Days end

Erin Ochoa, left, with "Jinx" and Kathy Howe, right. Howe is founder of the Days End Farm Horse Rescue, and recently retired from that post. Ochoa, left, is now the organization's executive director. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun / December 2, 2013)

When Kathleen Howe first laid eyes nearly a quarter-century ago on a skeletal horse named Toby, compassion welled up from deep inside her.

The buckskin quarter horse — which Howe described as "a rack of bones" —  lived on a farm where her 7-year-old son with learning disabilities was taking his first riding lessons.

So intense was her reaction to the animal's plight that Howe, a resident of Pasadena, did what came naturally, despite knowing precious little about horses. She took Toby in.

What began as an outgrowth of a mother's desire to connect with her son through a shared love of horses has evolved into Days End Farm Horse Rescue, an equine rescue, rehabilitation and education operation in Woodbine that is nationally and internationally known.

To pay tribute to Howe's accomplishments as founder and executive director upon her recent retirement, A Red Carpet Holiday Celebration will be held Saturday, Dec. 14, at Turf Valley Resort in Ellicott City. In September, Howe turned over the reins to Erin Ochoa.

More than 1,800 horses have been saved through Days End since it opened its doors in 1989. Its annual operating budget has climbed to $1.2 million, and staff members have traveled as far away as Haiti to share their expertise.

Just last month, Days End sent an emergency team to Spokane, Wash., to assist with 63 malnourished horses seized by animal protective service authorities there.

The organization's success has spawned growing pains, which in turn have Days End's board of directors thinking about expanding capacity by adding a second location somewhere in Maryland.

"I felt like the farm was doing so well and that we have such a phenomenal staff and great board that it was the perfect time for me to retire," said Howe, 62, of her decision to step down.

"Besides," she said jokingly, "I'm getting old!"

When Howe observed the special affinity her son, Shawn Schwartz, showed for horses in the summer of 1989, little did she know what would result from encouraging that interest. Toby became the first of many horses saved by Howe and her first husband, Allan Schwartz.

The couple brought Toby to Days End Farm, their 10-acre property on nearby Frederick Road, and by November had tacked on "horse rescue" to the farm's name and started their nonprofit organization.

After an intermediate move to an 18-acre farm, the operation was moved again in April 2008 to its current 58-acre property on Woodbine Road. The organization has been leasing the former cattle farm with an option to buy, and purchasing the property is one of the agenda items the board will discuss in January.

Yet, Days End's rise to prominence has been "so gradual," observed Howe, who lives in Pasadena with her second husband, Jerry Howe. "It just happened."

Before the horse rescue was founded, there was no place in the region where starved, abused and neglected horses could receive care, and they often died from mistreatment, she said.

"The more I learned, the more I realized there was a lot to do," Howe said. "It just rolled out as if it were meant to be."

Nicky Ratliff, executive director of the Humane Society of Carroll County and a member of Days End's advisory board, concurred.

"You know how they say that timing is everything? Kathy started Days End when there was a real need," said Ratliff, who became involved with the horse rescue in its early years when she was president of Professional Animal Workers of Maryland.

"She certainly was no expert back then, but I have never seen anybody work so hard to become knowledgeable," Ratliff said.

Days End became the place to take rescue horses because Howe had assembled experts to help document the animals' problems after they were impounded, and had acquired the knowledge and staff to testify against owners in cruelty and neglect investigations, she added.