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A haven for horses
By Melissa Hutsell

The Oakdale Equine Rescue has saved more than 250 horses since its inception in 2011. What started with just six horses only five years ago has evolved into the Oakdale based non-profit organization whose mission is to rehabilitate, foster and find homes for each horse they accept.

Although she has always had a deep love and appreciation for these animals, Jeannine Etheridge, co-founder and president of the OER Foundation, says she “never imagined creating and running a horse rescue.” It was not until her daughter’s fifth grade project focusing on her future career that Etheridge became involved with animal recues.

“My daughter’s dream was to become an equine veterinarian, so I thought it would be best if she worked at a horse rescue.”

Etheridge contacted the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which directed them to a horse rescue located in Ceres.

After a bad experience at the Ceres horse rescue, the family was redirected to an organization in Oakdale.

“After several months of working side-by-side with my daughter and donating time, I was chosen to be a board member,” said Etheridge.

It wasn't long before Etheridge decided to team up with Lora Handley to create Oakdale Equine Rescue, along with board members Ramie Shumate and Mary Smith. And the rest is history.
In five short years, Etheridge has saved hundreds horses from neglect and abuse only to rehabilitate them and find them safe, loving homes.

“This is not your average rescue, “says Etheridge.

Thanks to donations and fundraising efforts that include fireworks stands, and benefits, the OER continues to save lives while educating the public horse care and management.

Horses come to the rescue in several different ways. The Foundation works with animal control officers from Merced, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties to seize, adopt and foster horses.

“We also help people that have fallen into hard times and need to place their horses. They trust us to find them perfect homes,” said Etheridge.

The OER has a strict adoption process that requires a one-time fee donation, check-ups, and no breed laws to ensure horses go to good, stable homes.

“If we don’t feel like it is a good match, we won’t let you take a horse home,” added Etheridge, who has repossessed horses after several months with their new owner.

Lorissa Rutledge, a trainer for the OER Foundation, helps to nurture the horses through basic training and by building trust so they can be handled safely.

“Horses are my life,” she said. “I’ve been riding them since I could sit on a horse.”

While Rutledge has been around horses her entire life, she says she is always learning.

“Each are totally different and come from different backgrounds. It can be difficult because horses that come from abusive backgrounds are shy and don’t want to be touched.”

However, she has seen many come out of their shell, “As we work with them and form relationships, their personalities start to come out.” All horses receive training lessons, which helps them communicate and be comfortable around others.

“We teach them how to follow so that they can lead,” Rutledge said.

Each horse that comes to the OER stays an average of six months, said Rudledge, but some stay for years. The average annual cost per horse is approximately $2,100. Many of the horses that come are severely malnourished, require surgeries or medication, training and food.

“Some horses come in with no handling, so we have our own trainers on site or send our horses down to Monty Roberts International Training Center at Flag is Up Farms in Solvang, California,” she said.

Both Etheridge and Rutledge said that seeing these animals come in completely defeated is the worst.

“The reward is putting the time and effort into these amazing horses to see the life come back into their eyes and be adopted by amazing families,” said Etheridge.

For example, the Oakdale Police Department will soon start its own mounted patrol with two of the OER’s rescued horses.

“The rescue horses will be out serving the public. That’s a good feeling and what keeps me going,” said Etheridge. “Rescue horses are truly a privilege to own. They learn to trust and love you, are the most forgiving horses, and are simply the best to own.”


The Oakdale Equine Rescue
P.O. Box 1980
Oakdale, Ca 95361