Beginning as a modest endeavor, the horse rescue run by RUTH AND DAVID WARONKER is one of the largest in Kentucky

Known as a “power couple,” Ruth and David Waronker are the directors and owners of BraveHearts Equine Center, the largest equine rescue in Kentucky. Ruth’s passion for horses started as a child, but horses became a part of her life in her 20s. For her 30th birthday, David gifted Ruth her first horse, a Trakehner named Madison.

After having children who also shared their passion for horses, the Waronkers relocated to Arizona to live on a farm of their own. “Dreams do come true,” Ruth reflects. Witnessing the plight of neglected horses and the grim reality of horse slaughter ignited their desire to help. “Seeing horses in need, malnourished, and desperately needing a good home, we began to rescue horses and bring them to our farm,” she explains. What began as a modest endeavor gradually evolved into BraveHearts Equine Center, driven by the persistent desire to save these magnificent animals.

BraveHearts intervenes to rescue horses from the grips of abuse, neglect, and the horrors of slaughterhouses. Abandoned by their previous owners, these equines are purchased from kill pens. Currently, BraveHearts provides sanctuary to 132 animals, including horses and donkeys, with a notable population of Belgian draft horses. Ruth and David hold a deep affection for these gentle giants, stating, “They work so hard for so many years only to be thrown away like an old tractor when they are too old or sick to pull the plows.” Erica Bivens, the philanthropy director and public relations specialist, sheds light on the grim reality: horses dumped at kill pens that end up at BraveHearts come with mental and physical scars that their team works diligently to heal. “We’ve seen cases of severe malnourishment, hooves that have been neglected, permanent scars on their bodies from years of hard labor, not to mention the trauma of being abandoned after they’re no longer able to work. Their road to recovery isn’t easy or fast. It takes time and consistent effort,” She says.

For animals too sick, injured, or old to be rehabilitated or rehomed, the center becomes a sanctuary where they can live out the rest of their lives.

Animal handler Tammi Raegan works with younger rescues to prepare for adoption. In 2023, nine horses found new homes from BraveHearts. Seven horses were donated to a California-based veteran and service organization that assists in human healing alongside rescued horses. BraveHearts also has a mentoring program for veterans and their families. Erica reflects, “It has been moving to see what a horse can do and how they can have such an impact on people, and part of the goal is to see what a horse can do for others, not just what we can do for them.”

Remarkably, BraveHearts has amassed a global following through social media, with about 75-80% of donations for purchase and transportation of new rescues sourced from these supporters. Erica highlights that sharing the transformations of rescued horses motivates donors who witness the impact of their contributions. In instances where a horse’s condition precludes rescue, BraveHearts facilitates a compassionate “last happy day,” ensuring quality care and humane euthanasia. The day-to-day operating costs of the farm are financed by the Waronkers.

David and Ruth ardently hope for widespread awareness of rescue needs and urge support for legitimate horse rescues. Dedicated to making an impact, they endeavor to create a world intolerant of equine neglect and abuse. Their commitment extends to fostering the next generation of equine advocates through a scholarship program at the University of Kentucky for aspiring equine science students. Despite challenges, David finds solace in visiting the horses at BraveHearts. “It is so encouraging when I visit our farm and see how the horses have prospered,” he says. Ruth reflects with pride on BraveHearts’ mission, “it is such an honor for us to give horses the retirement they deserve.”

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To read the entire May/June issue of EQ Living, click here. To learn more about and stay updated with BraveHearts Equine Center, check out their website.