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HiCaliber Horse Rescue saves horses, transforms the lives of its volunteers

Living in a rural community affords its residents many luxuries, including having horses on larger properties. It’s not uncommon to have folks riding their horses on the weekend, or to have children grow up familiar with the beautiful animals. However, not all horses are treated with dignity − some are mistreated, intentionally or unintentionally, and suffer tremendously for the majority of their lives. For some of these animals, the end of the road is the slaughterhouse. However, HiCaliber Horse Rescue in Valley Center has stepped in to stop the unnecessary abuse and slaughter of these beautiful animals.

It all started with Michelle Cochran, the executive director and founder of HiCaliber. Having worked with various forms of law enforcement and animal control for 17 years, Cochran saw the unnecessary euthanization of animals and decided to be part of the solution. She helped start several nonprofit pitbull rescues and advocacy groups, It’s the Pit’s and Even Chance.

In 2002, Cochran obtained a racehorse named HiCaliber Americana.

“[Cochran] bought HiCaliber for $50,” said Romney Snyder, president of the board of directors at HiCaliber. “She didn’t know much about horses, but for 11 years, she worked as an individual and rescued horses out of her own pocket.”

In 2013, a massive horse neglect case in Nevada came to light, and a high number of neglected, sick and dying horses needed to be rescued. HiCaliber Horse Rescue came to the rescue. In order to rescue more horses, HiCaliber became an official nonprofit in 2013. Its board of directors also includes West Coast Equine Medicine owner Daniel Grove of Fallbrook.

Since December, HiCaliber has been able to save every horse that has gone for auction to be slaughtered.

“We are the most active horse rescue in the nation,” said Snyder. “We have such an absolutely incredible village here.”

HiCaliber’s ranch provides refuge to more than 100 rescues. The barn usually plays home to horses who are being treated for various injuries or more severe rehabilitation cases. Adjacent to the barn is an arena and round pen, where most of the horses’ preliminary evaluation takes place.

The HiCaliber property includes multiple residences, allowing Cochran and other members of the crew who assist in the day-to-day support of the rescue herd to live there. Residents pay rent to the rescue, which in turn allows the rescue to use the property rent-free.

HiCaliber works hard to be transparent with every element of its rescue.

One element that significantly differentiates HiCaliber from other rescues is that it does not shy away from the fact that some horses are so injured or ill that they might not recover after rescue. However, because every horse should feel loved and cared for during its last moments, HiCaliber has a special team to make sure each horse feels loved before it is humanely euthanized.

“For a few weeks, those horses know love, instead of being carted off to slaughter in horror,” said Snyder. “We are not scared of scrutiny. The reality is that these horses are dumped at the meat auction, and being saved from pain is still a rescue.”

Snyder stated approximately 10 percent of horses rescued require humane and compassionate euthanasia.

“Our compassion team is specially designed to love these horses,” she said.

This does not mean that horses that are significantly ill aren’t fought hard for. HiCaliber works with San Luis Rey Equine Hospital and West Coast Equine Medicine to treat horses to the best of their ability. That means that veterinary bills might be approximately $12,000 a month.

“They provide incredible care, and we are thrilled with the care our horses have gotten,” said Snyder.

On its Facebook page, HiCaliber volunteers place up to date information about each horse that has been rescued.

“Buying the horse is the cheapest part [of horse rescue],” explained Snyder. “We raise about $650 over the cost of the purchase of a horse.”

Those funds are then used to give horses immediate emergency care, which may include ferrier work, gelding, and pregnancy checks. For some horses, foster families for the horses step in and house them. Other horses spend time at the 16-acre ranch in Valley Center, and are loved upon by the 250 HiCaliber volunteers, some of whom are Fallbrook residents.

“We welcome everyone of all experience levels from ages 6 and up,” said Snyder. “Some might need to be supervised, but we know this is the next generation of rescuers. Volunteers can muck stalls, or groom horses. Even people who are afraid of horses come. We have one volunteer who simply uses the weed wacker. Senior volunteers can read and be near horses who have been abused, allowing the horses to see that not all people are going to abuse them.”

Those who live too far away to volunteer physically can help run social media, or answer emails. Others choose to donate their funds, while more experienced volunteers may even sign up to help test the horses’ abilities to have riders.

“We have no idea of these horses’ background, and these brave folk test them for us,” said Snyder. “They put a few miles on the horses, which allow us to find a place for them.”

With few exceptions, all HiCaliber rescues have a minimum of 30 days of training before being adopted. HiCaliber’s goal is always to move horses into herds whenever possible. Often, the chance to just be a horse is a critical component to their rehabilitation, said Snyder, who said that each horse’s rehabilitation varies.

“We had one horse, Jelly, who was no-nonsense and dead broke, to the point our rider could eat a burrito on his back. He was out within two weeks,” said Snyder. “Then we have Pumpkin, who we rescued with 24 other horses on Valentine’s Day 2015, who was dealing with injuries and was starved. She just needed time to be a horse, so she was just put in pasture. When she was test ridden, we found she had issues that would not allow her to carry a rider. We determined she was meant to be a pasture puff.”

Snyder invites those interested in HiCaliber Horse Rescue to see what happens on a regular basis at the ranch.

“As a rescue, we want people to walk with us, and cry with us,” said Snyder. “We don’t play pretend, and don’t sugarcoat anything. We are a rescue at its most real.”

For more information on HiCaliber Horse Rescue, go to or go to their Facebook page. For those interested in touring or volunteering at HiCaliber Horse Rescue, email [email protected]. For those interested in fostering horses, email [email protected]. For those who want to adopt horses, email [email protected].


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