Even from a distance, Bentley stands out among all the animals at Passion Horse Ranch. He’s on a rise in a pasture at the Johnson County ranch, looking peacefully majestic while a few other horses linger nearby.
The Percheron cross draft horse, the winner in the “alternative pet” category in DFW.com’s 2013 Model Pet competition, weighs 2,200 pounds and stands 17.2 hands high, and as his 6-foot-tall owner, Debra Naismith, stands beside him, he’s roughly a human head taller than her.
“He has charisma that will blow you away,” Naismith says. “His size kind of intimidates you, but his personality just draws you in. Anybody that gets near him, or rides him, is immediately attracted to him. There’s just something really magical about the horse.”
The 7-year-old gelding is one of more than 40 rescue animals — about 30 horses, and more than a dozen dogs — at the 33-acre ranch, which offers horses for sale, as well as riding lessons, training and other programs. But it is also a ranch with a mission.
Bentley’s mother was part of a farm that collected urine from pregnant mares to make Premarin, a female hormone used in treatment of menopause. When Bentley was born, the farm had no use for him, and he was en route to a slaughterhouse before Naismith and her husband, Jeff, adopted him when he was 4 months old. A vet said that Bentley should still have been nursing at the time.
“He was this scared little foal,” Naismith says. “But he was giant. Even as a baby, his legs were like stovepipes. He was twice the size of the other foals.”
Bentley is one of about 150 Premarin foals that Naismith has saved during the past eight years or so. A rural Oregon native, she had grown up around horses, but didn’t start working with them seriously till she was in her 30s and her children were in their teens.
She says she didn’t intend to start running a rescue ranch, but when she learned about Premarin foals from a woman she took riding lessons from, she found her calling. She doesn’t consider herself an activist — she only takes in foals that she knows she can save — and she stresses logic and practicality over emotion in maintaining the ranch.
“Bentley is our ambassador,” Naismith says. “We call him Shrek because he’s just kind of this big, puppy-dog friendly, super-outgoing horse. [He] was slaughterbound. He had a number shaved into his side. It’s a big deal for him to go from being a slaughterbound foal to being an ambassador who’s telling the story for other foals.”
The Naismiths have taken Bentley out to meet the public at events statewide; having such a big, pretty, friendly horse to attract people helps the Naismiths spread the word about Premarin foals. And he can be a bit mischievous.
“We took him to a fund-raiser at Teskey’s four or five years ago, and there was a lady standing there eating a barbecue sandwich. He just very gently reached over, grabbed her barbecue sandwich, and went right back to smiling.”