Newsletter Spring 2011

Hari and Hannah

Starving donkeys had eaten fence posts

These were the headlines in the Sligo Champion of 23 March 2011. They referred to the court case of J.P. Curley of Culleens, Co.Sligo and the donkeys are Harriet, Hari, Hannah and Hepzibar who came to us through the ISPCA on February 4th 2010, and two more donkey mares and a horse which were removed at the time, direct to the ISPCA shelter in Co. Longford.

Judge Kevin Kilraine said the animals had been starved: they had been “given nothing but snow and frost and the bark off trees” and he remanded Mr Curley in custody for a few days “to bring him to him senses” prior to sentencing.  

Mr Curley  agreed that the horse was “a biteen thin” but that the other animals were in “fair form”. He blamed his then 14 year old son for not looking after the animals as he claimed he was “unwell”. A more recent suggestion that he may have been suffering depression following a “hate mail” campaign (now a subject of Gardai investigation) has resulted in the case being adjourned until September 22nd. We will keep you posted!

Hari and Hannah


Pharoah was the first to join us this winter, his arrival from Co. Wicklow delayed for several weeks by the unusual amounts of frost and snow. It seemed every time his journey was arranged there was a fresh fall of snow either here or on the Wicklow mountains. Finally, early in January, he arrived, delivered by his owners who were forced to part with him through no fault of their own.


At 21 years old Pharoah was persistently lame after being ridden, not good news when he was being kept in a half-livery situation where he needed to work. The veterinary prognosis was not good and his owners were advised towards euthanasia.

Reasoning that he could not possibly kill this beautiful animal who had so carefully looked after his three daughters for the last ten years, Pharoah’s owner embarked on a search for a retirement home for him. After drawing several blanks he contacted us, and thankfully did not baulk at us being situated on the opposite side of the country!

After a long journey with delays due to a puncture on the trailer Pharoah was naturally a bit out of sorts for a day or two but we noticed he was whinnying constantly to our neighbours ponies, a grey mare and our fostered albino mare.  He was even shouting to a white cow in the distance.  A chat with his ex owner revealed that Pharoah’s best friend in the livery yard was an albino pony!  Luckily for us our neighbours had already fallen in love with this magnificent animal so it was a universally beneficial decision to move Pharoah down the road to live with grey mare Lily, her foal Nutty and our sweet natured albino pony, Fairy.  

Pharoah was delighted, settled in brilliantly and now sees himself as the patriarch of HIS little group!  Equine chiropractor David Focardi checked him out and found no worrying musculo-skeletal problems so maybe, come the summer, he will be able to enjoy some very light hacking with the other ponies. If not, he can remain shoeless, fancy free and fully retired!



For many weeks, all through the bad weather, we were feeding an abandoned pony mare 17 kms away.


It seems she was turned out on exposed bogland and left to get on with it. The owner of the land complained to the Gardai, the Gardai asked the owner to remove the animal, and the owner relinquished all rights to the pony, saying he didn’t want her and to take her away. The Gardai asked us to collect her and take her into care.......and then the fun started!

Our first approach met with teeth and heels from a very defensive, timid pony, explaining all too well why she wasn’t wanted. We figured she was more suspicious than actually frightened so over the next four weeks we returned each day with food and kind words until SaiSilver, as we called her, (she is a cobby pony standing around 12.2hh and coloured white with grey patches) began to trust us and would let us stroke and scratch her head, neck and sides.  The rear end still swung round if we overstepped her boundaries but finally we chanced taking the horse trailer one day in February and were very surprised when she loaded herself without a bother.  

She has settled now with the smaller ponies, Candles, Molly, Cobby, Mini Mo and Jetsie and is becoming daily more friendly.  What we hoped was a ‘worm belly’ looked much the same after dosing, even though she expelled a heavy worm burden, so we are hoping against hope there will not be yet another arrival early in the summer!



Because Bobby, at the age of 35+ has almost no teeth, we took him out of the small pony group to be on yard duty where he could be fed small amounts of hard feed at regular intervals and boss us all about in his lovable self important way. He liked the grub but was lonely for the other ponies (donkeys were considered inferior company!) so when the Gardai called us to pick up two miniature pony mares who were running loose in a housing estate, Bobby decided he would take charge and moved in with them, an arrangement which seems to suit all.

Aria and Aywa 

The two little ones, Aria and Aywa, were friendly and curious but extremely timid, spooking wildly at the slightest movement to disappear up the field in a flash of miniature flying muddy hooves. Bobby’s grandfatherly influence quietened them and give them more confidence, so in just a few days they were already coming for attention and allowing their heads to be stroked and scratched.  Aywa, though the smaller of the two, is bolder, though Aria is probably the more friendly.

After the bigger horses and ponies and some of our giant donkeys it is a bit like having two animated toys around the place!  We have a long way to go before they can be easily handled but ultimately we hope to find them the perfect foster home.




Late in November Amy, Zachariah and Lennie joined two other donkeys in one of our existing foster homes in County Leitrim. Here they had the space to remain either as their own little herd of three, or join up with the existing two and it seems they chose the best of both worlds. By day they choose to be all together but at night they take themselves off into different sheds, the ‘new guys’ taking over the newly built block shed and the older residents sticking to their original quarters.  It is a very safe, quiet spot with beautiful views, loads of shelter and their own lake. No doubt they realise they have landed squarely on their hooves!

Zachariah Lennie and Amy








Left: Zachariah
Right: Lennie and Amy



On November 24th and 25th we made the trip to North Donegal just as the first snows of winter began to fall, to deliver Shetland pony Harry to his new foster home in Glen and to check on donkey Alaska at Carrongart and Exmoor pony Brandy at Quigleys Point. Alaska and Brandy had both travelled up to their respective foster homes a couple of months earlier (see Autumn Newsletter 2010 here).

HARRY, who thinks he is a Shire, was placed with a desperately lonely 15.2hh skewbald cob gelding called JAZZY and despite the huge difference in their sizes, it was love at first sight.

Harry and JazzyIn Harry’s eyes he had finally found someone his own size and Jazzy was so excited on meeting another pony of any size he tried to jump the five barred gate from a standstill and landed halfway -  to the consternation of us all.

Fortunately he was eventually peeled off the gate with no harm done. Within a few hours he and Harry were sharing a haynet as if this is what they were born to do.  Apart from providing food and water we humans had no further role to play as it appears the two have become inseparable.

Harry and Jazzy




We found ALASKA grumpily dreaming of his release from the stable where he had been kept in for the morning awaiting our “inspection”. Although quite obviously in excellent health and condition his humour was deeply tarnished, so it was with great joy we watched him bolt out of the opened door and gallop full speed down the field to greet his two new horse friends. They nuzzled and cuddled as if they had been parted for weeks instead of hours, all equally delighted to be reunited. Another happy homing!  

We also thank Alaska’s fosterers for their warm Donegal hospitality.






BRANDY too, is equally happy with his new situation, companioning an elderly Shetland pony who loves him to bits. They have separate adjoining stables although they would happily share.

Most importantly, Brandy has the warmth, shelter and knowledgeable care that he needs to manage his arthritis and laminitic problems and he looks magnificent. In fact when he first spotted the horse trailer he refused to come and speak to us, we think for fear we were going to take him away again! There is no doubt he enjoys his 5-star treatment.




The Old Brown Horse

The old brown horse looks over the fence
In a weary sort of way.
Mr HorseHe seems to be saying to all who pass”
“Well folks, I’ve had my day -
I’m simply watching the world go by
And nobody seems to mind,
As they’re racing past in their motor-cars,
A horse who is lame and half blind.”

The old brown horse has a shaggy coat,
But once he was young and trim,
And he used to trot through the woods and lanes
With the man who was fond of him.
Now his master rides in a motor-car
And it makes him feel quite sad
When he thinks of the days that used to be
And all the times they had.

Sometimes a friendly soul will stop
Near the fence, where the tired old head
Rests wearily on the topmost bar,
And a friendly word is said.
Then the old brown horse gives a little sigh
As he feels the kindly touch
Of a hand on his mane or his shaggy coat,
And he doesn’t mind so much.

So if you pass by the field one day,
Just stop for a word or two
With the old brown horse who once was young
And as full of life as you.
He’ll love the touch of  your soft young hand
And I know he’ll seem to say,
“Oh thank you, friend, for the kindly thought
For a horse who’s had his day.”

W.F. Holmes (English Poems for Kids and Children)

A tribute to Mr Horse who left us on Dec 23rd, 2010



Mowgli On 3rd March, we were delighted to meet Mowgli when he was delivered to us from Kells, in Co. Meath.  

Mowgli is a 12.2hh, 22 year old grey gelding pony who was homed into a riding school when his little six year old ower/rider died tragically of cancer.  Shortly afterwards, Mowgli started to go lame on one shoulder with suspected arthritis, which of course, rendered him useless for the work of the riding school. The next family visit to check on his well being found him alone, tied up in a dark barn and looking very sad, not at all the happy picture the family wished to remember of their beloved pony.

After a distraught and very poignant email to us, arrangements were soon in place to retire him here.  He arrived on a stunningly beautiful day with brilliant sunshine, blue skies and almost no wind - and went in search of the muddiest patch he could find in the field where he rolled and rolled and rolled!  

Having rearranged his colour scheme to his satisfaction he settled down to eat as if he’d lived here all his life. He’s a delightful pony with a lovely temperament who is sure to woo many a young visitor into parting with love and cuddles.  Although on the thin side on arrival he has improved greatly already with a bit of careful extra feeding. He has had his hooves trimmed and expects a visit from the dentist any time now!




The unusually good spring weather in early March gave us a long awaited opportunity to do some overdue work to the land before winter returned again in the middle of the month.  One particularly dangerous swampy area has been dug out, the underlying iron pan layer broken and the remaining mix of soil broken up, mixed with gravel and replaced in the hopes that, once settled, it will drain better.  If all else fails we can fence the area and plant trees as at least we stand a chance of getting into the soil with a spade now!

We have also reconstituted the old road that runs up the side of our newly acquired 10 acres alongside our old boundary to the bottom field.  This ‘road’ is still used as part of the historic trail walks but was so unbelievably muddy it was virtually impassable for most of the year.  So apart from providing ourselves with a hard surface on which the animals can travel and stand, and access to the lower reaches of the field should we ever need to get in with equipment (eg. to reach a sick or injured animal), walkers on the trail to Carrowkeel can at last enjoy a drier stretch!

We have many gateways to create throughout the summer, fences to repair and replace, stone walls to rebuild and shelter belts to prepare ready for winter planting, so it looks like being a busy summer. even with valued volunteer help. Let’s hope for a good summer!




Dee and Matlida


Early in November we were asked by Dee if she could come and stay for a while to offer her services on a voluntary basis and I am VERY happy to say that she is still here!  Although she spent much of her childhood on a farm, life took her to many parts of the world over a period of several years before Dee finally settled back in Ireland, hopefully to stay with the donkeys, which she loves with a passion.

We hope her time with us at the Sai Sanctuary will be happy and fulfilling.







On 7th March we heard from the ISPCA that Sienna has finally had her foal - a chestnut colt with a  white star. We hope they will eventually be placed in good homes, as was Blue, who has turned out to be a real gem of a pony.  

Their mother, a skewbald Shetland type mare is probably coming  back to us as she is temperamental and therefore deemed unrehomable. We expect her soon and keep fingers crossed we can manage her “little ways” as the alternative is unthinkable.



Matilda and Clem

For the past 4 years we have had an ongoing saga with a local small-time dealer who keeps donkeys and ponies on waste-land and other people’s land and who is known as a ‘poor feeder’. In other words he feeds his animals just enough ( or in most cases allows other people to feed them on his behalf!) to keep their condition just inside of the welfare requirements, yet far from well fed.

This winter has been no exception. The Sai Sanctuary, the Donkey Sanctuary and the Gardai have all received many calls about the condition of this man’s livestock but because of the inadequacy of our animal welfare laws here in Ireland, we were unable to confiscate any of these animals.

Consequently, sooner than see them  struggling in one of the hardest winters on Ireland’s meteorological records, we have monitored and, when necessary, fed seven donkeys and three ponies belonging to this man, for most of the winter since December.

Eventually he was persuaded to remove one donkey mare and her underweight foal from the main herd as she was constantly being pestered by the big jack stallion, which also kicked and bit the foal.  They were placed in the back garden of an old derelict house about 16km away but we have continued to visit them daily and can finally report improvements in their demeanor and their general condition though Matilda remains feisty!

It’s a frustrating and heartbreaking situation as we know that long term, nothing has changed in the way this man will continue to treat his animals. We even found a buyer for the mare and foal but he declined to sell, as he clings to the idea that he will eventually sell them for the huge money he paid for them 4 years ago!!  We have made a commitment to the animals to continue to do our best for them under difficult circumstances and at the moment, unfortunately, that’s as much as we can promise.



To Chris Bowyer, dog trainer (One2OneDogs), who ran a Fun Dog Show at her premises in Banada, Co. Sligo, during October, raising a phenomenal €800 for the Sai Sanctuary.  

Chris BowyerChris herself put in an enormous amount of effort organising the event and running it on the day and we also wish to thank all her willing helpers and caterers (there was a mountain of food!), all who took part on the day, all who donated financially and all who sponsored prizes, especially Ardcarne Garden Centre for two €100 vouchers, Voya of Strandhill for 2 Seaweed Bath vouchers, Avenir Design for a €75 voucher for Cannings Garden Centre in Sligo and Chris’s son Derek who generously donated a  DVD player, 2 boxes of champagne, 2 boxes of wine and a box of chocolates to give as prizes.

Dog asleep


We were phenomenally lucky with the weather, enjoying a warm, dry, sunny day - a real bonus so late in the year.

Chris Bowyer





Thanks go yet again to Diane Keevans and Steve Furlong who continued to fundraise on a regular basis with Church Gate Collections, disco gigs and the sale of Christmas cards and calendars raising well over €1500 in total since our last newsletter.

Thanks to all the fundraisersTo MaryTaheny and her friend Catherine who continued with Church Gate Collections raising in excess of €600.

To Inge and Elke for the sale of Christmas cards and many donations of carrots and apples, and to Joy Brett for her intentions to collect for us on Wren Night, a plan which the bad weather ultimately ruled out.

To Tom and Mary Latchford of Galway for a van load of the best hay in Ireland , carrots and apples for the four-legged people and a pair of warm boots and jars of homemade jam and preserves for the two legged people.

To Joseph Quinn and family for a van load of a very close second-best hay in Ireland, bags of carrots and apples and horse nuts! plus a generous donation which takes advantage of the Revenue Commissioners Tax Relief Scheme for Charities and Approved Bodies To Peter, Marie and Hannah Wortmann of Galway for their fundraising to the sum of €150.

To Peter of Gurteen who took in two unwanted ponies and gave them a wonderful home and to  the many, many others who have supported us in so many ways.

Special thanks go to Lizzie and Kim who visited from UK for a week in March to give ‘yours truly’ a chance to take a break - SO much appreciated!

Please remember you are at the hub of the wheel - we can do little without you! and never needed your support and encouragement more than right now, in the middle of Ireland’s most serious equine crisis..




AggieAlways amidst the joy of doing this work there are losses, this time dear blind AGGIE, our irrepressibly affectionate elderly donkey mare, and later, on the evening prior to Christmas Eve, old MR HORSE, who had been fostered as Fairy’s companion by our near neighbours, since his arrival in December 2008, when he was found injured and emaciated wandering the back roads in the ice and dark.  

Mr Horse



Both animals were ancient and not in the best of health, but both were loved dearly and it was hard to say goodbye.


Aggie(left) and Mr Horse (right)



Late in January we had an even tougher parting when our wonderful labrador, WALLY, went spirit side with an aggressive cancer that only became known to us late in November. As one friend put it “to lose the donkeys and the ponies you have looked after and nursed for so many years must be hard, but to lose a dog who has shared your house and every minute of every day is even harder.”  Thank you Elaine: that sums it up beautifully.  



Wally was one of those special dogs who touched the hearts of all who met him. He adored children, old people, people with disabilities, other dogs......everyone....and gave freely of his love to all.


His only problem was with the donkeys: he was afraid since six of them returned his chase by chasing him instead!


More images can be seen - here




We were delighted to be approved by Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mr Brendan Smith TD, for a payment of €8000 to our organisation in recognition of, and as a contribution towards, animal welfare activities in the forthcoming year. Mr Smith made a special plea that any animal welfare organisation with the capacity to deal with larger animals should consider helping to promote equine welfare: such is the severity of the equine crisis in Ireland, particularly with the larger horses.

In order to bring this situation under control the Department itself is increasingly involved at many levels, particularly in dealing with some of the larger breeders and dealers and it is gratifying to know the intent to control the volume of unwanted equines is being taken seriously. As welfare people we would welcome more stringent controls on registration and movement of animals as it is our opinion that it is imperative for owners to be traceable and held responsible for their actions.  At present it is still far too easy to opt out of ownership with the usual result that welfare charities end up footing the bill. Those who know them understand how fully a horse can hold a human heart.

Previous  |  Index  |   Next