Ride to Rescue: Meet the Woman Saving the UAE’s Sick and Disabled Horses

7 mins

‘Just because a horse can’t be ridden anymore, it doesn’t mean it deserves to die’ – Yasmin Sayyed, founder of horse shelter Ride to Rescue, explains why she has dedicated her life to caring for unwanted horses

Horse riding is deeply ingrained in the culture of the UAE and many countries across the world. But have you ever wondered what happens to the horses who are too old, injured or sick to be ridden anymore? Well, here in the UAE, many are lucky enough to end up at Ride to Rescue, the horse shelter founded by Yasmin Sayyed. 

Born and raised in Germany to Palestinian and Greek parents, Sayyed currently cares for 35 horses, including many who were saved from being euthanized. Founded ten years ago, the shelter was formerly based at Mandara Equestrian Club in Abu Dhabi, but it recently relocated to Ras Al Khaimah.

‘I do not agree with this idea that just because a horse cannot be ridden anymore, it should be put to sleep,’ Sayyed tells The Ethicalist.

‘Of course, it varies from horse to horse. But many are not ready to die. They can still live a happy life without being ridden, or even if they have a disability. After all, horses sacrifice their lives for our enjoyment. In the end, we are the ones who break them down. Horses have a right to age with integrity and I try to make sure their last years are happy ones.’

Sayyed has worked with horses for most of her life, including at HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s endurance stable for nine years. It was while working at a stable in the UAE that she came across her first rescue horse, Salambo. 

She says: ‘Samambo had severe motor neurone disease. I found myself being the only one who cared for him and one day the owner gave me AED500 and his passport, and told me I could have him. Many people accused me of being cruel for not putting him down. But I could see in his eyes that he didn’t want to die. He just needed someone to be strong and suffer with him until he was better. He eventually recovered and he’s still with us. After that, other people started asking me to take in horses.’

Ride to Rescue Success Stories

While many horses are brought to Ride to Rescue because they are too old to be ridden, some of her rescues are as young as four years old. 

‘One horse was brought to us after he was kept in a chicken coop for eight months. It was one of the worst cases of neglect I have ever seen. There was no air conditioning, and it was so small he couldn’t even put his head up. His legs were severely deformed from being kept like this,’ she explains.

badly malnourished horse

‘But he is now a completely different horse. He will never be 100 percent the way he was but even my vet agrees that he might get better with time. If I hadn’t rescued him, he would have been put to sleep as he wouldn’t have been deemed worth saving. But this doesn’t just happen in the UAE, there are similar cases of animal cruelty in Germany and everywhere in the world.’

Another horse came to Ride to Rescue through Tadweer, the Abu Dhabi Waste Management Centre, after it was found wandering by itself on a beach. A former show jumping horse who fractured his fetlock was another difficult rescue case.

‘When I first saw this horse, he looked 35 years old, when in fact he was just 15. He was skin and bone but now he looks incredible. He’s still extremely lame, but he is very healthy now and he loves running around with the other horses and having cuddles,’ Sayyed says.

badly malnourished horse

‘We have another horse who has had part of the bone in its hind leg eaten by a fungus. He was very skinny and in a very bad condition when he came to us. He’s really picked up now and he has a few years left in him at least.’

A second chance at life

Of course, not all the horses at Ride to Rescue can be saved.

‘We don’t spare any cost. But if they give up, we have to give up too,’ Sayyed explains. ‘Last year we lost a young horse that had very bad laminitis. But we tried everything, and we bury them all as well.’

The horses are not up for sale, but visitors are welcome to visit at any time. Yasmin also has 120 rescue cats that are looking to be rehomed. 

ride to rescue founder with her rescues
Yasmin with some of her Ride to Rescue ponies

She says: ‘When some of our visitors arrive at the Ride to Rescue stables they ask where the rescue horses are. They look so healthy now you would never know they were once so sick. But people want to ride horses. We don’t want to give our horses away only for them to be put to sleep in a few years because they can’t be ridden anymore. They also have a big field where they can roam as a family and a herd. That’s another reason why we don’t rehome. We don’t want to split them up.’

‘Horses are very expensive animals, and they need a lot of feed. Every day is a fight to stay open. People ask, why would you spend money on horses that cannot generate money or be ridden? But the horses need me. If I give up, maybe 25 to 28 of them will be put to sleep.’

Entirely reliant on contributions and the generosity of others, Sayyed faces a daily struggle to find enough money to feed her horses. 

She says: ‘Horses are very expensive animals, and they need a lot of feed. Every day is a fight to stay open. People ask, why would you spend money on horses that cannot generate money or be ridden? But the horses need me. If I give up, maybe 25 to 28 of them will be put to sleep.’

The shelter is always grateful for any financial contributions. It also accepts out-of-date food that is still in decent condition, and some vets occasionally treat the horses for free as well.

‘We’re in a beautiful area but the stables are not ideal. We are still looking for other places that can accommodate 35 horses,’ she notes.

‘We used to do a lot of activities at Mandara, but now we do a lot less. However, I do want to start doing walks with the horses as the scenery is amazing in Ras Al Khaimah. We also have riders who visit us from Dubai every weekend. Some of our horses can still be ridden by children and very occasionally by adults in a slow and sensitive way. We have tremendous financial problems, so being able to do more activities would really help. If I didn’t appeal on social media on a daily basis, it would be impossible for us to keep going.’

Previously a partner of the Emirates Animal Welfare Society (EAWS), Ride to Rescue is in the process of trying to become a registered charity.  

To support the shelter, you can get in touch with Yasmin Sayyed through the Instagram page @ride_to_rescue.  

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