Horses helped her find her way — now she’s helping to save their lives

Liz Smith and Thalia Ochoa riding on rescue horses Sid and Kesler
Liz Smith and Thalia Ochoa riding on rescue horses Sid and Kesler

A cranky horse at her aunt’s Cherry Creek ranch was the first equine Liz Smith ever rode.

Despite the horse’s nature and Smith’s age, the pairing was good for both animal and rider.

“At my aunt’s, there’s this one horse they had for me out there for years. She was a bit of a bitch to most people. She’d go crazy when people got on her back. But she and I got each other. I remember having a bad night, going out the barn, and she just put her muzzle on my hand. She understood. I’m a calmer person around them,” Smith said in an interview this week.

“For me, it was growing up and being a kid who had some issues and who kind of felt like — like I didn’t have a place in the world. But every time I went to my aunt’s place and got on a horse and was riding, I’d forget everything.”

Road trip rescue

In April, Smith and Thalia Ochoa — both with Second Chance Horse Rescue in Langley — will drive up from the Lower Mainland to Kamloops to save horses being auctioned off for meat.

Ochoa went last year and bought four horses (plus three more at an auction in Armstrong), but this is Smith’s first time at the Kamloops event. Since this is her home town, however, she knows some of the buyers.

“I don’t know if the meat buyers know who we are yet. I’m interested in seeing how it goes in Kamloops. I know one of the meat buyers in Kamloops,” she said.

Lucky was rescued from the Kamloops horse auction last year.
Lucky was rescued from the Kamloops horse auction last year.

While the auctions can involve 50 or so horses, not all the bidders have horse burgers in mind. Some people are looking for an animal for pleasure riding. Smith and Ochoa try to find out who’s who.

“We find out who everyone is and where the horses are going to end up. A lot of time people are at the auctions getting horses for pleasure. We let those ones go through. We won’t bid on them if they’re going to a good home,” she said.

“We bid on the ones the meat buyers bid on.”

Still, don’t they have to pick and choose which animals they’ll take? Smith said there’s no criteria.

“It’s not about how they look. It’s about giving them another chance. . . . The goal is to save as many horses as we can.”

They have no way of transporting the horses themselves, but they have a horse hauler who is giving them a cheap rate. The maximum they can take is four animals.

Horse health problems can take a toll

Of the seven horses they saved at those two Interior auctions last year, two didn’t make it for long. Lucky had a bad club foot that was so severe it affected the entire bone in his leg. He could barely stand and he was euthanized.

Sunny and Chance were severely emaciated and wouldn’t have lived much longer. After a couple of months of care and good food, they were ready for adoption. Sunny’s first adopter couldn’t afford the vet bills when the horse developed an abscessed tooth. He was readopted. Not long after, however, he became colicky and died.

Chance had a happier ending. He went to a home with a large family and is thriving.

Cloud was the fourth Kamloops auction horse. The paint stallion was wild.

“We couldn’t get near him when we got him. He has little kids riding him now.”

All three horses rescued from Armstrong were adopted and are doing well, she said.

Twinkie was also rescued.
Twinkie was also rescued.

With the strictly volunteer non-profit group just turning one year old, Second Chance hasn’t had much time to raise its public profile. Ochoa, 22, is taking equine sciences and Smith, 28, just finished her education and landed a job as an addictions counsellor.

Eventually, they’d like to combine the horse rescue with therapeutic riding. Not surprising, given their experiences and areas of interest. Horses can help others just as they helped her, said Smith.

“With horses, it takes more — you really have to get to know each other on a different level. There’s more trust involved. They’re prey animals.

They think whatever you’re doing is meant to hurt them. When they actually trust you and you have that bond with them…. it’s indescribable.”

To donate or find out more information: web site,; Facebook,; Twitter, @SChorserescue.

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