By P. Elizabeth Anderson for Pet News and Views
Nothing is sweeter than an uplifting glimpse of heaven. Mine came recently courtesy of the rescued horses at the Tamaya Horse Rehab in the Santa Ana Pueblo, outside Albuquerque, New Mexico.
I was shamefully ignorant that horses are abandoned by the thousands, as is common for cats and dogs, when ranchers and farmers, struggling with drought and economic adversity can no longer care for them. It may be hard to fathom seeing a horse left to fend for itself, skinny to the bone, and hungry or coming across a dead horse on the road.
Horses have made humans what we are, contributing to human culture in unsurpassable ways. That these majestic creatures are abandoned and meet tragic ends is almost incomprehensible, certainly indefensible.
Tamaya Horse Rehab shares the name of its primary benefactor, the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa, where upon my arrival, I was greeted by the braying of a burro, Eeyore, who was sharing a corral in the front of the hotel with a beautiful blond horse, Bob. I jumped from the van and headed for the corral when a sign that horses can bite stopped me in my tracks. Still enchanted, I figured the sign was a ruse to keep me from getting a kiss. I heeded the warning, followed the rules, and got more information.
I discovered that the hotel sits on 500 acres of sovereign land, is the namesake of the Tamayame people, and that Tamaya means “a quiet and special place.” True to its mission to respect the land and people of the pueblo, the Tamaya Hyatt supports a horse rehabilitation program for neglected and abandoned horses.
Connie Collis, an angel of compassion with 45 years experience training and caring for horses, directs the Stables at Tamaya. She is a horsewoman of the finest order, who used to have a horse in her yard, was married to a cowboy, and devotes herself to saving these creatures. “My whole life has been horses,” she said. She and her brother were born into a family that taught them to rely on and respect the land and its animals. She abandoned her dreams of being a rodeo star, but never lost her passion for horses.
Ten years ago the Hyatt approached her to offer riding lessons and trail rides. She began collecting horses and people started giving her horses; her stable quickly grew from 10 to 40 horses.
When she approached the Hyatt about the rehabilitation program last year, they agreed, and a perfect partnership was born. “I could not do this without the Hyatt,” Collis says. “I really know how to find horses and care for them, but there is no way I know how to market this.”
The stories of abandoned horses simultaneously break your heart and make your spirit soar. A homeless horse usually has a heartbroken person attached. With the Hyatt, a small crew of wranglers, and dedicated volunteers, Collis saves horses and people.
Collis asks no questions and will return a horse to responsible families if they get back on their feet. Owners are always welcomed to visit, and many do, volunteer, and donate. Collis has seen people’s lives turned around when they find a safe place for their horse.
In addition to surrenders, wild horses find their way to Connie, like Tumbleweed, a spirited mustang filly from a wild horse herd in Placitas, whose mother was killed shortly after giving birth. Tumble will be cared for and either join the stable or get adopted. One thing for sure, he will never go to slaughter, a growing threat for American horses.
My day at the stable was marked by brief, soaking downpours, mixed with sun. Having had riding lessons years ago, I was a bit afraid of being so close to such powerful majesty. But the wranglers accepted the tenderfoots, and the volunteers I met, Julie, Jim, and Aida embraced me.
Horacio, my gracious and patient wrangler, showed me how to brush, touch, and saddle my horse, Corey. I mounted up, and Horacio led us to join the other riders who had earlier braved the rain.
Sensing my timidity, Jim suggested I meet Frankie, who had been bottle-fed from birth. Obviously accustomed to people, he was highly interactive, bumping me, nudging me, trying to eat my iPhone camera, and letting me nuzzle him for a hug.
Jim explained that once you gain a horse’s confidence and they know you will not hurt them, you can interact with them more, petting them, and walking around them. I am absolutely homesick for Tamaya and gaining that level of confidence is atop my bucket list.
P. Elizabeth Anderson is an award-winning journalist and author. She was a monthly columnist for a national women’s magazine, MODE and The Providence Journal in RI. She was a consulting writer and editor for the Humane Society of the U.S., and her last book explores the relationship between people and companion animals.