Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue is located in Mount Airy, Maryland, and has more than 150 horses on the property at any time.
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.
Lorin Grey started as a volunteer at Gentle Giants, and ended up not only adopting a horse named Drifter, pictured here, but she also now works as the development director for the nonprofit.
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.
Yoda is one of the blind horses cared for at Gentle Giants.
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.
Juan Arellano is one of the farriers who cares for the horses, trimming hoofs, fitting shoes and making adjustments for each animal according to their needs.
“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.
Arellano shoeing one of the mares, Keeva.
To get the horses to cooperate, Arellano uses gentle physical cues and lots of patience. He reads their body language and if they are particularly stressed, he will see if he can wait out their anxiety — or he will try again another day.
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.
Phantom is a young Shire, and a massive horse by draft horse standards. He’s now an “ambassador” with Gentle Giants with a social media presence almost as big as he is. He’s nearly 7 feet tall at the shoulder.
Blue Bonnet is a Percheron Mule who loves to check out visitors — and see if a treat might be offered.
Lorin Grey with Gentle Giants holds Keeva during the shoeing process. That smoke is from the “hot shoeing” process.
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?”
One of the rescued draft horses at Gentle Giants enjoys a leisurely walk on the 300+ acre property in Mount Airy, Maryland.
For information on adopting, volunteering or sponsoring a horse, visit GentleGiantsDraftHorseRescue.org.
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