New Mexico's Pet ResourceSUMMER 2002



By Freddi Hetler

There are shelters for dogs and cats, and even shelters for ferrets and birds, but where do abandoned horses go? This was the question asked by Jan Bandler a few years ago before she founded The Horse Shelter in Santa Fe County. Her daughter bought a horse for $200, which, according to Bandler, looked like it should have been in a shelter. That got her thinking.

One day, someone told Bandler of a horse auction at a thoroughbred farm that had gone bankrupt. She rescued one of her first horses from there. Then she was told of a former Park Service riding horse that was going to be euthanized because it had started stumbling. A vet said the horse could be saved and Bandler came to its rescue. Soon after, she was alerted to the fact that horses were wandering in the Rio Grande Conservation District. A short time later, several mustangs were found wandering in McKinley County. In the meantime other good horses--several that had never been handled before--were rescued from closed down breeding operations. Many horses have come from abusive situations or have been abandoned by their owners. Sometimes owners die and the family can't take the horse. Whatever the reason, a shelter for horses was needed.

Out in the country, surrounded by peaceful silence and space, The Horse Shelter is now fully operational, staffed mainly by dedicated volunteers. With room for a hundred horses, the shelter currently houses fifteen. A board of directors governs the Shelter, which is funded by individual donations and private foundations. According to Bandler, they have done some fundraising activities, usually resulting in raised awareness rather than money.

Bandler is first to admit that she is not an expert when it comes to horses. She has done a lot of research on horses, their care, and the types of problems found in New Mexico where many people in rural areas own horses. Sometimes the problem is simply due to ignorance.

Sometimes it's an owner who can't be bothered to provide adequate care. Bandler also finds cases of extreme neglect. After a horse comes to The Horse Shelter and is made healthy, it is ready to be adopted. Bandler thoroughly screens the people wanting to adopt a horse. She checks their property before and after the adoption. The horse needs to always have a horse buddy, as horses are herd animals and should never be alone. They need adequate room for exercise and adequate shelter. Shelter from the wind and sun is more necessary than from snow as horses can handle cold much better than they can the heat. She makes sure the person has basic knowledge of food and water needs, and knows when to call a vet. The prospective adopter should know how to take vital signs on their horse, too. After six months with the horse, the new owner is given the papers on the horse.

To make the horses more adoptable, those not used to being handled will be trained. Some will never be riding horses because of age or health, but these can be adopted as a companion horse to other horses. Horses that remain unadoptable will stay at The Horse Shelter for life.

The bottom line for improving the lives of horses in New Mexico is through education. One project Bandler has high hopes for is a humane education program to be put together by Zach Gould. The program will involve taking a horse to the schools to educate children. Through education Bandler believes people will learn that when they take good care of their animals, they will feel better about themselves. "Children are very vocal about how they feel when people are nice to them and how they feel when they are nice to others," she says. "Some children from abusive families become animal abusers themselves. This program is teaching an alternative."

At the moment, Bandler doesn't have time to deal with writing grants or to expand into administering other programs. Nor is she ready to accept donkeys or mules into the shelter until she learns more about them. For now Bandler is happy concentrating her efforts on what she knows best: giving loving care to her horses.

If you are interested in finding out more about The Horse Shelter, please call Jan Bandler at 505-984-3235.

Freddi Hetler is a writer who lives in Eldorado, south of Santa Fe with her husband, six dogs, and four cats. In her spare time she volunteers for the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society and the El Dorado Fire and Rescue Service.

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. - Chief Seattle

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