environment – at no cost. Hundreds of volunteers have come through the rescue over the years. They not only do chores and help out around the farm, “We teach our volunteers how to actually train the horses.”

Brenda is modest about the acknowledgments and attention she has received thanks to the contest. “I don’t much care about being in the limelight and that sort of stuff. I just want to do what I do. It’s nice when I do get recognized and when I know people support what I do. The horses are what is important to me.”