Animal Rescue of the Week: Episode 36 – New Mexico Horse Rescue

Connecting the lives of horses and people since 2002. New Mexico Horse Rescue at Walkin N Circles Ranch, Inc. is a non-profit equine rescue located in Stanley, New Mexico. They are passionate about horses and work tirelessly to rehabilitate and find homes for abandoned, abused, and neglected horses. The ranch is governed by a board of directors who oversees day-to-day operations with the assistance of an on-site caretaker and the help of more than 100 volunteers. The Ranch team volunteers their experience, skills, talents and time to care for horses, maintain the facilities and fund the ranch.


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New Mexico Horse Rescue at Walkin N Circles Ranch is a non-profit horse rescue that rehabilitates and finds homes for abandoned, abused, and neglected horses. When opening its doors in 2002, they made it their ultimate mission to provide all rescued horses with a new life filled with love and kindness and hopes that they will be adopted by good families. This rescue cares for 40-50 horses at a time on the ranch with several more in foster care. The horses that generally come to this rescue have been abused, neglected and sometimes they are owner surrendered.

Hi Laurie, welcome to the show. Good morning. How are you? I’m doing well. How are you? Not bad so far. Good. So you are the Vice President at the New Mexico Horse Rescue at Walkin N Circles Ranch. And why don’t you get a started and just tell us a little bit about your organization and how you got started with it? Sure, Walkin N Circles Ranch is based in Stanley, New Mexico, a small town just east of Albuquerque, New Mexico. And we were founded in 2002 by a couple who owned a ranch property out there and decided that they wanted to donate it to a horse rescue type function. So it became a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization at that time, so we’ve been around for 17 years now. We are dedicated to helping all rescued equines, really find new beginnings and productive lives, primarily by finding them loving adoptive homes. We have around 40 some horses at our ranch now, but we can expand up to 60. But that really isn’t the best situation for us. We like to stay around 40 horses.

Great and how did you get started there? I got started about two and a half years ago. I had always loved horses, grew up with them, had horses for before age and that sort of thing, and I moved to New Mexico, probably 20 some years ago, thinking I wouldn’t have horses again and 20 years somehow went by, I don’t know how, but entering into my fifties and I still didn’t have horses. So I learned about the rescue and I thought, “what a great opportunity to be around them again.” And I could start volunteering there without risk of bringing one home because of this place for one, like I would a dog or cat. Yeah.

I started volunteering and ironically sat in on the first orientation, and they outlined all the different teams that you could get plugged in. You know, feed team, water team, office work, grounds and maintenance, all kinds of things. But there was one team they had on the list that didn’t have any volunteers or a leader, and that was PR and marketing. Well, that’s ironic, because that’s what I do for my profession. And so I thought I was set up. But it was just an ironic thing, and I immediately got started helping them, you know, get the word out about the great work they do. Yeah, that sounds like it was a perfect fit, then, if that’s what you were doing during your day job. Right. Like what a great opportunity. Yeah. It really was perfect. But again, I thought, “well, it’s a safe place to go. I won’t be able to bring a horse home,” but I was wrong about that, too. You ended up taking one home? Yes, sure did. The best thing we could have done. That’s awesome.

So I know you said briefly, that bringing a horse home is a little bit different than bringing a dog or a cat home. Can you kind of explain, like the basic care that’s needed for a horse? Someone like me. I don’t know too much about horses, to be honest, but I know that it’s very different care from like a household pet. So could you just describe a little bit about how you take care of a horse? Yeah sure. Absolutely. Of course, it needs an appropriate amount of ground. And because we didn’t have that, we chose to board our horses, so you would have to find a place, a location that is suitable for a horse, first and foremost. Boarding is a great option when you don’t have your own property, and it’s also great, too, because you’ve got someone that’s they’re constantly assuring that they’re being fed and let out and all that sort of stuff properly. But horses are expensive. I won’t lie. You know, they have to, at minimum, be fed a grain diet.

A lot of horses have a mix of both, and if you calculate that on a month to month basis, it could be anywhere from $150 to sometimes kind of inching up to $200 a month for feed. And then you got farrier care, which is care of their hooves, and you do that usually every other month. That could be about 50 bucks for their pedicures. And then annual immunizations at a minimum could run you about $100 or more. Given how many you need to do for your horse and things like that. Deworming is another sort of every six-month process that you would have to do that, cost is fairly minimal if you do it yourself so it can add up. But it’s well worth the cost. I can say. Yeah, it sounds like it definitely is a big financial commitment, but for horse lovers, it sounds like it’s definitely worth it. Absolutely. And then, you know, you might want to invest some in furthering your horses’ training, depending on how much it already knows by the time you get it and things like that. Right. Right.

So you spoke briefly about the different volunteer opportunities that you have at New Mexico Horse Rescue. Could you detail a little bit more about the different classes and the orientation, and the process of becoming a volunteer? Sure, we are run 100% by volunteers. We do have an onsite caretaker that make sure the horses are safe and all of that 24/7. But we have more than 100 volunteers that we rely on to make sure the ranch operations are functioning. And we look for anyone that has an interest in office work or grounds and maintenance or education up to caring for horses in a one on one capacity. So you don’t really have to have any horses experience to start working with us. We provide all of that training for you.

And normally it will start with an orientation. So you would attend an orientation, which is about half a day where you learn all about the ranch. It’s history and how we operate, and then you go into what we call horse handling 101. And that’s where you would learn how to approach a horse, halter, catch, lead, lead backward and forwards. And then the following Saturday, you get a little bit more detail on how you can groom a horse, pick up it’s feet, apply spray and all that kind of fun stuff. If you choose, you can go into more advanced training classes. That would be where you would learn to lunge a horse in a round pen, exercising them on that. So it really is to your level of comfort on how much you want to learn and how much you want to be with the horses yourself. That’s great. It’s awesome that you have different levels.

So somebody who doesn’t know anything about horses can learn the basics. And then I like that they can continue until they get more and more comfortable. So that’s really cool that you guys offer that. Yeah, it really is and it helps our horses immensely to have more people be more knowledgeable about how to care for them because rescue horses aren’t your typical horse, you know, they come to us to typically neglected, sometimes abused. And so they learned to really distrust a human because of the poor care they have received in the past. And we’ve got to build that trust back up. Right. And our volunteers are crucial to helping us do that. Yeah.

And can anyone volunteer for as many days as they want during the week? Or is it a specific day that they sign up to do? Or how does that kind of work? Great question, really we’re pretty flexible. So we don’t have schedules. We are closed to the public on a couple of days of the week, but even volunteers will come out on those days. So really, it’s sun up to sundown, any day or night. Awesome.

So I know you also talked about the horses that come to you are usually neglected or abused or abandoned. So where do you get your horses from, usually? Well, a couple of ways. We work hand in hand with the New Mexico Livestock Board who is responsible for taking in horses that are found as stray, which means they’re roaming in most cases, along the road or on a property that they don’t belong, or they’re on, whatever that might be. And so the livestock board will seize that animal and then post it kind of like any other rescue would do. And if it’s not claimed within a certain period of time, horse rescues in New Mexico have the first right to bid on them. And so we’ll bid on a horse for a minimal amount and get it that way.

A lot of times, as I say they come to us, injured or very, very hungry or starved and neglected and who knows any other way. But we also occasionally will take in surrenders. You know, folks are finding that owning a horse is more expensive than they anticipated and have run into hard times or whatever the case may be. So they’ll come to us hoping to surrender the horse to us for rehabilitating them and retraining them so that they could be adopted to a better home.

So once you do get a horse that has been surrendered, or that you just take in what is your process for rehabilitation? It’s a slow process. First and foremost, their medical needs are taken care of right away, they’ll be assessed by a veterinarian. And that veterinarian will give us a care plan and also a diet plan so that we can start to build up their strength and their health and a slow but safe process. And then once they start to be a little healthier and more energetic, we’ll start an exercise program with them and which volunteers will slowly take the horses out for walks along the property, you know. If the horse is able to do that sort of thing, if they’re not too fearful. And then build up from there to some more defined training programs for them.

So it sounds like you kind of nurse them back to health first. And then you take baby steps almost where you’ll hit milestones. Where “okay, they can walk now. Then we’re going to try running, and then we’re gonna try more advanced things,” is that correct? Yeah, Step one, actually is. When they come to us, they are in a quarantine pen for two weeks and that just assures that they don’t have any communicable diseases that would affect all of our other horses. And so once they pass that two-week sort of quarantine period, they get introduced into the general population of our other horses. And then once they’re in that general population, is that when they become available for adoption? Absolutely. Yes, there are times when a horse will come right out of the quarantine and they’re snatched up because they are not necessarily needing to be rehabilitated in any way. That’s rare, but it does happen. So once they pass that quarantine period, they are available for adoption. We start promoting them on our website and that sort of thing. Horses that really need more care that need to be put on some weight, things like that, we don’t tend to promote right off the bat until they’re closer to being ready for a new home. Yeah, that makes sense.

So you mentioned that the horses are on the website, is that the main way that people can see the horses that you have for adoption? or can they walk into your rescue? What is the process for adoption look like? Sure, we do promote all of our horses that are eligible for adoption on our website at We also have a great following on Facebook and Instagram and YouTube. So we will do highlights of certain horses throughout the week or if they’re new and we’re ready, to post them for the first time. They’ll get a little highlighted post things like that, videos. But if someone just hears about the organization and wants to meet all of the horses we do have available, they certainly can call our office and make an appointment. Great.

And I saw on your website that during the first year, when someone adopts a horse, that you guys still do like check-ins with them and make sure that everything is going well. So what does that first year kind of look like? The first year really is sort of a probationary period. And so we want to assure that every match is gonna last and then that it’s perfect for both the adopter and the horse. We really don’t want our horses coming back to us. And so this one year period really assures that the match we’ve made is perfect. And so we will check in with the adopter, do a personal visit or two during that year just to make sure everything is going well. And at the end of that year than all of the final paperwork is done.

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So what does a typical day look like for you personally on the ranch? Well, a typical day, if I’m headed out to the ranch, is we check-in and sign in and we put on our appropriate badge for our volunteer level. As I mentioned earlier, you can reach whatever level you’re comfortable with and the higher the level, the more advanced horses you can work with. So our horses are all numbered a level 1 through 5. 1, being the most calm, tame, easy to handle horse up to a level 5 that usually means they can’t be the haltered very easily at all, and are sometimes dangerous or sometimes just so fearful that they’re difficult to work with. So, depending on what level you are, you would wear that color badge that kind of just tells the world “okay, this means I’m okay to be working with this level of horse.”

We all have to pitch in the mucking duties. So everybody has to spend, you know, at least 30 minutes or so, just going out to a pen or a paddock and cleaning up a little bit, you know, help the ranch stay looking nice as much as we can. And then choose what horse may not have been worked in the last couple of weeks. We try to keep a record of which horses are getting the most attention. For example, there’s a level 4 or 5 horse that’s out there that hasn’t been handled. I’ll try to go seek that horse out and take it for walk or do some lunging with it and that sort of thing. That’s my typical day.

I like that everyone has to be part of the not so pretty side of it, you know. Everyone has to do their part. Yeah, we have to constantly tell new folks, “look, we’re not a riding stable. This isn’t a place where you come and just hop on a horse and go have fun.” Most of them aren’t even at that level yet. So we really do need all pitch in for the less glamorous stuff before we can go and have fun with the horses. And I think that’s fair.

What would you say, some of the biggest challenges are in your organization? And what do you do to resolve those challenges? The biggest challenge is maintaining our budget. We are a nonprofit organization, as I mentioned earlier. We receive no government funding so we rely on the generosity of our supporters. So to keep an organization of this size running is monumental and so we rely on donations. And when the donations are down, I think that’s our biggest challenge and that means that we’ve got to say no to horses that we probably could have said yes to, had our donation amounts maintained throughout the year.

One of the reasons we’re struggling so much now is because the cost of hay has really increased over the last couple of years, and that’s because we’re facing a drought in the Southwest. Oh, okay. And that’s really made our hay prices increased substantially, and so that’s caused our budget to really suffer. And so I think that’s probably our biggest challenge right now.

Do you do any fundraising events or anything to kind of help offset those costs or to raise money? Yes we do. We have fun horse shows that the community can come out and bring their own horses and there’s fees associated with that. So that’s a great fundraiser. We’ve had two really successful Adopt-a-Thons, which I’d like to talk about a little bit, but they have helped us with raising money through silent auctions at those events and adoption fees and that sort of thing. We also do a semi-annual appeal letter where we will mail out to all of our supporters some updates on the ranch and ask for donations that way.

Yeah, why don’t you tell us a little bit about those Adopt-a-Thons? This is sort of a new thing that we did this year that was really successful, and it really got our volunteers much more involved than they have been in the past. So we instituted what we called an in-hand training challenge and Adopt-a-Thon. So each volunteer that was interested in participating was paired up with a horse, and it was their responsibility for that time period, it’s about a four-month training period, where they would really help that horse get to the next level of training. And this is all in-hand, which means that it’s not riding. But we’re teaching the horse respect on the ground, and that means lunging in the round pen, it means going over obstacle courses that might be scary for them, loading in a trailer, ground tying, which means the horse just stays where it’s supposed to be without being tied, picking up their hooves, and cleaning them, getting them ready for the farrier. All those kinds of things are very, very important. It makes the horse more adoptable.

So not only are they helping that horse get ready for their new home, but they’re learning skills too—the volunteer’s learning skills. And it’s a fun competition. So at the end of those four months, we would have this big Adopt-a-Thon, where folks from the community would come out a big celebration. It was kind of like a big horse show, and we did this first thing in the spring of 2019. For the first time ever, we had 19 horses come off of the ranch property. Oh, wow. Yeah, it was huge. And so we just did it again this summer, and folks practice through the summer and on September 29th week, brought the horses from Edgewood, which is about a 45-minute drive to Albuquerque. Because not a lot of people know about us in Albuquerque simply for the fact that we’re way out in the middle of nowhere. And so we brought about that same amount of horses all the way from the ranch to Albuquerque, which is a really big deal. We had live music, silent auction. It was a big party. Yeah, that sounds like such a fun event.

So you said that you have them after four months. So is it after every four months that you do that? Since it’s new for us, we found that that’s about the right amount of time for a horse to be ready for this kind of contest. And so we absolutely will start doing this again in 2020. But we were able to squeeze in two of those events this year. Yeah, that sounds like a great event. And I think you said you post pictures of it and videos, is that correct—on your social media and website? Yeah, yes, we are on Facebook, and we post as I mentioned horses when they’re available for adoption. But we also, of course, post wrap up to all of our events. So folks can see if they were unable to attend what happened and all the fun things they missed. Great.

So do you have any memorable stories? It could be about a particular horse or a volunteer or maybe just a situation, but anything memorable that you want to share with us. I think probably my best memory. I’ve got a couple. So when I first started volunteering, I was asked to work with a particular horse who was really struggling with trust issues. I would say we developed what I felt like was a pretty tight bond. And, you know, he—his name was Danny. He was the reason that I really got myself out to the ranch that first year because it was a drive. I won’t lie. It was a 45 to 50-minute drive for me. Sometimes it was so cold. It’s not fun in the winter because of the wind and all of that. But, boy, if Danny was there, I was gonna be there. And we spent a lot of time together, and he really improved every time I would spend time with him. And it was just such a heartwarming experience to see a horse that was so fearful of somebody really come around.

And he had a partner in his paddock named Charlotte, and Charlotte was even scarier than Danny was and my husband came out to visit one day. He said “well I wanna see where you’re spending all your time,” so he comes out and Charlotte, you know, I warned him about Charlotte and I said, “she’s a little aggressive. You just need to be wary of her.” And anyway, to make a long story short, Charlotte comes right up to my husband and we’re just all looking like, “what is going on here?” And we’re thinking my husband was a horse whisperer and I’m rolling my eyes. So anyway, to make an even longer story short, Charlotte is the one we adopted. I love those names, first of all, but that’s great. Yeah, that’s a great story.

Did you say you had another one? Yeah. So another story just recently, I guess May or June, when I first became vice president, we got a call from the Livestock Board about a horse that was found wandering with a halter embedded in his head because it had been on there so long and very starved. And it was my first experience of actually being responsible. We’re going to pick the horse up from the livestock board because we had decided we would take him in, and it’s just so moving to see a horse that is in such poor condition. But yeah just look at you like, “huh? you know you’re here to save me, right?” We brought him home. He is named Wyatt now and is really improving and gaining weight. And it’s just such a great thing to see every time I go out to the ranch, how he’s improved. Yeah, that’s great. I feel like that’s one of those feel-good stories where you see this animal that needs your help. And it’s amazing when you can see once you take them in their growth and their potential and just how loving and sweet they are. Yeah, and it’s so neat to see. And we don’t often see them at that level of emaciation that he was. But he’s improved tenfold since we’ve taken him in like, what has it been? Three months or so? That’s awesome. And how is Charlotte doing? She’s just a gem, and she’s such a great horse. She’s a great Trail horse. We can take her almost anywhere now, and she’s just fearless.

So what does the future look like for your organization? Do you have any upcoming plans or programs? I know you said you’re going to be doing more of the Adopt-a-Thons. Do you have anything else coming up? One thing that’s really exciting for us is we are building a new building on the property. We have been relying on trailers for not only our ranch office, that sort of volunteer gathering areas. And they are dilapidated and becoming a little bit dangerous and definitely uncomfortable. So we are in the process of working with the county to get all of the necessary permitting done for us to start.

Another question I have kind of more of a personal question actually is. Do you have advice for riders or for people who aren’t as comfortable around horses or who are kind of scared about being around large animals? Personally, I’ve been on a horse like a handful of times, and the last time I was on one was on a horse that was not acclimated with riders, and I was thrown from it. So I’m just wondering, do you have any advice for people who aren’t as comfortable? I think the best advice is just to take it really slowly and develop a relationship with the horse before you even think about getting on. It’s not all about riding. It’s really about teaching the horse to trust you. Horses are prey animals, and so that’s different than a dog or a cat who are predators and humans. Humans are also predators, so it’s not really natural for horses to trust a human. If you get past that, then you start to trust one another a little bit more. I mean, it’s kind of crazy, too. Think this 1,200 pound animal being afraid of you. But they are. And so if you can get them to realize that you aren’t the enemy that you really are, someone that can take care of them and that can be trusted. That’s half the battle, and that would really help ease your fears of that animal as well.

Yeah, that’s some really good advice. I like that, because, as you said, it’s hard to imagine that this large animal is afraid of us. But, you know, in reality, we’re strangers to them. They don’t know what humans are going to do. Right. So that’s very good advice. Yeah, and we are considered a predator in their makeup. You think about it predators have two eyes that face completely forward. We’re prey animals, their eyes, they’re set, kind of on the side of their head so that they can see all over. Right, yeah. White animals similar to rabbits or deer. Or, you know, anything that has their eyes, kind of to the sides of their heads are prey animals, which is the complete opposite of us. Yeah, I didn’t even think about that.

Well, is there anything else that you would like to share with us before we wrap things up today? Well, we’ve covered adoption, we’ve covered volunteering and donating. I think that’s pretty much the three big things that I wanted to talk about. Awesome. So what is your website so that people can get in touch with you or volunteer? Our website is and we are also on Facebook under Walkin N Circles Ranch. Perfect. And are those the best ways to engage with your organization? Yes. Instagram, too. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I’ve learned so much about horses and about your rescue and had a great time talking with you. You are very, very welcome. And I hope that you give horses another chance. Oh, I definitely will. Thank you. You bet.

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