Horse lover Lynn Hummer was horrified to learn that that thousands of unwanted horses, including healthy trail horses and former racehorses, are sent each year to auction houses, where “kill buyers” purchase them. In 2005, she went online to buy a pregnant pony — saving the animal from the slaughter house — and experienced firsthand the magic of its foal being born. After that, Lynn created Pregnant Mare Rescue to save as many horses and their babies as she could. Come with us on a virtual journey to Lynn’s ranchette in Central California to learn more about her inspiring work. If you love horses, this is a podcast for you. Read more of Lynn’s story here.
SOT: (sounds of horse whinnying)
LYNN SOT: (talking to horse) Good morning. Good morning, baby.
COLLEEN: Welcome to The Story Exchange. If you thought we weren't the type of podcast to lure you in with sounds and stories of cute baby animals...
SUE: ...you’d be wrong. (laughter) But the animal story we are going to cover today is complicated and inspirational, and it has a pretty serious side as well.
COLLEEN: That's right; so let's get right into it. In the early hours of March 20, 2020, the state of California was literally shutting down.
SUE: Governor Gavin Newsom had issued a shelter in place order, to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
GOVERNOR GAVIN NEWSOM: This is a moment we need to make tough decisions.
COLLEEN: But life has a way of marching on...and outside Santa Cruz, on a hilly 3-acre ranchette owned by entrepreneur Lynn Hummer, a very pregnant mare named Mia was finally giving birth.
LYNN SOT: (talking to Mia) I think that might be the first sound I've ever heard you make.
COLLEEN: The new baby is a filly named Sophie — and she's certainly not the first horse born on Lynn's property.
SUE: Definitely not. For the past 14 years, Lynn’s run a nonprofit called Pregnant Mare Rescue.
LYNN: Everything we do is for pregnant mares, orphan babies and maybe the occasional older guy that needs a soft place to land.
SOT: (Lynn working with horses)
LYNN SOT: (talking to horse) What’s up, Jim? Jimmy Jim Jim. All right, you want to go out? I’ll let you out.
SUE: We hear the word “sanctuary” a lot these days — but that is exactly what Lynn offers these unwanted, abandoned and often abused horses.
LYNN: Once people found that I had a small ranchette and that I was rescuing horses, then the calls come in fast and furious. “What kind of mares can you take? Can you take untouchable mares? Can you take wild mares? Can you take Mustangs? How about the big drafts?”
SUE: Lynn has saved hundreds of horses and she still is — even though the pandemic is making it so, so much harder.
COLLEEN: We'll tell you more — come with us to Central California with its verdant hills, coastal climate and towering eucalyptus trees...
SUE: Stick around.
COLLEEN: Lynn is a California girl.
LYNN: I grew up right over the hill in San Jose, in Campbell, actually.
SUE (FROM TAPE): I've seen footage of what that area looked like before Silicon Valley. It was all fruit orchards. It was beautiful.
LYNN: Yes. So I grew up riding horses, being dropped off at the local stables and not wanting to be picked up until dark.
COLLEEN: So Lynn is a horse lover, but took a circuitous route before starting her rescue organization.
LYNN: I stopped college about seven weeks before graduating.
COLLEEN: Typical story...she joined a band.
LYNN: I really wanted to be big. I wanted to be Joni Mitchell.
SUE: And Lynn’s quite good! Take a listen, we have some tape of her singing.
LYNN SINGING OVER UPBEAT POP SONG: It started out small / All you had to do was call / The wait was just too long . . .
LYNN: I had a great time. It was very fun.
SUE: But the music industry is notoriously tough.
LYNN: I had two men say to me, “Too wholesome. You're pretty, but it's too wholesome.”
COLLEEN: So Lynn gave up that dream and took a job in the very new tech industry.
LYNN: I felt like a fish out of water.
COLLEEN: But when you move out of your safety zone, good things can happen. Shortly after starting, Lynn moved into a brand new office space...
LYNN: As I walked in the front door, there was a man kneeling on the floor and he was putting in baseboard. He looked up at me, and I thought, “Oh, my God, that is the most handsome man I've ever seen in my life.”
COLLEEN: To make a long story short, a few days later...
LYNN: I said, “Hi, my name's Lynn. Can I take you to lunch?” He said, “Yeah. My name is Dave. We can go to lunch.” That's the man I married. It was the cutest story, because had I not taken that job that I didn't like, I would have never met him, and we've been married 30 years now.
SUE: (laughter) This story really will, eventually, get us to some horses!
COLLEEN: Horses, yes! Well, Lynn and Dave have two children, Lynn stays home part-time with the kids...and when her daughter turns 12, they take a life-changing trip to a place called the Wild Horse Sanctuary.
LYNN: Which is north of Sacramento and northeast. Shingletown, I believe it's called.
SOT: (sounds of horse riding)
COLLEEN: It's a picturesque place — it was started by Dianne and Ted Nelson in 1978 to help wild mustangs who, to this day, are rounded up and removed from public lands by the federal government — here's Dianne.
DIANNE NELSON: During this time of the year when everything’s green, the grass is growing, the horses have a wonderful life.
COLLEEN: Visitors can hike the trails or ride on horseback — which is what Lynn did.
LYNN: We were riding all day. It was really fun. It was beautiful.
COLLEEN: They spend the night at a base camp. So Lynn, her daughter and a group of riders are hanging out — they're relaxing, starting a campfire — and the workers have put out hay for the wild horses in the area.
LYNN: And then all the wild mares start coming over. And there's a pond and they'll drink, and the babies are with the mares. It's absolutely beautiful, because you’re hanging out with wild horses!
COLLEEN: One of the wild mares approaches Lynn's daughter Jillian, who's standing near a tree.
LYNN: I'm thinking, “Oh, my God, what's going on here?” She walks right up to my daughter, and my daughter puts her hand on her neck.
SOT: (horse noises)
LYNN: It's like they made a connection, and then the horse turned around and walked back to its baby.
SUE: Oh, that's lovely.
COLLEEN: Yes, but it was promptly followed by what Lynn likes to call...
LYNN: My National Geographic moment.
COLLEEN: Apparently wild horses — wild stallions at least — are...territorial.
LYNN: All of a sudden I look up, and at about 25 yards I see this thing coming at me, and his ears are pinned, and his face, and he's snaking, like, “What the heck just went on with one of my mares?” He's just the color of copper. The sun was setting and the sun was on his chest, and it was just like, “Oh, my word.” I said, “Jillian, get up on the porch. Get up on the porch!”
COLLEEN: Jillian hops out of harm's way...
LYNN: ...and that horse came over and proceeded to mount every single mare in his harem, and the whole crowd of 18 people were like, “Oh, my God, what's going on?”
COLLEEN: And that wasn't all.
LYNN: And then he went over to the tree where she’d been standing. He urinated all around the tree. In other words, “These are my girls. You just back up your truck. Stay away.” Then all the mares resumed their posture. They went back to eating and drinking. The foals flopped down and they went back to sleep. It was so fun. It was absolutely shocking, but it was so fun.
SUE: Wow! That is such a crazy story.
COLLEEN: It is. Now, during this trip, Lynn discovered a lot about wild horses — including their increasingly precarious existence — and that caused her to take action. Here's Dianne Nelson again —
DIANNE NELSON: What's nice about sanctuaries is that people can actually come and learn about the animals and be a part of saving them, and feel part of something good that’s happening in the earth.
COLLEEN: So let's pause here for a second to talk about wild horses.
SUE: They're different than domestic horses, obviously.
COLLEEN: Yes, and of course they're this enduring symbol of the American West. Normally I'm a business reporter — I know next to nothing about wild horses — but for this podcast we wanted to spend some time researching the complicated history of wild herds in the West.
SUE: Let’s start, somewhat unexpectedly, with former U.S. President Richard Nixon.
COLLEEN: I never connected him with the environment.
SUE: Well, in 1971, Nixon signed a law to protect and manage wild horses, calling them
“a link with the days of the conquistadores, through the heroic times of the Western Indians and the pioneers, to our own day when the tonic of wilderness seems all too scarce.”
COLLEEN: Right. While his wording seems to come from a publicity sheet for a Hollywood Western, the reality of what's happened to wild horses since the creation of the federal program is...disastrous, by pretty much all accounts.
SUE: Exactly. There've been numerous accusations of mismanagement and abuse. Keep in mind, any protections for wild horses has always been at odds with the cattle and ranching industries.
LYNN: It's all about money. It's about fracking and mining, and exploiting the land and using it for cattle because everybody thinks everybody needs to eat meat.
COLLEEN: Meanwhile, the number of mustangs, which had dwindled, has now grown out of control. Wild horses are routinely rounded up by helicopter by the Bureau of Land Management and put into holding facilities. That process alone can cause substantial harm, although it's ostensibly to protect them. Here's Greg Hendricks of the American Wild Horse Campaign — this is from an interview with 8 News Now in Las Vegas.
GREG HENDRICKS: It's still a violent thing — you're running horses at a high speed into a trap with a helicopter, and so there's usually injuries and potential fatalities and it's expensive — it costs a lot of money to round up horses with helicopters.
SOT: (sounds of helicopters rounding up wild horses)
SUE: But worst of all, throughout the years, countless horses have been bought by kill buyers, who ship them to slaughter plants that are usually in Canada and Mexico.
LYNN: When I learned that horses were being slaughtered, I was really horrified. When I found out that they process them, they butcher them...it's really inhumane. It's horrific, is what it is. They are then — the meat is shipped over to China, where people eat it. It's not for dog food and it's not for glue, it's for human consumption. I was really taken aback, and I needed to know more.
COLLEEN: We'll tell you more about what Lynn decided to do, after a brief break.
COMMERCIAL: The Story Exchange is a nonprofit media company that provides
inspiration and information for women entrepreneurs. If you like what you’re hearing, check out our podcast featuring Paty Funegra, whose social enterprise La Cocina VA helps Spanish-speaking immigrants find jobs in the food industry. “Every kitchen in the country — could be a Vietnamese, or Peruvian, or American cuisine restaurant — if you look at the back of the house, you are going to find Latinos.” It's Episode 40: Changing Immigrants' Lives Through Food.
COLLEEN: We've been sharing the story of Lynn Hummer, who runs Pregnant Mare Rescue outside Santa Cruz, California. So, Sue, are you a horse person?
SUE: (laughter) Why do you ask it that way? Yes, I love horses, enjoy riding and being with them. There is something wonderful when you are riding and feel like you are really in sync with the horse. But, obviously I am not quite as obsessed as Lynn is!
COLLEEN: Right. I'm just going to admit this — I'm more of a cat person. But Lynn is like many people who just feel almost this spiritual connection to horses.
SUE (FROM TAPE): Why are horses important?
LYNN: Oh, man. They're magical. They're therapists. What dolphins are to the sea, horses are to the land. They are healers. They are best friends. They're sentient beings. I have had amazing, magical experiences out there. You go out under a full moon, and it's a different world. They're up all night. They only sleep three hours a day, which is usually in the afternoon, so they're up all night and they visit with you. I believe that horses communicate telepathically and in pictures, and if you are sending them pictures, they are sending pictures back, and it's an amazing experience.
COLLEEN: Yeah, see, I don't talk about my cat in this way!
SUE: I bet you don’t. But horses really are different creatures. And Lynn isn’t the first person we've had on this podcast whose work involves horses — a few years back, we spoke with Chelsea Harden, who runs the Harden Center in Phoenix, Arizona. She works with children and horses.
CHELSEA: The H.E.A.R.T. Center is really about using horses as a modality to encourage individuals with disabilities and special needs, to find something that makes them feel empowered, and happy, and gives them a purpose.
SUE: When we visited Chelsea at her ranch, we actually witnessed just how powerful her work is. One student — a teenage boy with autism — was very distressed and literally howling when he arrived. But when he got on a horse, within minutes he’d calmed down. It was incredible.
CHELSEA SOT: What do we do first? We have to turn through the…
STUDENT SOT: Cone.
CHELSEA SOT: Yes. Sit up tall and strong. Ready, set...
STUDENT SOT: Go.
CHELSEA SOT: Good. Eyes up. Kick. Kick.
CHELSEA: Horses are great for teaching a lot of the basic emotional coping skills. I feel like this is my purpose and this is what I’m supposed to be doing and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
SUE: And listeners, if you want to hear more, you can check out our podcast on Chelsea. It’s Episode #22: Horse Business.
COLLEEN: And, on a much lighter note, I wanted to share that as I was researching this podcast, Google, in its infinite wisdom, began serving me up ads to horse-related businesses — including — and this is not a joke — a dating site called HorsePeopleDating.com. And it's not the only one! There's also EquestrianSingles.com and DateACowboy.com.
SUE: Well, people love their horses!
COLLEEN: (laughter) Yes. So let's get back to Lynn...
SUE: ...and what happened *after* she got home from the Wild Horse Sanctuary.
LYNN: I was on the internet looking at what was going on, and I found this little pregnant quarter horse pony — very pregnant — who was $300, and she was going to ship to slaughter. She was in Fallon, Nevada. An organization picked her up and said, “Can anybody take this mare?” I hit the button and went, “Okay, now I've got a horse, and what am I going to do?”
COLLEEN: At the time, Lynn was living in San Jose — she boarded the pony at a ranch near Santa Cruz and visited every day.
LYNN: And, oh, my gosh. When her foal was born, it was just so magical. It was so fun. My kids were just so enamored with this horse and her baby, and it was such a beautiful thing. I thought, “You know what? I really can do this. I can save these mares.”
COLLEEN: She had $300 in the bank.
LYNN: That was it. I wrote my mission statement, I did my paperwork, I created my bylaws, I submitted everything to the IRS. And then I began fundraising on the internet.
COLLEEN: She also convinced her husband to move — with the whole family — over the hill to the Santa Cruz countryside.
LYNN: He's a good man. He went, “If you think you can do it, let's do it,” and so we did.
SUE: When we interviewed Lynn off-camera, she also mentioned that they made a deal — he got a Harley if he agreed to move.
COLLEEN: They bought the 3-acre property — cleared it...
SUE: ...there was a lot of poison oak on it...
COLLEEN: ...and opened their doors.
SUE: And we asked Lynn, why pregnant mares?
LYNN: I had no intention of it being a pregnant mare rescue. It was just they're so in need and they're so confused. They're pregnant, and they're thinking, “What am I doing here?” They know what a kill lot is. They smell death. They know.
LYNN SOT: (talking to horse) There she is! Hey hey hey! Come here, girl. Are you just worried? Are you just a little worried? There you go. There you go! Oh, you’re so pretty. You’re so pretty!
LYNN: When I first got into horse rescue, I didn't know any of the disturbances that were going on in the industries. The neglect and the abuse.
COLLEEN: Lynn learned that mares are particularly vulnerable to abuse during their lifetimes due to the production of an estrogen-replacement drug.
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COLLEEN: As the pharmaceutical industry discovered, the urine of a pregnant mare is rich in estrogen.
LYNN: You have a barn that will house about 80 horses, and they are made to stand in their very small stalls. So, then they put these huge bags on the back and they collect their urine all day long.
COLLEEN: Adding to the trauma — as soon as the mares give birth, the foals are taken away, often to be slaughtered, and then the process begins again.
LYNN: They usually will artificially inseminate them again and then put them back in the barn.
COLLEEN: It's worth mentioning that the estrogen drug has now been linked to cancer in humans so sales have declined in recent years. But some of Lynn's first rescues were Premarin mares.
LYNN: We raised $15,000 and brought four Premarin mares down to have their babies.
COLLEEN: There was one in particular named Malibu.
LYNN: We figured that she was about 13, which means that her first probably nine foals had been sent to slaughter, and this was the first baby that she got to keep.
SUE: Mares usually nurse their babies for about six and eight months...
LYNN: ...she nursed that baby 18 months. Wouldn't let it go, and we just let her stay with her as long as she wanted.
SUE: And I love how she describes the baby, who's now all grown up.
LYNN: Malibu passed away, but her little girl is across the street and she's stunning. She's a Kiger Mustang cross, which means that if you look at her legs, they're a dark chestnut brown, really sleek and glossy. And she's got little black lines that look like tiger stripes all the way up. So pretty. So, so pretty.
COLLEEN: Since Pregnant Mare Rescue began, Lynn has adopted out over 400 mares and foals.
SUE: Her goal is to find them all good, long-term homes.
LYNN SOT: (referring to horse) She’s a little skittish. She came off a Texas kill lot.
LYNN: Most of the horses that we rescue end up being trailhorses, companion horses. They’re great for that kind of work.
SUE: Caring for horses is expensive — all that hay...
LYNN SOT: (talking to horse) Oh, you’re finishing breakfast. Good girl.
SUE (FROM TAPE): What are your costs a year?
LYNN: About $100,000. That's the budget I work with, is $100,000.
LYNN SOT: Oh, hi, Deena!
LYNN: Deena's my barn manager, and she's the only one who is paid. Everybody else is a volunteer, including me.
COLLEEN: I checked in with Lynn recently — with the pandemic, her fundraising has really taken a hit. She’s stopped all new rescues, in part because she doesn't want to put anyone, including volunteers, at risk. She still has two mares at her ranch, with four waiting on homes. For now, she's offering new classes and workshops for kids, centered around the rescued horses and the outdoors.
SUE: Well, Lynn’s been through tough times before.
LYNN: We've survived the recession in '08, and then we had the Trabing fire out here after that, which was very, very scary.
COLLEEN: She plans to survive the pandemic, too.
LYNN SOT: (talking to horse) Hi, little one! How are you? Ooh, you’re so pretty. Did you get some breakfast? Yeah, good job.
LYNN: They just really are a treasure. That's how I feel about horses. They're the best.
COLLEEN: This has been The Story Exchange. Join us next time to hear more stories about innovative and inspirational women doing the things you’d never dream of. Or...maybe you would. If you liked this podcast, please share on social media or post a review wherever you listen. It helps other people find the show. And visit our website at TheStoryExchange.org, where you’ll find news, videos and tips for women entrepreneurs. And we’d love to hear from you, especially if you know someone who should be featured on this podcast: Drop us a line at [email protected] — or find us on Facebook. I'm Colleen DeBaise. Sound editing provided by Nusha Balyan. Interview recorded by Jerry Risus. Our mixer is Pat Donahue at String and Can. Executive producers are Sue Williams and Victoria Wang.