Gina McKnight, Monday Creek Publishing Author, Freelance Writer, Equestrian, Blogger, and Poet! Welcome to my international blog about horses, writers, authors, books, cowboys, equestrians, photographers, artists, poets, poems, and more horses.
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Elaine Nash is the quintessential equestrian; growing up
with horses, living with horses, riding horses, now saving horses. Elaine is
the founder and director of Fleet of Angels (FOA), a non-profit organization providing safe passage for at-risk equines from
danger to safety to save them from slaughter, disaster, abandonment, and abuse.
Residing in New York City and Colorado, Elaine oversees the organization’s
operations through a fleet of thousands of expert drivers and volunteer staff. I had the great opportunity to connect with
Elaine while she was in Colorado. We had
a wonderful conversation about equines and Elaine’s future goals for Fleet of
Angels (FOA). Elaine foresees Fleet of Angels eventually enlisting a hundred
thousand or more members. She emphasizes that there are millions of people in
this country who own horse trailers, and that she would like for everyone in
the country who has a horse trailer to register with FOA. You may never be called
to volunteer, she states, but if you are, it is your opportunity to save an
equine life. She stresses that if you register your horse trailer, and are called
and asked to do something you are not able to do, all you have to do is say no.
But, if you register your trailer, pasture, stable, or time, you will have the
opportunity to save lives, and who knows, maybe you may need a Fleet of Angels
in the future.
Elaine! Thank you for connecting! What made you decide to organize a Fleet ofAngels?
Elaine: Thanks for
inviting me! Well, I saw a lot of posts on facebook of people talking about what’s
wrong; we are all telling each other how bad everything is and I wanted to do
something about it. I noticed that people would talk about how they would love
to adopt rescue horses, butthe cost of transportation was so high, they couldn’t
afford to bring them home. So, I started thinking about how many people there
are around the country who have horse trailers parkedbeside their barns and in most cases are always happy
to help with horses in their area, or withhorses
who are in trouble. What I thought was we needed a way to connect the two –
people whohad trailers and people who
needed help with transportation.
Gina: What steps did
you take to organize Fleet of Angels?
Elaine: We are about
two years old now, and in my mind we are just getting started. We haveabout 8,000 people
participating, two facebook pages, and a website. The transportationnetworking page where people can post about help they
need with transportation. The friends ofFleet
of Angels can go there and connect and get help that way. Fleet of Angels
News facebookpage where we post things
about trailer safety, transportation issues, and things are related towhat we do. Then we have a website where people can
connect. The website has the forms on itfor people to register to be Angels, or they can make transportation
requests. Half of ourmissions have been
from our facebook pages. They go to the website and use the directory thathas transport angels, layover locations, and
foster homes to host equines overnight – horses,burros, and mules. When I say horses I mean all equines, burros and
mules included. We alsohave a category
that people can register in which is called ‘driver host.’ Sometimes we have adriver who transports horses a long distance and
needs to stop overnight and keep the horsessomewhere, it’s nice to have a place for the driver to sleep, too. We
have people who open theirhomes to
drivers to spend the night with them.
Gina: Do you have
regular assigned drivers, or are they people from the Fleet of Angels registry?
Elaine: Anyone who
is in the registry. We really have three different types of people who helpus. We have folks who
horse trailers parked beside their house, they don’t do anythingprofessional with that trailer except for haul their
own horses and they are available fortransportation.
Another category of driver who may have their own trailer, who are part-timeprofessional haulers, in between when they have
time from their own professional horseoperation,
they step in and haul horses for extra money. Then we have professional
commercialhorse transporters who are the
big guys with the air-ride trucks and trailers and that’s all they do.The rules for Fleet of Angels membership is first of
all, you have a good reputation in life ingeneral
and the fact that our horses will be safe with you, then, also, people, who
transport for us,by joining us, they
agree to transport either for free or for the cost of fuel or a significantdiscount off their regular rate. Our whole point
is just not transporting horses; our mission is totransport at-risk equines for the least possible
Gina: Do you receive
any government funding or other funding sources?
Elaine: No, I have
funded this myself. I got non-profit status assigned to FOA last year. We arestill in the process of
getting our tax exempt status from the IRS. We haven’t been fundraising atany time except from sells of t-shirts, or
anything until we started this burro campaign called theGuatemala 100, where we have been working on placing
200 wild burros in American homes.The
BLM (Bureau of Land Management) is transporting the burros to Guatemala where
they willbe probably used for food.
Gina: What is the
process to adopt a burro?
Elaine: The process
is to send me an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for anapplication. I will email
you a letter with a little bit of information in it and an application. It’svery simple, it’s three pages long, and not hard
at all. The application asks about how many acresyou have, if you have any other animals, if you have
experience with animals, who’s your vet,and
things like that. You send the application back to me and that starts the
process. We aretrying to get the burros
placed in pairs. They are already paired up with a buddy. We don’t wantto separate them from their buddy because they are
very connected to their buddy. When yourapplication
is approved, and most of them are, we will start working with on
transportation.Depending upon where you
are we will work with BLM to get the burros on a truck that is goingin your direction when they have an adoption in your
area, or Fleet of Angels will assist withtransportation
from BLM’s holding facilities to where you are. The buyers need to pay all theycan afford for fuel, but we do have funds that
we have to assist with that. In the case of sell-authority-burros, which they
are, that means they have been offered for adoption online threetimes by BLM and haven’t been adopted, they are put
into a different category called sell-authority-burros. Those burros cost $25 a
piece. If you adopt a burro through BLM, they are$125. These are very economical burros. Anyone can
purchase the burros and with the help withtransportation,
we are making it quite reasonable to transport, and you can have two pretty
Gina: Are there
safety issues to be concerned about in regards to safe passage for the driver
equines? Are there liability issues for the volunteer and how is that handled?
Elaine: It depends
on the drivers. A lot of them are professionals or semi-professionals and haveDOT (Department of
Transportation) permits, insurance, and so forth. The others have whateverinsurance they have on their vehicles, in terms
of liability they have on their own farms wouldtransfer to their vehicles, too.
Gina: Any issues
with equine health and transportation?
Elaine: Fleet of
Angels does not transport horses that do not have health certificates andeverything appropriate for
travel. They have to have their traveling papers with them, unless, it’sa situation where we are rushing to get horses
out of areas where there are fires, hurricanes,tornadoes, floods, or something like that. In those cases, we try to get
everyone with a trailer toshow up and
haul the horses out of there. General transportation requires horses have to
havetraveling papers. We have a lot of
people buying through feedlots and auctions and things likethat. We don’t handle those through Fleet of Angels,
but I did create a separate facebook pagefor
members who are not in the directory called Home Runs so that drivers are aware
where thehorses are coming from. They
are aware so that they can help the buyers with any problems thatmay arise. They may help transport horses sold at
auction to a quarantine facility or somethinglike that. They take horses home for people, but it’s called a ‘dirty
load.’ A ‘clean load’ is a loadof horses
that have all of their traveling papers up-to-date. A ‘dirty load’ are horses
fromsituations from disasters and
situations like that.
Gina: Do you have a
favorite anecdote in regards to your operation?
Elaine: Well, there
are so many. There are so many stories where people find horses that arestarving to death, or
about to be loaded onto a slaughter truck, and more. Someone may beadvertising a horse on facebook or on Craig’s List,
first come first serve, and they go get themand bring them home. They become gorgeous, beautiful and cared for
horses. We have a lot ofthat type of
thing happening. We had a call from someone about a Newfoundland Ponyorganization and they were in distress. There were
something like 26 or 28 NewfoundlandPonies
on the West coast of Vancouver Island, which is on the western most point
PrinceEdward Island. They had to be
transported to the most eastern point of Canada. We found atransporter to them to the Vancouver. From Vancouver
Island to the mainland, they had to takeferries.
They all had to be ferried then all the way across Canada, then from the
mainland toNewfoundland. That was 4,000
miles. The ponies are very rare now and Newfoundlandgovernment wanted the ponies. We have one we are
working on right now that is 66 wild horsesin Nevada that we are transporting to Florida. They are not trained to
lead or anything like that.They are
wild. They have to be hauled in big semi-trucks, a two-truck trip. We have
livestocktrucks where they can be herded
up the ramp and into the truck, stopping a few places on theway, overnight, for food and water. They are going to
be trained on a high level Parelli horsetrainer
specialist and homes will be found for all the horses.
Gina: Are all of the
wild horses spoken for?
Elaine: No. None of
them are spoken for yet. We are in the process of getting them transported.They have to first be
taken in small stock trailers to another facility from where they are now toget their Coggins, health certificates, and feet
trimmed. Then, when that’s done, which will takeseveral days, then they will be loaded in the semi-truck to go
cross-country. It is quite anoperation
when you are dealing with horses that haven’t been touched.
Gina: Wow. That’s
quite an operation.
Elaine: Well, I
think they have been captive once before. They have had their feet trimmed oncebefore. They load them in
special chutes where they are safe. The horse lays down to get theirfeet trimmed and let free.
Gina: Do you travel
to location to oversee these events?
Elaine: No, I don’t.
I am in Colorado right now, going back to New York again soon. Fleet ofAngels has amazing people
through the United States handling these situations. Last year therewas a severe flood in Colorado. Lots of animals were
lost. It had washed out homes and barnswashed
out. Fleet of Angels had almost 700 people in Colorado handling that situation.
Therewere people riding up and down the
river banks at night looking for lost equines and horses stillalive. One guy rode horseback miles up to a place in
high mountain country where several milesof
road had washed out. He had a difficult time getting in there, but were able to
get to the horsesand lead them all out
and down the mountain so they could be trailered to food and water. Therewere a lot of things like that going on. There
were people all over the place looking for horses,taking care of horses, and providing food. There were
hay drops and people providing hay,shelter,
and so much more.Although Fleet of
Angels started as more of an emergency organization for equines in trouble,we have become larger now, embracing all types
of equine rescue scenarios. Groups of peopleare involved in a lot of things besides transportation. We have a
network of thousands andthousands of
amazing people who care about horses. They are willing to do a lot of things.
Gina: What is your
Elaine: When I was
little, we had a big retired plow horse that our neighbor owned and he loanedhim to us on kind of
permanent loan for several years. His name was Smokey. I rode all overcreation. I remember that I couldn’t get on the horse
him unless he was lying down. I would getup
early in the morning and find him lying down in the field and get on him and I
would sit thereuntil he decided to get
up. Sometimes I could get him up to a fence, but he would only stand at afence head first, so I had to climb up on the
fence and then jump up on top of his head and thenslide down his neck to his back, or I could stand him
beside a pickup truck and stand in the bedof
the truck or the side rail of the truck and get on him.
I saw a Disney movie
when I was kid called Toby Tyler about a little boy who ran away andjoined the circus and sold
peanuts and took care of the monkeys until the guy who did the horseact got hurt. Toby got to take over the horse act
which this big white horse galloping around thering. Toby would jump on and off, stand on him, and do tricks on him and
things like that. WhenI saw that movie I
was about five and I thought, ‘Well, I have a big white horse!’ So, when I gothome I started practicing behind the ranch house
where no one could see me, doing all that stuff.
One day, I told my
mother to watch, and I came galloping up the driveway standing on myhorses back! I have had
horses ever since until a few years ago when we moved to New YorkCity to help my son with his acting career. I have had
an amazing life with horses; I had horsesin
my life all day every day. They are my calling now. What I do, I do for horses.
Gina: What does
horsemanship mean to you?
means partnership to me, really. To have good horsemanship one has toestablish a real
partnership with a horse so that the horse understands you, you understand yourhorse, and you do what you do together, with
both of you happy about it! Physically willing todo what you are doing; which means without fear or
intimidation. I am a big believer of naturalhorsemanship; the days of spurs, jerking, and intimidation, in my
opinion, are over. We are pastthat. To
me, horsemanship means partnership.
Elaine, for a heartwarming conversation and insight to Fleet of Angels!Congratulations on your
wonderful organization and best wishes to everyone who registered their trailer
and have a hand in saving equines.