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Kiss a horse and help fund rescue ranch

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Julie Stetser, a volunteer at The New Mexico Horse Rescue at Walkin N Circles Ranch, kisses Shelby, a mustang. The horse rescue ranch is holding a fundraiser, Mistletoe Kiss-a-Horse-athon, to raise money for the care of more than 80 horses that live at the ranch. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Julie Stetser, a volunteer at The New Mexico Horse Rescue at Walkin N Circles Ranch, kisses Shelby, a mustang. The horse rescue ranch is holding a fundraiser, Mistletoe Kiss-a-Horse-athon, to raise money for the care of more than 80 horses that live at the ranch. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Volunteers at Walkin N Circles Ranch are kissing and telling, and the evidence is all online.

Through Jan. 21, the horse ranch in Edgewood has moved fundraising efforts to the website crowdrise.com by hosting a Mistletoe Kiss-a-Horse-athon. For every $20 donation, volunteers hug a horse and, for $50, they’ll kiss a horse.

“In the summer, we have an event called Hug-a-Horse,” said Teri Farley, a volunteer at the ranch. “So, six months later, I thought let’s do a Kiss-a-Horse-athon.”

The ranch takes in and rehabilitates horses that have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their previous owners. Trainers work extensively with the animals and provide them with special diets to ensure healthy weight gain. Once the horses have been rehabilitated, they are eligible for adoption after an extensive vetting process of future owners.

Despite extensive care and training, however, some of the horses remain skittish and distrustful of humans.

“We try to include as many horses as possible,” Farley said about the kissing photos. “Some of the shy ones we wouldn’t press, but we also want to get them used to human contact again. Many of these horses come from really bad situations.”

Walkin N Circles houses 84 horses on 20 acres and costs about $300,000 a year to operate. As a nonprofit, the ranch depends on donations and holds frequent fundraisers, although this is the first time they have attempted an online crowd-sourcing model, executive director Charles Graham said.

Dana Straszewski, a volunteer at The New Mexico Horse Rescue at Walkin N Circles Ranch, kisses Canela, a mustang, while spending some time with her. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Dana Straszewski, a volunteer at The New Mexico Horse Rescue at Walkin N Circles Ranch, kisses Canela, a mustang, while spending some time with her. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

“For most of our fundraisers, we have to pay out of pocket to get it going,” he said. “For this one, the cost is next to nothing. So the cost is less and it seems like we’ve got a lot of money raised by the project. I’ll tell you it’s great.”

Nine volunteers formed a team to lobby for donations, raising a total of more than $3,000 so far. All the money raised in the campaign will pay for the horses’ feed, vaccines and ranch equipment. Graham said the ranch received fewer donations last year, a trend he sees in other rescue organizations as well.

“We’re going to keep on forging ahead,” he said. “Keep doing events and trying to raise more money.”

Volunteers took this spirit to heart and forged ahead with the Kiss-a-Horse-athon, even in the face of winter weather.

“We had a terrible snowstorm one Saturday when we had all gone out to take photos,” Farley said. “But not one volunteer balked. Even in the blizzard, they were all still out there hugging and kissing horses.”

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