Tara Farm Rescue rehabilitates, educates

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Coventry - posted Tue., Jun. 4, 2013
E.O. Smith freshmen Madison Reale (right) and Alyssa Johnson lead horses Ben and Eagle back to the farm after a trail ride. Photos by Melanie Savage.
E.O. Smith freshmen Madison Reale (right) and Alyssa Johnson lead horses Ben and Eagle back to the farm after a trail ride. Photos by Melanie Savage.

It was 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning and it was hot outside. There were several cars in the small parking lot at 670 Babcock Hill Road in Coventry, home to Tara Farm Rescue. Two young women were shoveling out stalls in one of several barns on the property. One of them, Newington resident Bobbie Markland, has been volunteering at the rescue for a number of years.

“I started when I was 14 or 15, back when I was in high school,” she said. Markland got involved through the Supervised Agricultural Experience Program at Rockville High School, where students are required to do eight hours a week of service in a field related to their area of study. Markland loves animals, especially horses, so she ended up at Tara Farm. She continued to volunteer after her graduation from the program.

“I fell in love with it,” said Markland. “This place is good all around. Good for the heart. Good for the soul.” Markland continued to shovel manure from a stall as she spoke. “Good cardio,” she added with a grin.

Many of Tara Farm’s volunteers are referred through local agricultural education programs, including those at Rockville High School, Lyman Memorial and E.O. Smith. “A lot of kids started that way and stayed on,” said Tara Farm founder BonnieJeanne Gorden. Gorden has been an animal lover all her life.

“My father always loved animals,” she said. As a teen, Gorden worked at a stable. There, she learned about a horse that was kept chained up in someone's yard, “like a dog,” she said. Gorden acquired the horse, brought it home and rehabilitated it. “That was my first rescue,” she said.

Gorden acquired the Babcock Hill Road property as a young adult. “It was a disaster,” she said. In 1982 she officially started the rescue. Originally started as a home for unwanted horses, Tara Farm Rescue and Rehabilitation has expanded to include unwanted, neglected and abused cows, pigs, rabbits, chickens, goats, dogs and cats. The focus is on rehoming whenever possible.

“We rehabilitate and find them homes,” said Gorden. “That’s our mission.” There are animals who are permanent residents of the farm, such as a population of cats who are feline HIV-positive. “Those animals we try to find sponsors for,” said Gorden.

As she talked about the rescue, Gorden simultaneously handled a seemingly endless array of tasks. The phone rang. There was a fence down in the pony pasture that needed attention. The phone rang again. There was a resident in the driveway with a load of donated food to deliver. Again the phone rang.

Volunteers needed some direction regarding laying down some new stall mats. Another volunteer wanted to know where to find a particular saddle blanket. Another needed direction regarding Jasmine, a young, thoroughbred mare who was ready to begin her training.

Gorden attended to them all calmly, pausing often to speak to the animals. “Hey Buttons,” she said, stooping to pet a petite, long-haired black cat with glowing green eyes.

There are a variety of reasons that volunteers keep coming back to Tara Farm. E.O. Smith students Madison Reale and Alyssa Johnson returned from a trail ride, leading horses Eagle and Ben up the shady driveway of the farm. The pair has been volunteering at the farm for about three years, they said. They were drawn by their love of animals, “and the community here is so close-knit,” said Reale.

“It’s a good feeling to be able to help the animals have a second chance,” said Johnson.

“Even if you know a lot about animals, you learn a lot more,” added Reale.

RHAM High School junior Melissa Johnston got involved with Tara Farm through the Hebron Farmers' Market, where Gorden was offering pony rides. “This is going to be my fourth summer,” said Johnston. “I really love animals, riding the horses and taking care of them,” she said. “And all of the girls there are really nice.”

Many of the regular volunteers work directly with the animals at the farm, cleaning stalls, exercising, bathing and brushing. And with the economy forcing more and more people to give up their horses, there is plenty of need for physical labor. But there are other opportunities available.

“We desperately need grant writers,” said Gorden. There’s a need for dishwashing, cat grooming, tack cleaning and other lighter chores, “If people feel they’re not outdoorsy,” said Gorden. There is always a need for donations, including cash contributions. This winter, “We had 46 horses,” said Gorden. “People lose their jobs, they lose their homes, they have to give up their horses. It killed our budget.”

Needed items include feed, grain, and gift cards/certificates to Thompson’s Feed, PetsMart, WalMart and other retailers.

For more information about Tara Farm Rescue and Rehabilitation, go to http://www.tarafarmrescue.org or call 860-742-2215.

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