ENOSBURG FALLS — When Susan McKinstry makes a promise she keeps it, especially where her dear four-legged friend Chester is concerned.

Chester is a horse that suffered the ill effects of neglect. Malnourished and in pain, he was rescued and brought to Unicorne Stable, owned by McKinstry.

“Chester was one of eight horses that were seized by the Humane Society, and I fostered him,” she said.

“That was 14 years ago, and he’s still here; this is where he will stay,” she added.

McKinstry made sure all of Chester’s needs were tended to; she had him treated medically, and she nourished him body and soul. She also made him the promise that he would live out the rest of his life feeling that same sense of love and wellbeing, she said.

“So that’s how Chester’s Promise (the non-profit equine assistance program) got its name,” McKinstry said.

“The “promise” being the same sort of promise I made to him, but on a larger scale and with the goal of finding suitable foster homes for others like Chester, and providing the training and education to make those placements successful,” she explained.

With an all-volunteer staff, Chester’s Promise, Inc. located here on Water Tower Road, works with the Franklin County Sherriff Department following up on leads and reports of abuse or neglect.

“Sometimes we take calls from concerned people who call us and we will do a drive by to assess the situation but we have to follow the laws, so the sheriff’s department is the go to agency,” McKinstry said.

She said that three of Chester’s Promise board members have received training in animal cruelty through the Vermont Branch of the U.S. Humane Society.

“We start with a visual check, looking for your basic needs such as food, water and shelter,” McKinstry said.

Not all calls or reports warrant that action be taken.

“If we feel the need we will go in and talk to the owners and provide them with education and encouragement to improve the situation,” she said.

“If they are unable or unwilling we ask them to sign the animals over to us,” said McKinstry.

Once at Chester’s Promise the animals are checked by a veterinarian, they receive the necessary treatments, and are trained so that they are adoptable.

Inside the riding area Amanda Cronin, one of the board members, was working with a rescue named Tiger Lily; Lily for short.

“Lily and Chestnut were born and grew up in basically a clearance in the woods, owned by a man with a very small dwelling,” McKinstry said. “They were born there and lived there, in a place that was basically like a junkyard with no shelter.

“During a snowstorm they would lie down and use the snow covering as shelter from the cold,” she added.

Lily had been malnourished because of a damaged tongue.

“She was skin and bones; they had round hay bales, but she just couldn’t eat it,”

Lily has done much better with a special diet.

“Amanda is getting her used to the spray bottle so that she is more comfortable and able to be treated with lye spray,” McKinstry said.

Cronin also was working to get Lily used to wearing a fly mask and desensitizing her to the sound of the Velcro fasteners.

“When she is startled Amanda asks her to bring her head down, that helps her to lower her blood pressure and calm her,” McKinstry said.

“Retraining is a huge part of what we do here, we have to ensure that the horses are suitable for adoption,” she said.

“The biggest guarantee for a good life is for the animal to be properly trained.”

She explained that while there are cases of outright neglect and abuse, not all cases are because of “bad owners.”

“Often there are people who have just always wanted to have a horse and they are given to them or sold very cheaply,” she said.

“But it’s not like getting puppy or a kitten, and they do require a big commitment, but a horse or pony is a much larger animal that eats so much more and requires a larger shelter and regular maintenance,” McKinstry said.

“They need their hooves trimmed every six to eight weeks, regular veterinarian visits with routine vaccinations and dental work,” she said.

“Those are just the bare minimum; the basics.

“It’s not like just having a bike that you just store in the garage for winter!”

She said many owners can have the best of intent “but life can throw a curve ball,” it can be a financial woe, medical issues, or simply that the owner cannot physically care for the animal any longer.

“A major part of our mission is education,” McKinstry said.

She estimated that countrywide the unwanted horse population is close to 100,000.

Chester’s Promise currently has six horses it is working with, but they do network with several farms and have the capacity to take care of many more should the need arise.

“The horses we care for are either horses that were neglected, or that people just cannot take care of anymore, but on the national level many larger cases are because of the breeding industry introducing so many foals that are just not suitable for what they were bred for,” McKinstry said.

She recalled having two ponies brought to the stable after having been picked up by police and animal rescue in Alburgh.

“They were loose, running in the roads, and nobody claimed them. That was in the winter, too,” she said.

“That is sad.”

According to McKinstry Vermont has a hay bank fund that is available to equine owners on a one time emergency basis.

“There is temporary help for small animals,” she said, “I would love to see that made available for horses too.”

“I think that in many cases if people could get back on their feet, and get educated, they would do the right thing,” McKinstry said.


How to help:


  • Dinner and dancing with live rock’ n’ roll music by Bad Horsey on Friday, Oct. 9, at 6 p.m. sponsored by Abbey Restaurant in Enosburg. Tickets are $20 per person and are available at the restaurant (located on Route 105) or by contacting Susan McKinstry at 802-933-4283 or visiting www.Chester’spromise.org.
  • Haunted Trail to benefit Chester’s Promise on October 17 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm – “Walk, run or screech through the trails!” For more information visit www.chester’spromise.org, visit them on Facebook or call 802-933-4283.

Visit the website or call to find out about ways to volunteer or to make donations.