By Bonny Burrows
Through her charity, Cherry Lane Equine Retirement, Libby Brown has saved countless horses from premature death. The Labertouche woman has been quietly going about her work for the past five years, taking in old and injured horses and nursing them back to health. But as BONNY BURROWS discovers, operating the “aged cared facility for horses” comes at a cost and the pressure has caught up.
“We’ve got nothing left, it’s scary. Things are really, really tough and we can’t manage on our own”
You wouldn’t know it, but just six years ago Libby Brown was afraid of horses.
She now laughs reflecting back on her past fear, however she had good reason to be scared.
She nearly lost her life to her first horse after she was thrown off while riding one day, shattering her bones.
“I was terrified of horses and anything to do with horses,” Libby said.
But a friend dragged her to the Pakenham sales in 2011 where it was decided that she needed to get a horse to reinstate her confidence.
Libby finally plucked up the courage to pat a frail, bony horse named Dolly who was 28 years old and classified as “dog meat”.
“You couldn’t do anything with her but for some reason I was drawn to her,” Libby said.
“And then we were watching the sales and I suddenly said ‘bid on the old one’.”
“I got her for about $270.”
Dolly awakened things in Libby she didn’t know about and opened her up to a whole new world of horse retirement.
“Dolly was the start of everything,” Libby said.
Flash forward to today and Libby resides on a Labertouche property and is founder and director of Cherry Lane Equine Retirement.
Described as aged care for horses, Libby and husband Geoff take in geriatric horses and provide them with a quality of life until death.
“We take horses from all walks of life, whether it is deceased estates, old brood mares who are deemed no longer useful or old riding school horses,” Libby said.
The project started out as a private venture for about five years before it became a registered charity in September 2006.
The couple’s Labertouche property currently houses 21 horses, ranging between 20 and 45 years of age.
Libby said there was sadly no shortage of geriatric horses being given up by their owners due to the demands old age brings.
She described the horse industry as “very cruel” with older horses often deemed as rubbish.
“Everyone seems to what the younger ones. A small number of people do keep their horses right through to the end but the majority do send them to the sales,” she said.
Supported by a small but dedicated group of volunteers, the Browns nurse the animals back to health through complete nutrition and love.
Visiting the farm, the couple’s success is clear, with 45-year-old horse Jayboy a prime example.
Arriving at Cherry Lane, Jayboy had no appetite and was “toothless, depressed, lonely and unkempt”.
He’s now a vibrant, loving horse with a lush black coat.
But transformations like Jayboy’s come at a cost, the couple said, because the majority of older horses had lost their teeth.
“Our biggest killer is feed – $1000 a week minimum as they can’t chew hay and grass,” Geoff said.
On top of that were medical expenses and all things required to house a horse so the bills quickly rack up.
“Owning a horse is not cheap and owning 21 is near impossible.
“We’ve had to sell a lot of stuff just to get by – motorbikes and belongings. I’m busy trying to build things just to sell to pay for the horses.”
It’s a lot of pressure for Geoff, a truckie by trade, who is currently off work following a stroke.
“But that’s what you do, you support your partner with their passions,” he said.
Still, the financial situation has seen Cherry Lane knock a “hell of a lot” of horses back, despite Libby’s desire to save them all.
“I really want to open another sanctuary but the funds just aren’t there,” Libby said.
They’ve tried fund-raising but, despite wide-spread publicity, the cash isn’t coming in.
“On Facebook, 50,000 see the post but only five donate. It’s not easy,” Libby said.
It’s for this reason she has shared her struggles for the first time with the media.
Libby tends to shy away from the limelight, instead choosing to operate through a website and Facebook page.
But sitting at her kitchen table she’s open and frank, honest about the reality she is facing.
She owes money on bills upon bills and is desperate for relief.
All money they have is spent on the horses, their personal food and expenses come second.
But the pressures are taking their toll and with Libby and Geoff unable to work, clearing the debt seems out of reach.
“We’ve got nothing left, it’s scary,” Libby said.
“Things are really, really tough and we can’t manage on our own.
“We don’t go out of our way to ask for things, but we really need help. We need donations.”
Tax deductible donations to the charity can be made at www.cherrylaneequineretirement.com.au.