Changing Leads Equine Rescue  Changes Lives 2

Horses and Rescuers Help Each Other

Josie has a weight problem. She is currently more than 300 pounds underweight. Standing at 17 hands high, the tall, magnificent brown Percheron has seen better days over her 18 years of life. This gentle former broodmare arrived at Changing Leads Equine Rescue in early July. Since then, her life has slowly taken a better turn.

When Changing Leads Barn Manager and Team Trainer Melissa Harrell and other volunteers first met Josie, the horse was 400 pounds underweight. Her ribs showed prominently. Her hooves needed drastic trimming. She stood with an awkward, flat-footed stance. Josie also suffers from Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis (DSLD), a syndrome that impairs the lower joints on her hind legs and collapses them into a “coon-footed” or severely-angled position.

The volunteers at Changing Leads manage Josie’s special diet. They feed her three times daily to help her recover from malnourishment. Numerous visits from a veterinarian and farrier along with personal attention from volunteers have improved her health. Eventually, she will be available for adoption only as a companion horse, no longer fit for riding,

Nonprofit Changing Leads is based at the Woodson Hill Equestrian Center just a few miles from Zona Rosa.

“We used to be River Bluff Rescue Ranch,” says Elizabeth Hill, a volunteer with that effort launched in 2005.

By 2006, Hill realized the rescue ranch needed a more practical location. She bought Woodson Hill in 2007 and set up the equestrian center for boarding and training. That business helps underwrite the rescue operation.

“Boarding horses brought in cash flow. In 2008, we moved the rescue horses here to a more structured environment,” says Hill. “Their health began improving within a couple of months.”

Today, Hill, a volunteer board and 25 active, mostly female, volunteers care for a half-dozen horses.

Horses are brought to Changing Leads when the original owners can no longer care for them, due to expense, hardship or other personal circumstances. Abandoned and neglected horses are also rescued. Each horse underwent quarantine and medical evaluation by Kent Jackson, D.V.M., after arrival at the center.

Changing Leads has 10 acres of dedicated fenced-in pastures, turnouts and facilities for the horses to roam and train. Harrell and other volunteers teach the horses “ground manners” such as how to back-up and respect the trainer’s personal space.

“Many horses don’t have training,” says Nancy Stancel, board secretary and team trainer. “We assess the danger level of each horse.”

Each horse exhibits a different personality and level of training. Some horses like Josie need extreme medical attention and care before they train and condition on the road to recovery.

Volunteers need training as well for their safety before they gain the privilege of caring for the horses. Changing Leads hosts training sessions for volunteers several times each year. The work involves far more than grooming or riding the horses. It’s hot, hard work shoveling manure, cleaning stables and lugging 50-pound hay bales and bags of grain.

“Out of a group of 10-15 people, we will get one or two good volunteers,” says Harrell. “It’s labor intensive. The horses get sick. Sometimes they are goofy or frightened. You have to be passionate about working with them. It’s not easy.”

Despite the labor, volunteers like Harrell, Adoption Coordinator Micah Dannar and Communications Coordinator Brandie Tryban care deeply about working with the horses.

Changing Leads finds a safe, suitable home for each horse when they are ready for adoption.

“Spirit was an Arabian rescue,” says Harrell. The horse was rescued from an auction by a volunteer. “She was spooky and spacy but high-spirited. She knew every trick. We eventually found someone to adopt her.”

Prospective adopters must complete a detailed application that is reviewed by the board. More than 50 horses have been adopted since inception of the rescue program.

“Changing Leads checks their references and facility,” says Harrell. “New owners must sign a contract to never breed, race or use the horse commercially. Some adopted horses come back. We ask that adopters call us first, if they cannot care for the horse.”

Working with rescued horses impacts the lives of the volunteers.

“The horses are a personal healing therapy,” says Hill of the experience. “There’s emotional bonding with the horse. You have to show up, be responsible and accountable as a volunteer. It’s good modeling for young adults and kids.”

Besides volunteers, Changing Leads relies on donated funds and supplies to operate.

“We receive funding from donations, grants, word-of-mouth and events like the annual Fuzzy Horse Show,” says Hill.

Funds go toward feed, supplies, medical treatment, medicine and maintainence. Changing Leads also maintains an extensive wish list for needed items that can be donated.

Visit to learn more about Changing Leads, current rescue horses like Josie and how to become involved in changing lives.