AMANDA Vella rescued her first stallion when she was just 13 years old, and since then has dedicated her life to giving a voice to unwanted, abused, neglected and slaughter-bound horses.
The 2015 Gold Coast Business News Social Entrepreneur of the Year award was presented to Vella, the founder of Save A Horse Australia, for her tireless efforts taking in unwanted and injured equines and providing them with care and emergency housing.
Her organisation has grown from having 12 horses in care to more than 160, and it rescues, rehomes and rehabilitates around 200 horses a year.
In addition, her entrepreneurial spirit has seen her build up a strong social media following, with more than 125,000 Facebook followers.
Save A Horse Australia is a self-funded project Vella began in 2002 and it has since become a registered charity with two sanctuaries that are supported by thousands of people across Australia.
"We get a lot of the emaciated, starved and abused horses come through our properties - sometimes by the time we get them it's too late to help them and we have to euthanize them," says Vella.
"Knowing that a horse is too far gone for us to help is the hardest part about my job.
"But even though we rescue animals in such shocking conditions, spending the time rehabilitating them, and watching them go out to new homes fat and healthy, is probably the most rewarding part of the job."
Vella says getting enough funding to grow to help more horses in need is a big challenge, with Save A Horse Australia relying solely on the generosity of the public.
Save A Horse Australia raises funds through fundraising events, public auctions and trade stalls.
It is also in the midst of developing an Equine Assisted Therapy program that aims to use its rescue horses to assist people who are suffering from trauma, depression and anxiety through equine therapy.
"This should open us up to being able to apply for grants and government funding, because we will actually be helping people with our rescue horses," says Vella.
Save A Horse Australia is also a vocal advocacy group, and is currently lobbying for stricter breeding regulations to reduce the number of horses being killed each week for human consumption overseas.
It is also looking at stricter breeding regulations with council registration for stallions.
"At the moment there is a national de-sexing register for cats and dogs where people who receive low income can get cheap rates for de-sexing their pets, but there isn't one for horses," says Vella. "So we want to bring one in for horses as well."
Save A Horse Australia currently has around 160 volunteers, and three full-time staff members. It is looking at hiring two more full-time employees in 2016.
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