RVR Horse Rescue Helps Horses in Need Get Back on Their Feet
by PAUL CATALA
photos by MICHAEL WILSON
One horse has a medical condition that leaves it unable to sweat, another is extremely emaciated, while another is learning to rebuild its trust.
But the goal is to eventually have each of these horses back in shape, with a loving owner and a new lease on life.
That’s the aim of Plant City’s RVR Horse Rescue, a nonprofit organization of volunteers who work to rescue, rehabilitate, and re-home horses that have suffered abuse, neglect, or injury.
The rescue is made up of more than 100 regular volunteers, with 50 to 75 of them on weekly shifts on RVR’s 26 acres off West State Road 60. There, the volunteers care for 25 to 30 horses rescued from poor living conditions or owners who could no longer properly care for them.
During the course of the year, 10 to 20 horses find their new forever homes when they are adopted by owners with the time, means, and finances to properly care for them.
Founder Shawn Jayroe, who began rescuing horses in 2004, started RVR in 2011 as “Riverview Horse Rescue” in Riverview. The acronym RVR was retained when the operation moved to a larger property in Plant City in 2020 to accommodate growth.
Julie Dennis, RVR vice president and board of directors member, has been with the nonprofit since 2019. She owns her own rescue horse, a 5-year-old Thoroughbred named Key Largo.
Dennis says she and RVR’s volunteer staff work strictly through donations, helping with daily chores such as feeding, cleaning stalls, tending water troughs, dropping hay, horse care, grooming, hand-walking, and “just doing a lot of day-to-day care.”
“We’re not just your average horse rescue that takes in any horse that needs a home; we kind of specialize in special needs cases, those that are extremely emaciated, abandoned, and neglected,” she says.
Dennis cites some examples of RVR’s efforts, pointing out they work with various law enforcement agencies, local animal control offices, and the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services to find families that own horses and may be struggling through financial hardships so they help them care for the animals or put them up for adoption.
There is an RVR animal rescue team of about 20 volunteers who train and learn tactics and techniques for rescuing horses from various properties.
Recently, for example, RVR was alerted by officers in Hardee County about a horse roaming a property. The FDACS picked up the horse, quarantined it, and sought an owner. When no one responded, they took the horse to RVR for rehabilitation and adoption.
Through financial donations for travel costs, RVR will go statewide as far as necessary to pick up a horse if it’s possible to transport it, depending on its condition. Volunteers recently went to Baker County to pick up a horse from a family struggling financially.
“We do have a variety of programs from that side of it. Getting the horse into a new home as quickly as possible is the goal,” Dennis says.
The average stay for a horse at RVR varies, she says. She says some horses need up to six to eight weeks of stall rest and require a veterinarian’s clearance before they’re listed on the group’s website and social media for adoption.
“Some are in extremely rough shape. Mr. T, for example, was a horse who spent a year at our facility. When they come in extremely emaciated, it’s a long process. You have to slowly feed them with a special program to put the weight back on,” she explains.
Other horses that come in are often thoroughbred racing horses. RVR is accredited with Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, a Lexington, Kentucky-based nonprofit. It accredits, inspects, and awards grants to approved after-care organizations to retrain, retire, and rehome thoroughbreds using industry-wide funding.
RVR offers rehabilitation programs and works with racetracks to take in horses in need after their race days are over.
“Once they retire from the track, they need rest and recovery. But once rehabbed, they can be adopted out to homes,” says Dennis. “Then we find them a second career — a new home where they can hopefully relax as a trail rider with a new family.”
After they’re taken in, horses are evaluated and treated based on their situations. Dennis says regardless of their body condition, volunteers have an intake list of what to evaluate and then Zephyrhills-based veterinarians on-site do a checkup, going through a physical for each horse that comes in.
The veterinarians include Dr. Cindy Daniels, a veterinarian who does dental work, and Dr. Nancy Lee Bielawski, who can do acupuncture and specializes in treating horses with sweat issues. They are compensated but work with RVR to make treatments affordable and “are wonderful in working with us on the financial side,” adds Dennis.
Among the RVR services, all horses get a proper Coggins blood test, vaccinations, a thorough cleaning, and deworming. Rehabilitations can consist of follow-up X-rays, stall rest, and even special wraps for support.
Some horses may have hoof problems that call for special shoes or braces, special dietary requirements, skin conditions, or they may need specific medication or even special kinds of hay because of dental needs.
To take care of the horses, Dennis says funding comes through grants, donations, and various foundations: “We have to meet a lot of different needs. It’s just a lot of expense that goes into caring for them.”
After horses are cleared physically, RVF trainers come out and start groundwork with them to build ground trust after being stagnant.
“A lot of them have to regain trust, they have to learn again and get acclimated to things they used to do. Then there’s some with no experience of being ridden at all,” says Dennis.
Dennis says thankfully, so far this year, many horses are being released and others are up for adoption. RVR is looking for funding for new fencing, paddocks, and a new housing area to add to the three barns already on the property.
“Our hope is to expand into Phase 2 as soon as possible so we have the ability to assist more horses that are in need and give them better futures,” she says.
To learn more, call 813-833-6426 or see www.rvrhorserescue.org