My first rescue horse was a beautiful Chestnut thoroughbred named Mister. My farrier was working on my naughty horse Addicus, and told me he thought he was lovely and that I should get him a horse friend. At the time I hardly made enough to support myself and my one horse, but I knew he was right. He said he had a 40-acre pasture that he rented where he kept the horses that his clients were going to put down due to chronic laminitis and other conditions that made them unrideable. He said I could come over and choose any horse I liked and he would deliver it to me.
It just happened to be my 20th birthday and I had the day off, so I followed him to Novato and walked around this giant pasture looking for my new friend. Almost immediately I spotted a flaxen-maned chestnut who was limping across the field. He was shining like gold in the sun. I pointed him out and the farrier said that not only was he lame, he was also blind! It didn't matter to me; he was perfect.
So Mister came to my pasture and Addicus liked him immediately. Addicus loved that he had purpose in protecting Mister and became extremely attached to him. Mister spent a few brilliant years with us, with occasional bouts of soundness, and seemingly a hint of vision now and again. He and Addicus had giant pastures with creeks and Addicus showed Mister how to run along side him. It was a beautiful life of freedom for them both.
One winter, Mister began moving in unusual patterns. I thought it had to do with his vision, as the rest of him seemed perfectly healthy. Each day he would walk in little circles, and I would hold him still until he stopped. One day I arrived and he was spinning and I couldn't stop him. He knocked me over when I tried to stop him. I called the vet to come out right away, realizing that something was really wrong with his behavior.
The vet told me he had seen this before and that he had a severe case of EPM which at the time could not be treated. The grievous decision had to be made to euthanize him that day. It was shocking and it traumatized Addicus deeply. We moved Addicus to another pasture while we said goodbye to Mister, and Addicus was screaming and kicking the fence, knowing something was wrong with his only friend. Mister was unable to stop spinning his head and eyes even when he fell down. I vowed that day to dedicate myself to learning everything I possibly could about preventing disease in horses.
I came to understand that EPM is a parasite that attacks the spinal cord, causing nerve and neurological damage. I learned that EPM parasites can be cleaned using equine-safe long-term herbal parasite cleanses, and the nerve damage can be repaired through certain mushroom blends, acupuncture and stimulating bodywork.
Mister's death led me to creating a holistic horse rescue here in Sonoma County.
After the passing of Addicus's best friend, Mister, Addicus was raging with loneliness. He cried for his friend for three days, when the neighbors called to insist that I get another horse as they couldn't bear to hear his lonely cries. I called up my local rescue and asked for a companion horse. My exact words were, "I need a horse to be my horse's friend, today if possible. Give me whomever you think will never be adopted, I don't need to ride them." They said they had just the horse and would bring her right over. It's the call every rescue is waiting to get! It's incredibly hard to place crippled, untamed horses.
Jasmine arrived within hours and immediately stole my heart. She was a shining blue roan mare with a strange wobbly gate. Addicus was thrilled! Jasmine was so sweet, she lied down and I braided daisies into her mane.
The next day I arrived at their pasture and walked right up to Jasmine to give her love and she reared in my face! She was a completely different horse, and totally terrified. I spent the day trying to gain her trust, to no avail. It became clear to me that she had been heavily drugged for her trailer ride the day before and that no one had told me.
Jasmine had spent the majority of her life as a Premarin mare, meaning that she was kept pregnant and strapped up to a urine catch in a stall for most of her life. Pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer collect the pregnant mare urine to create female hormone replacement drugs for their customers while horses and their unwanted babies suffer the cost. She was abused by humans and made to move with an electric cattle prod which has given her a phobia of anything electric and for many years she suspected that humans hands were the source of electric shock. It took many years of training with a professional to be able to touch her at all. Getting her hooves trimmed is still a drama.
One day about 3 years after I took her in, an eleven-year-old horse-whispering prodigy hopped into Jasmine's pasture and went right for her teats and showed me that she was still producing milk! She told me Jasmine was physically irritated from her years of constant pregnancies and that if we relieved some of this pain and itchiness, we could make friends. She was so right!
Between this woman and one of our other volunteers who fell in love with Jasmine, she became more trusting and began to associate humans with the ability to give her scratches. We are all still earning Jasmine's trust. When I am with her, she arranges herself so that her belly is against mine, which is how she asks for rubs. Watch out, because she is a fervent mutual groomer and forgets that we are delicate humans and occasionally uses her teeth to itch your back while you do hers.. hehe
Jasmine is a "lifer" here at Heart of Gold Sanctuary where she will stay. She can still be unpredictable and even dangerous, which means that if I adopted her out, that person might become afraid of her, which is the leading cause of neglect.
She will live her life in spoilage here at Heart of Gold Sanctuary, thanks to your support.
The story of how Dawn came into my life is also the beginning of Heart of Gold Sanctuary as the rescue and Sanctuary it is today.
I had decided to move on with my boyfriend and we had been looking for a place to live together. One day, while driving (I pulled over!), I recieved a text from him with a link to a little farm house with a barn and pasture for rent. It was a bit beyond our intended budget, but it was so shockingly perfect that I called the contact number to arrange a viewing right then.
A woman answered and asked if I could see it now, and gave me the address. I looked up at the street sign that I had pulled over in front of and realized I just happened to pull over right in front of the listed house! What a synchronicity!
I drove down the long driveway to meet her. She said, "What perfect timing, you can meet Sarah who operates a horse rescue here and has decided to be done with the horse aspect of her animal rescue." I was in disbelief and told her I wanted to rent this property so that I could stay my own horse rescue! Sarah said, "Great, you can start with these three horses that still need homes."
Within a few minutes of recieving that ad from my boyfriend, I had already agreed to rent the property, take in three more horses and start my rescue! It was one of the most "meant to be" moments in my life.
Dawn, a chestnut Quarter Horse mare with a very stiff body and sore feet, was one of those three horses. Sarah told me the vet had recommended euthanasia, but that Dawn had stood in front of her and saved her life during a horse stampede. Sarah had done amazing work rescuing almost 30 slaughter bound horses on this little property and was able to adopt out all but three.
I began Dawn on a regimen of anti-inflammatory diet and supplements. She came along with two young studs who were just beginning to feel their hormones. Dawn had been an incredible mother to these naughty boys, and it was time for her to get some peaceful healing time to herself.
My wonderful neighbor allowed me to use one of her pastures to give Dawn her own space away from the rowdy boys. I had the best time caring for Dawn, giving her lots of love, and infinite carrots which can help reverse arthritis when consumed raw and with a little fat. They have a unique fiber which binds with toxic excess old estrogen. When the liver is stressed, it doesn't create new estrogen and instead recycles the old estrogen which is the main cause of many ailments like both osteoporosis and arthritis. Carrots are also anti-parasitical.
Slowly, but surely, Dawn began to recover. It took about two years until she was fully healed and a friend of mine found her a home up north where she currently teaches children to ride.
River was once of the three horses I inherited from Sarah's rescue. He was about a year old, had also been headed to slaughter and was badly abused by someone. He had no trust in humans whatsoever and was completely wild.
For three years we worked with River every day to restore his faith in humans. He was strong and very clever. One day after many months of trying to catch him, my trainer and I decided to make a trap just to get a rope on him. We laid a looped rope over the barn doorway and waited for him to walk through. It worked and the rope fell on his neck. He was scared but also somewhat used to our millions of attempts to touch him.
All was well until he realized the rope was attached to us, and without hesitation he bolted directly through the wooden barn wall, leaving a River-shaped hole in the wall just like a cartoon! I couldn't believe he ran through a wall just to get away from us! We had a LOT of work to do!
Eventually we were able to touch him and even get a halter on in the coming months. After a year we could lead him around. It seemed he had some kind of disability and memory issue as often he would act great one day and like he had never seen a halter the next.
We were consistent with his training over the years and eventually trained him to ride. He became a wonderful horse in the end and went to a friend in Yreka where he goes on long backpacking treks into the wilderness. His cleverness helps him navigate rough terrain and keep his new happy owner safe on her journeys.
Targaryen was the third horse I got from Sarah's rescue when I moved into the farmhouse. He was the exact opposite of River, and totally obsessed with every human he could get his lips on! He was younger than River, just a baby boy, and very naughty! He would eat clothes like a goat, and his adorable nuzzles would unexpectedly turn to toothy nibbles!
Targaryen was a stunning cream palomino in winter and dark gold in summer. His name and tail were naturally curly and he grew up to be the most beautiful boy the world had seen. After 4 years of intense and loving training, Targaryen became an incredible athlete and took us on many trail rides. Riding him made you feel like a Renaissance princess. He was a hilarious prankster and a best friend to myself and my boyfriend and really anyone who opened their heart to his shenanigans.
Targaryen had never faced abuse and so he grew up to be a total trusting love bug. His breed was rare and he became the golden nugget that saved Heart of Gold Sanctuary when I nearly had to fold because we were so broke after taking in too many horses.
Targaryen sold for $20,000, half of which went to his trainers, and while he cost me more than that over the years that I cared for him, the boost from his sale saved all his horse friends who he left behind to go be a show boy. He lives at a beautiful stable in Gilroy where he is learning to jump and is fully loved and spoiled by his new friends. On Christmas, I was blessed with a video of him from his new owners and was told he had been renamed Rio.
Sultan, this stunning black gelding, has found his forever home, and I am SO proud of his recovery, from unable to walk, to being an incredible riding horse with a gentle heart.
He arrived to us skinny, full of worms, with long overgrown "flipper" hooves, severe thrush, a strange scar across his eye, and completely unable to walk. His former home, a trail riding business, had neglected him because he was apparently bucking whenever they would try to ride him. Clearly, it was because he was in excruciating pain and could not bear the weight of a rider. He also had a serious parasite infection which can cause pain in the gut and moodiness.
I'll never forget the day I tried to walk him over to the farrier and he looked at me and without speaking, told me he could not take one more step because the pain was so terrible. I dropped the lead line, knowing he was going to stay put, and found a pair of "scoot boots," basically like Uggs for horses. I put them on him and he gingerly took one step forward. Surprised, he took one more step forward, and then on his third step he charged into a gallop! He ran away from me at full speed testing his new shoes! His horse wife, Holly, couldn't bear his leaving her sight. She broke through my electric tape fence, galloping after him. For two hours I chased them on foot and by ATV, making giant circles around our little mountain trail. Sultan had the greatest day ever, and actually, I was just happy that he felt good enough to be a horse again. It took another few months of constant touch-ups to get his hooves growing right and for him to be fully sound. He gained so much weight that you would not recognize him as the same horse who had come to us only a couple of months before!
He now lives on a luxury private ranch in Los Gatos, enjoying the good life.
Cheetah, my sweet angel, was one of the horses that I made a strong friendship with. Cheetah came from a trail riding business that had neglected him due to an injury which made him unable to carry a rider and earn his keep. He was starved, had severe arthritis in all four legs, and a giant knobby knee that was likely broken at one point, not treated, and then the inflammation calcified. His hooves were crumbling from having been neglected for a long time. He was scared and weak and he looked like he was 30 years old.
We put all our love into this guy who was about to be euthanized by his former owner. He gained weight quickly on our special grains, supplements and endless high-quality hay. One day we found out that he had been a former racehorse! He had a tattoo on his upper lip that I was able to research. I found out that he was only 17 years old and that his Racing Name was "Ora's Blake". He was one of the sweetest cuddling horses I've ever had the pleasure of rescuing. He had a stall across from my workshop so that every time I opened my door I could go hug his giant head and give him kisses. He was the only horse that never pulled away from kisses and hugs, just soaking up all the love we could give him. Cheetah had special privileges — I loved to let him out of his stall every morning and just let him roam around the ranch. He got to experience freedoms that most horses will never know.
He passed away at our ranch on December 5, 2023, surrounded by the ladies who loved him so so much during his 9 months with us.
Here is a montage of Cheetah's best moments on film: