“These horses owe us nothing,” says Nancy Turner, founder and president of This Old Horse, a rescue and sanctuary for unwanted and retired horses. “The mission here is to honor these horses for the work they have done,” she explains.
The community has also stepped up to help. “We ask the community to support these horses who are past their prime, and the horses support our community,” explains Turner. Turner and her tireless staff and volunteers light up talking about their experiences working at Wishbone Ranch. They have helped contribute to countless unforgettable transformations, where horses arrive starved, injured, or anxious, and then slowly begin to trust people again and enjoy life.
A Place for Every Horse
Horses arrive at Wishbone Ranch from a variety of situations, though often from the hardships of their owners who can no longer care for their horses due to financial setbacks. Other horses find themselves in need of a new home because they no longer suit the owner’s needs due to injury or age.
Perhaps these horses can’t race around a track or jump over the highest fences anymore, but that certainly doesn’t mean they are worthless. The volunteers work tirelessly to offer horses a comfortable and useful retirement.
Horses here are valued and respected for their current stage of life. “If they are lame and can’t be ridden, then we try to make them comfortable,” Turner explains. “If they like to be ridden and can work, then we give them a job here. This is a place they can thrive, recover, and live.”
Once healed from any physical issues, some of the horses are incorporated into the lesson program. Volunteers can even earn lessons for helping out at the farm. Other horses simply get to spend their days grazing and enjoying the company of other horses without the fear of abuse or neglect. Many volunteers come just to groom and spend quality time with the horses.
The Healing Power of Horses
Peter Swentik, program director at This Old Horse, has had to answer the repeated question of ‘what can you do with an old horse if you can’t ride it?’
“It can love you, it can teach you…it can raise a kid!” he responds. In fact, This Old Horse enables children of all abilities to spend time caring for and riding the horses who are able. “The reality of this is that horses heal us,” he adds.
Riders of all abilities can improve their skills at Wishbone. Their Special Olympics Equestrian Team provides an opportunity for children and adults with disabilities to be part of a team, take lessons, and compete in the Minnesota state horse show. It is fun for the riders, their families, and the instructors.
It’s Not Work if You Love It
No one ever said caring for horses is easy or cheap. It takes a lot of work and generous donations to heal and attend to these equines, but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone at Wishbone.
“It’s hot work, it’s dirty work, it’s dusty work…but you know what? It’s not work. When you find something you love, it isn’t work,” says Swentik.
Monica Carlson, the development director, agrees. “I learned so much about horses volunteering here, and that was so rewarding that I started coming here more often. My once a week volunteer shift became 3 or 4 times a week…I’ve grown so much in the past two years. ” Now she uses her professional experience in fundraising to help generate revenue for the organization.
It Takes a Village
Turner describes coming together at Wishbone Ranch and working with horses as “similar to going to church.”. Like places of worship, people come together here for a common cause and feel a sense of community. It’s clearly a happy place for the horses and the people.
Swentik explains that his continued dedication to the organization is because of the community that has formed around the mission of caring for these horses. “What I found here, what kept me here, was the honesty, the openness, and the sharing that go into this,” he says. It appears the horses heal people just as much as people help heal horses.
Despite the sometimes horrific circumstances that originally brought the horses here, Wishbone Ranch is an unquestionably joyful place.
Learn more at www.thisoldhorse.org.