ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Something happens when animal-lovers first visit Walkin N Circles Ranch. It’s like a conversion experience, says Lauri Michael, who had lived in Albuquerque for two decades before she even heard of the horse rescue group.
“It’s so decompressing,” the marketing manager says of her volunteer time there. “I’m not able to own a horse at this point, but it’s a
great way to get my horse fix.”
Located north of Edgewood, 45 minutes from Downtown Albuquerque, the 30-acre ranch is not as well known as animal rescues dealing with dogs, cats, rats and rabbits. Yet it was founded more than 15 years ago by a couple that started caring for abandoned horses on their property. They eventually sold the land to the nonprofit, which then purchased an additional 10 acres.
Today, Walkin N Circles houses 50 to 60 horses at a time that have been seized by the state Livestock Board as abandoned, neglected or abused, sometimes destined for slaughter.
“They’re found by the side of the road, extremely weak, starved, sometimes injured,” says Michael, who now serves as the group’s spokeswoman. Occasionally, the group also accepts horses surrendered by people who can no longer care for them.
With help from a team of veterinarians, farriers, horse trainers and some 100 volunteers, the horses are nourished back to health and trained to trust humans again so they can be put up for adoption. “It’s heartening to see that it doesn’t always take that long to see some pretty great success stories,” Michael says.
The highly organized operation is guided by a board of directors and managed day to day by two staff members, a couple who live on site, and multiple teams of dedicated volunteers who work in round-the-clock shifts. All funding is from donations and grants, plus the Hug A Horse Thrift Store operated by the ranch in Edgewood.
Ranch teams range from feeding, health, feet (farrier) and training to education, adoption and thrift store operations, Michael says. “On any given day, there’s usually 20 or 30 people working,” most of them driving in from Albuquerque and Rio Rancho – plus more behind the scenes doing things like inspecting adopters’ paddocks and organizing fundraisers.
What leads busy working people to sacrifice their days off to drive for miles to muck out stalls?
“There’s something about the rescue and the horses that really captures people,” says Charlyn Hudson, who started out as such a volunteer four years ago. “When people are there for orientation, they can see how beautiful the horses are and how horses deserve a second chance. We really try to communicate that.”
Now a board member for Walkin N Circles, Hudson says working at the ranch has literally changed her life. Like many ranch volunteers, she came in with little experience of horses. A sales manager for a diagnostic health care company and single mother, she was mostly looking for an activity to share with her 7-year-old daughter Stella.
They started out cleaning stalls and paddocks for quite a while before joining the feed team and then the health team and then the education team. Hudson ended up adopting a rescued horse and joining the board, and both she and Stella learned to ride.
“It was a phenomenal hands-on experience and really a sense of accomplishment contributing to something meaningful,” she says of their weekends shoveling horse poop, lining up feed buckets, driving a tractor and learning to handle horses. “You’re outside, using your body and getting sun, and no one’s on a smartphone.”
That first year, a half dozen underweight and neglected horses came in together from southern New Mexico, Hudson recalls. “I had never seen a starving horse and my heart just broke. That was when I knew I could make a difference.”
The horses turned out to be sweet and trusting, especially a gray mare that she learned to halter and lead. “I never thought I would adopt her, but that’s what happened,” says Hudson, who named the mare Indigo and now saddles her up for a ride whenever she has a free moment.
The ranch trainers use techniques from natural horsemanship to bring the horses to a state of adoptability. Many of the horses cannot be ridden because of health or age, but end up adopted by people who want an animal buddy or a “pasture pal” for another horse.
All adoptions go through a rigorous inspection process beforehand and periodic visits afterward to ensure the horse’s new home is a happy one.
“A lot of their histories are mysterious,” Michael says of the animals they receive. “You don’t know the right way to proceed sometimes. It takes a lot of patience and perseverance.”
Animal-lovers are invited to visit the ranch any time by scheduling a tour or attending the monthly volunteer orientation. On Saturday, Walkin N Circles opens its doors to the public for its annual fundraising jamboree, with tours, pony rides, parades and equine demonstrations, along with music, food trucks, a marketplace and a silent auction.
“It’s a great opportunity for the community to come out and meet the horses,” says Michael, “especially the ones ready for adoption” – which is the happy ending that keeps volunteers coming back for more.