“It’s just a horse” is a phrase Elizabeth Steed hears all too often. But to the director of the Livestock and Equine Awareness and Rescue Network (LEARN), every horse is a special case, a spirit worth saving. Like Reese, the racehorse who earned $300,000 on the pro circuit before being left to wither in a field. Or the haunting Holly Grace, who was dumped at LEARN in the middle of the night, a skeleton of a creature without name or note. “Each of them has a story,” says Steed. And in the past three years, this John’s Island farm girl-turned-veterinary technician has reined in happy endings for more than 80 such tales.
Steed operated a private animal rescue for some 20 years until 2009, when she and husband Kelly were asked to take on 33 starving horses that Colleton County had seized from an area farm. Quickly establishing a nonprofit, she worked to rally volunteers and gain funding. She also needed more land to house their herd—today, 36 horses live on six neighboring farms, including 165 acres that local Joe Bartone allows them to use free of charge.
And while LEARN is currently at capacity (adoptive and foster homes are desperately needed), the organization hasn’t stalled on seeking protection for these animals and educating the public on husbandry practices. “South Carolina doesn’t have minimum standards of care for horses. Our primary agenda is to get common-sense, enforceable laws on the books,” notes Steed. This fall, she hopes to create the state’s first chapter of SpiritHorse, a unique therapeutic riding program, using the LEARN rescues. “It’s a complete circle to incorporate these wonderful souls that were abused by humans into helping children and adults with disabilities,” she says. “We can find blessings in horrible things.”