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Mena, Arkansas, News covering Polk County and the surrounding area

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Olivieri: Healing, training, helping the horses

By Ethan Nahté
Part Four

Untouched and unbroken
In part three, actor Dawn Olivieri left off talking about the beginning of recovery of a young foal named Starr. Not all of the rescued horses she has encountered have been as lucky, although the mortality rate has been low thus far.

The other potential issues range from foals being separated from their mothers or herd to the possibility that once the rescued horses have been treated and given a good bill of health, there still may be work to do to even get a halter or bit on the horse, much less a saddle for someone who might want to adopt a horse for their own.

And not all of the “kill buyers” are necessarily wanting to destroy the horses. Some of them try to auction the horses off either at a sale barn or on their own online sites. Like any business, some are more reputable and legit than others.

“What happens is they will do these round ups and they will put them in the sale barns,” Olivieri said. “People may go to the sale barn, they may piecemeal them, they may auction, maybe they’ll pick one of them in an auction. Maybe some of them get rehomed.

“But the problem is that these are all untouched horses. For the average person, a lot of people don’t wanna take that on. They’re like, ‘I just want one I can get on. I wanna get in the saddle and I wanna ride.’

“So that’s the downfall to a lot of these horses is that they haven’t had anybody take the time and wanna give them a couple buttons and even feel like they could do something like that.”

A simplified definition of a “start button” is a way for an animal to give consent to an action the trainer would like the animal to do, allowing the animal to communicate to the trainer whether or not they’re ready for the event or action to occur. It can involve something as simple as the horse, in this case, touching apiece of tack or the saddle the trainer would like to place on the horse.

There are other popular behavioral training methods such as clicker training.

Olivieri suggests at least wanting to halter train, because there is the risk that a horse that appears too wild or untrainable will be passed over at the auctions, which could eventually make the horse too expensive to keep. “No one buys them at these kill pens or at the sale barns, and it makes sense, you can’t feed all these animals consistently, right? These barns are just there to move them. Then if they don’t make it there, they get trucked to another place and then they get trucked to another place and depending on who’s buying a lot of them, right? A kill buyer will go in and they’ll go and buy these 50 head, and then they’ll take that 50 head them to another sale barn.

“Now, they may still try to offer them for up for adoption… for sale. And each time their price is increasing because it’s costing people more to feed them. It’s costing them money to transport them, to feed them all of the time. So, they’ll have 10 days maybe max at another sale barn. If nobody buys them there, you have to figure if no one is buying the animal and it’s untouched, people aren’t trying to spend the time to do [socializing or training].

Then they [go] quickly what you call the kill pen funnel. They’re on a fast track to wherever someone will take them. By that time, they’re gonna get sold per pound and they’re gonna get trucked either to Mexico or to Canada, depending on the direction they’ve been hauled.

“This is sort of the extent of my knowledge. I know people have told me that the babies, because they don’t weigh very much, they’re not gonna get much from a kill buyer, but they will go to auction. If nobody buys them, zoos will come in and will buy them to feed the animals at the zoo. If no one’s caring for these babies, they’re not getting milk, they’re not getting the proper sustenance, they do start to decline pretty quickly. If no one is there to help them or, or save them, then they get processed into feed for zoo animals.

“I don’t like that,” Olivieri said. “I don’t like that these sweet little babies… they didn’t ask for that. It rips my heart apart a bit.”

Getting healthy
One of Olivieri’s goals is to get the health of the horses back up followed by some level of being trained, then adopt them out to carefully screened potential buyers. But it is a process.

“I didn’t really realize this would be such a prolifically long quarantine because the immune systems were so low. I’ve learned a lot in this beginning of these rescues and what to do.

“They would get colds because the strep [from strangles] just opens their immune system up for other things. These poor little babies would start with that, and they couldn’t shake it.

“There’s a lot of conflicting information on how to treat strangles.” She begins a rapid-fire dichotomy of what should or shouldn’t be done. “You, you don’t use antibiotics. You do use antibiotics. You wait till a certain time to use the antibiotics. What kind of antibiotics? Penicillin doesn’t really work that well. Excede [antibiotic] is better.”

When you’re racing time to find what is going to slow or stop an infection before it spreads or begins taking an irreversible toll on the animals, it becomes stressful and frustrating.

“You’re learning all of these things and the type of feed to give them the best chance,” Olivieri said. “It’s been a trial-and-error sort of situation. But I think with the vets coming, they really helped sort of shed some light on who still needed attention, who to filter out and put into the healthy pen, who to keep into the sick pen and what to do with that sick pen, how to space the babies out enough to where once that sickness was contained, it could then be squashed.

“We pulled all those babies from those mamas because the babies were getting sick, and the mamas are so healthy and wonderful. They’re in a seven-acre pasture right now doing their thing. All of those mares appear to be also pregnant again. They were already exposed for a second round wherever they were coming from.

“That’s another part of this cycle. It’s like the ultimate Momma Baby Army where there were actually two babies here. We had to work with one inside — in utero — and one that was already outside but getting really sick. That’s the order though. We’re very close to squashing all these runny noses and all this strangles.

Training preparation
Once that is behind us, I have a trainer already lined up that’s coming and has already started halter training some of these babies. I feel like those babies are gonna be the first that we’ll be able to rehome and find good places where they can be coddled and trained and worked with from a very early age. That’s our first order of business is getting a lot of those older babies groomed and halter trained… halter broke, and then put up and available for adoption.

“Then with the mares, I may adopt some of them out that are not pregnant to start, but whoever seems heavy bred, I’m not gonna put them through that stress. I’m gonna allow them to have the babies on the property and then give them the time they need.”

They’ll have plenty of room, no doubt. The actor’s property outside of Mena is 160 acres total, but she currently has them restricted to a seven-acre pasture until health and training are under more control.

Olivieri said, “The mare, all the babies, are in separated corrals that Tarter [USA] donated. They have sort of temporary structures set up. I have temporary shelters that are up. It’s like a graduation process. We have a sick pen, quarantine pen, and then over in the next corral is the pretty healthy ones. We’re about to build another space for the very healthy ones. Those would be the ones that would be ready to be adopted.

“I’m sort of like going as I go,” she admits. “I don’t have a plan and I have never had a plan from the beginning, but it seems that the plan sort of unfolds and shares its plan with me as we go.”

Managing the ranch
In addition to veterinarians and someone to keep up the property while she’s on location for a television series, it also takes farm hands and volunteer workers.

“I have a few. I always need more, but I’m working with a pretty solid group of girls that just showed up and wanted to volunteer. I’ve put a couple of them working for me now. But really, there’s not many of us. I didn’t really wanna open it up quite yet until The Strangles is underway because everybody has to disinfect their boots and their clothes just because nobody wants to move it around. But the good thing about strangles is long as it’s not in a water source, it’ll last in the ground only like three to eight days. If it’s in a water source. It’s like three to six weeks in a water source like in a bucket or in a water tub.”

Expenses go beyond medicine and feed. There is farming equipment, fuel to operate the equipment, and the regular everyday expenses for utilities and other costs to maintain the property in addition to the donations from Tarter, Purina and Tractor Supply Co.

“Most of the monetary assistance is coming through a crowd funding outsourcing online. People will donate to my Paypal, my Venmo, we have a gofundme right now to dig a well,” she said.

“People follow this story online, and they’re everywhere, literally all over the world. People will send money from wherever they’re at and that’s how they help.
Beyond the volunteers Olivieri spoke of, she has been receiving support here in the Polk County area.

“Local people have sent checks. They end up volunteering in different ways. It’s almost like you need both of those outlets. The local people wanna help so much, but they do it a bit different. A lot of people don’t have Cash app or abilities to pay that way. I’ve had people donate feeders, hay receptacles, hay and they’ve done all kinds of things like that… and in a time where I was really in a pinch. It’s like to have the local community sort of stand up and be like, ‘We’re gonna help you out, too.’ It’s been pretty much all hands on deck in both respects.

There is a lot of potential for volunteering, as well as education outreach. Who knows, but perhaps local members of FFA or 4-H chapters might have an interest in assisting. There could always be the possibility with the proper training that some of the horses could become a therapy animal. The options might not be limitless, but the potential for growth, enrichment and bringing people and animals together is there for the taking.

“I would love that,” she said. “That’s part of the dream is that it involves the community in a way that people can come and experience what a rescued horse is like, and maybe even adopt some and realize that it’s not that hard to do. You could do that. It’s doable. If I could do 50 you can do one.”

“I think it’s just cool across the board. I think it’s great for moms and dads to bring their kids and to show them what volunteering is like and how much you can help, assist them or an effort by showing up and lending your services. I just think it’s a great way to role model — true, authentic, living in a giving manner.

“I gotta say the people that have shown up locally to help have been the most beautiful, wonderful selfless people. I’ve had families show up and build gates. I’ve had people pick up feed from Hot Springs when there was a load dropped over there. And I’ve had people help me put up fences and gates. One of my main girls, Emma, she’s a fisherman in Alaska, but she’s like, ‘It’s always been my dream to run a horse rescue.’ Now she’s one of the main women that helped me on the property.

It’s amazing to love horses and to see these poor souls come in ragged and then be getting this special food, eat alfalfa, have access to bigger spaces and then the potential of them finding a home when they literally were about to be shipped to be killed. It’s kind of an incredible story.

The conclusion (for the time being) of the Momma Baby Army story will appear in next week’s issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Meanwhile, if you’re on Instagram, search for Dawn Olivieri or Moon_Mountain_Sanctuary to see photos, videos, and lots of updates on the horses, the work being done on the property and more.

And if you’re shopping on Amazon for the holidays, you can always go the gift registry for the horses by visiting .

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