Meet Phyllis Elliott of Hidden Pond Equine Rescue
Compassionate, hardworking, and dedicated, as soon as Phyllis Elliott starts speaking you can hear her warmth and passion for her horses. As the founder of Hidden Pond Farm Equine Rescue in Brentwood, NH, her commitment for saving the lives of horses, in particular pregnant mares, that are destined for slaughter is evident.
A life-long horsewoman Phyllis, who turns 61 years old this June, declares that she is no spring chicken, but when one watches her clean stalls, toss hay, and perform day-to-day chores around the barn, you may beg to differ. The love of horses has carried through to Phyllis’ daughter and granddaughter, who are her right hand women at the farm. Three generations incredible women, as well as Phyllis’ husband, a part-time employee, and an army of fantastic volunteers, have gone from saving a few horses at auction to a full-fledged rescue facility in a few short years.
The Very Beginning
It all started with a GoFundMe page and dream. She laughs and states, “I may have drank a bit too much coffee that fateful morning, but for whatever reason I was feeling compelled to do more.”
After raising money from a variety of donors, Phyllis and her daughter Jessica hooked up the trailer and headed down to the New Holland Auction. This auction was not at all like the livestock auctions that Phyllis remembered attending as a small child she explains, “The kill buyers used to be in the back of the auction, and they would bid on the horses that no one else wanted. On that first trip to New Holland, I quickly realized that we were the anomaly; I saw so many fat, healthy, slick horses that I assumed were safe, I later learned that they had been purchased by kill buyers and would be headed to slaughter. I was appalled when I realized how prominent the kill buyers were.”
Phyllis and Jessica brought home four miniature horses and four ponies on that first trip, but it soon became apparent that this maiden voyage was not going to be their last. What had started as a caffeine-fueled mission trip had now become a lifelong calling for the Elliott family.
In 2014, Phyllis and a co-founder made it official, starting the 503(c) non-profit Hidden Pond Farm Equine Rescue, with the sole purpose of the program being to rescue horses and bringing them to the farm for rehabilitation so that they may be rehomed.
In her dedication to rescuing horses, Phyllis and the Hidden Pond Team often rescue horses that seem hopeless. “I look into these horses’ eyes and they speak to me, I know that they deserve more,” she explains. Sometimes this means purchasing horses from auctions that are headed to the rendering plant, other times that means pulling pregnant mares from kill pens.
Phyllis remarks that every horse they rescue is near and dear to her heart, no matter what condition they arrive in and how long they spend at the rescue. When you talk with her the passion is clear, as she tells the story of each horse with full details, making you feel as if you had lived their journey right along with her.
Steven is perhaps one of the most tragic, yet the most heartwarming cases to enter the Hidden Pond program. An off-the-track Thoroughbred, Steven ran his last race of his $82,000 career in October 2013, when Jessica met him at an auction in September 2014 he was the skinniest horse that she had ever seen. The trailer was loaded and Jessica was headed back to New Hampshire, when she laid eyes on him, causing her to call her mother in tears.
Although he was priced at only $150, the rescue’s budget was spent for the day, but Phyllis heard the desperation in her daughter’s voice. “I told her to buy him,” she says, “I didn’t know where the money was coming from or what we were going to do with him, but I knew that I had to figure that out later.”
When he walked off the trailer, Phyllis found that she wasn’t prepared for what she was about to see, “He was a literal rack of bones, he had no muscle tone at all, it had been a chore for him just to ride home in the trailer.” After months of rehabilitation and quality nutrition, this amazing gelding was adopted and is now enjoying his life to the fullest.
A Mother of Many
The Hidden Pond Equine Rescue makes an effort to rescue horses that many others may shy away from, some of these are pregnant mares. Because they require additional feed and veterinary funds, they are difficult for many rescues to take responsibility of. But Phyllis and the rest of the Hidden Pond team revel in the challenge and delight in the new lives that they help to bring into the world.
The team rescued Louise from a kill pen in Pennsylvania in 2016, she was quickly confirmed in foal when she returned to the farm. Just a few months later, her lovely foal Maggie entered the world. Unfortunately when she was born, she lacked the antibodies that are necessary to a foal’s survival and needed a number of emergency blood transfusions in order to thrive.
Maggie has become a mascot at the rescue. Talkative and inquisitive, she greets everyone who comes to visit the farm. While the purpose of the rescue is to rehome their horses, Louise and Maggie have wiggled their way deep into the hearts of the board members and volunteers, becoming permanent residents. Hidden Pond Rescue plans to develop an equine therapy program with these two amazing mares at the forefront of the program.
When Pearl arrived at Hidden Pond Farm, she was impossible to catch. Nobody could walk up to her, and she had to live in her halter so that the volunteers at the facility would have a chance to catch her. On the first evening she was at the farm, Phyllis casually threw a flake of hay into her stall during night check, and Pearl nearly jumped out the window in an effort to save herself.
The team at Hidden Pond knew that they needed to make friends with Pearl quickly, however, because she was clearly pregnant. About three weeks after Pearl arrived at the farm, they were finally able to groom Pearl without upsetting her. While one of the volunteers was picking through Pearl’s matted, dirty mane, they noticed that she was branded. The brand led Phyllis to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), identifying Pearl as a mustang that was rounded-up via helicopter in Nevada. Although the BLM has adoption records from her original owner, the trail runs cold, and it is difficult to know the path that brought Pearl to a kill pen.
Her stunning, healthy baby, named Hidden Angel, was born just over 30 days after Pearl arrived at the rescue. With consistent work and trust building exercises, Pearl has finally acclimated to the lifestyle at the rescue, and she is on the list of horses that is ready for a foster home or adoption.
Arial, another pregnant mare that they have rescued, is currently at a foster farm. This beautiful mare was feral when she arrived at the rescue, and not much is known about her history. “She must be a maiden mare,” Phyllis laughs, “she has certainly kept us on our toes throughout her pregnancy. Any day now Arial, any day!”
It started out as a dream and has quickly exceeded all of Phyllis’ expectations. Hidden Pond Farm Equine Rescue currently houses 42 horses on the property, 23 of which are rescues. Ten of the horses are Phyllis’ and her husband’s personal horses and rescues, and the remaining horses are boarders… many of which are rescues which volunteers have adopted and elected to keep at the farm. The rescue mission started out small and has grown exponentially since.
The growth of the rescue gives Phyllis satisfaction, yet scares her at the same time. “That’s the problem, there is always another horse. We rescued a horse two weeks ago and picked up another one last night. We can change the lives of these horses, but we can’t save them all,” she laments.
Auctions and kill pens are not the only places that Hidden Pond Farm finds horses, they also take in owner surrenders. “In New Hampshire, we need to have more readily available resources,” she explains. “People just don’t know who to reach out to when life changes in an instant. Many horse owners want to do the best by their horses, but don’t have the resources to care for them. I wish people knew that they could reach out to us and other rescues before they put their horses on Craigslist. Horse dealers and potential kill buyers search Craigslist everyday for horses. The risk is real. Your horse is truly just one sale away from a kill buyer. People don’t realize how quickly horses can end up at an auction house.”
Despite the growth of the rescue, funding continues to be a recurring problem. According to Phyllis, “The hardest part of running the rescue is the money. The kill pen auctions get people excited and the donations come in so that we can save them. At the end of the day though, we still need to feed these horses and provide them with veterinarian and farrier care.”
The rescue received a grant last year through the ASPCA as part of its nationwide “Help a Horse Day” campaign which has aided in the day to day maintenance of the rescue horses. Using the money for veterinarian, dental, farrier, massage, and chiropractic care has allowed the rescue to rehabilitate more horses and help them find their forever homes.
Phyllis sums it up perfectly, “Rescuing horses and adopting them out is such a labor of love. I am so happy for these horses and I am so happy to see them living full lives. But each one of the rescue horses takes a piece of my heart with me as they travel to their new homes, it is so hard to say goodbye.”
Read more about the Hidden Pond Equine Rescue and learn how you can help at HiddenPondEquineRescue.org.