May 27, 2024

One of those is Phantom, who is a massive horse by draft horse standards.

He’s now a Gentle Giants “ambassador” with a social media presence almost as big as he is. He’s nearly 7 feet tall at the shoulder, but Grey said he absolutely embodies the gentle giant reputation of the draft horse.

The young Shire was loved but proved to be too much of a good thing for his previous owner, she said.

“They’re known for being steady-eddies, calm, safe — really reliable trail mounts,” Grey said.

But many of the draft horses taken in by Gentle Giants have physical conditions which mean their days under saddle or hitched to a wagon are over. Or they were treated so poorly that it’s been decided they deserve a work-free future full of comfort and ease.

In those cases, Grey said they do find homes with people who have always wanted to have a horse but weren’t riders, or simply wanted a companion for their own horse.

She started out as a volunteer at Gentle Giants, and ended up adopting horses, including Drifter.

“I met Drifter when I was a volunteer,” Grey said. She fell in love with the big gelding and “went home, had ‘the talk’ with my husband and put in my adoption contract.”

That was nearly six years ago, and now Grey is the development director for the nonprofit.

Caring for all those big horses is expensive, with the feed and hay bill topping $40,000 a month. There is a team of farriers who are on the property at least three days a week to tend to the massive hoofs of each horse. That care is important, as any horse owner will tell you, and there’s a lot of truth to the old saying “no hoof, no horse.”

Among the farriers providing that vital hoof care is Juan Arellano. He started working with horses as a teenager, he said, and promptly decided that becoming a farrier was for him.

With all horses, especially the huge draft breeds, Arellano says the best way to treat their feet and handle them is with patience and calmness.

“If you’re really patient and kind of go with what the horse wants and not what you want, it becomes really simple,” Arellano said.

As he works, there’s little chatter and no pushing or shoving to get a horse to move. When Arellano wants a horse to lift its foot, he simply slides his hand along its leg, gently tickling the area right over the hoof.

He doesn’t pull but waits for the horse to take its weight off its foot, and soon he’s trimming the hoof, sizing a shoe, heating it, nailing it in place and smoothing down any rough edges with a rasp.


After each session, there’s some patting and scratches. One of the blind horses at Gentle Giants, Yoda, wrinkles his nose and lips and nods his head — a sign that Arellano’s hit the right spot.

Does he have a favorite?

“All of them,” he said, diplomatically. “Gentle Giants doing what they do, I think it’s wonderful.” He added, “I love helping out older guys in need, you know?”

For information on adopting, volunteering or sponsoring a horse, visit

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She’s also covered breaking news, education and more.