Cold Winter Offers Extra Challenges For Chelsea’s Horse ‘Sanctuary’


Communities / Mar. 12, 2015 5:49am EDT

By Sarah Caouette

High above Chelsea on Beacon Hill, Deb Baker keeps 10 horses in her Hooved Animal Sanctuary. A cold winter doesn’t make it any easier. (Herald / Sarah Caouette) High above Chelsea on Beacon Hill, Deb Baker keeps 10 horses in her Hooved Animal Sanctuary. A cold winter doesn’t make it any easier. (Herald / Sarah Caouette) In the winter months, when driving turns hairy for most commuters, there are out-of-the-way roads that plow trucks don’t even attempt to climb. Beacon Hill in Chelsea is one of these roads.

It is winding and steep, and even when you think you’re getting close to the top, there’s more hill ahead.

So when the hard-working road crew of Chelsea made the decision to leave the access road over the mountain—from Beacon Hill to Brook Road—unplowed during the height of snow season, very few questioned why.

Beacon Hill is one long ice patch in the winter. Cycles of thawing and freezing, snow drifts and falls, keep most local traffic away—isolating those who have chosen to live up in these higher altitudes, during these brutal weather conditions.

Deb Baker, however, who runs the Hooved Animal Sanctuary off of Beacon Hill Road, is indomitable when it comes to braving the cold and snow. All for the sake of giving rescued animals a second chance and a good home.

Even in this frigid weather, she’s out there making sure the necessary work gets done, the horses are watered and fed, and that they are healthy and prepared to be adopted in the upcoming spring.

Of the 10 horses she currently houses on her property, only two are boarders, and the rest have required rehabilitation of some kind.

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Baker is also an investigator for Central Vermont Humane Society, covering all of Orange County, which makes her an authority when it comes to animal cruelty laws and how to educate others on basic animal needs.

Explaining how rescue animals typically end up in foster care or at the sanctuary, she said, “We do a lot of education, and in most cases people are willing to comply. You tell them, ‘You have to supply shelter’, and they say ‘Okay, tell us what we have to do.’”

Shelter can be interpreted several different ways, she pointed out.

“Say you have some cattle, some think you can just put them out in a field with a maple tree as coverage, believing that’s enough. If it’s a natural shelter, it has to be at least a thick stand of trees that can shed the elements and protect. If it’s a manmade structure, it must be three-sided, have water provided inside, and it must be large enough that all the animals get in,” she explained.

For example, if you have five horses but one horse is running the rest out of the shelter—because he’s King—then it’s not going to work.

“And now you have these collapsing barns and a piece of plywood is thrown up for support and called ‘good.’” That doesn’t work either, she said.

State and local statutes spell out how animals should be treated at all times—and also within each season. Like all living creatures, their needs change depending on weather and exposure.


When asked if this winter has been tougher on her farm than in previous years, she said “It has been about the same.” Still brutal, nonetheless.

At least this year, the pipes in her barns didn’t freeze. “Last year, we had to carry cherry buckets back and forth from the house to make sure the horses had water.”

Water and feed are highly important for animals when temperatures begin to drop. Baker tends to feed her horses double the hay they normally get during warmer periods, because it helps them to generate body heat. They often drink more water, and stay hydrated, if the water is tepid, which is also excellent for the digestive health of the animal.

Other operating costs that can creep up on owners of larger animals include the higher electricity bill to keep water heated (and pipes from freezing) and the expenses for plowing out paddocks.

Despite these obstacles, though, Baker is optimistic. She sees the light at the end of the tunnel and the potential for adoptions of her winter boarders when spring arrives.

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