Spirit Horse Sanctuary earlier this week and left very happy to known there is
a place like this in the state.
The sanctuary, which was founded
by Melanie and Jim Bowles, is based in Mena and is one of the longest existing,
privately run sanctuaries for horses in the U.S. The crux of their mission is
to provide haven for unwanted and abused horses. Their vision is to provide as
natural an environment for the horses as possible and Proud Spirit is one of
the few true sanctuaries in the nation. The horses are not adopted out or
ridden but allowed to “just be horses.”
They are never stalled and function as a herd and are free to roam and
graze with no cross fencing.
The sanctuary began in the
early 1990’s on five acres of land in rural Florida. The Bowles wanted to
expand the sanctuary and started to look for available land. They found the
perfect spot around five years ago: 320 acres in Mena and the grounds have been home to around 200 horses over the years.
The Bowles take care of the
horses on their own and it’s more than a full time job with minimal
downtime. As Melanie says, “ Although caring for this many horses takes
precedence over going out to dinner or to a movie, or even going on vacation at
the same time, in all the years of running Proud Spirit we have never regretted
our decision, or felt overwhelmed by our commitment to these horses.”
Currently there are 72 horses
at Proud Spirit, a number Melanie says it at around the peak of how many
they can care for at the moment. Still, she says they wouldn’t say no to taking in severe
Melanie is the author of The
Horses of Proud Spirit and Hoof Prints. The Bowles also provide haven to 11
dogs at the sanctuary and Melanie recently wrote The Dogs of Proud Spirit,
which will be released this fall.
PBS also filmed an Emmy winning documentary The Horses of Proud Spirit,
based on her book. If you are interested
in helping out the mission of Proud Spirit, one of the best ways is to buy a
book as the proceeds go to the sanctuary.
If you find yourself in Mena sometime and want to check out the facility, the Bowles said they are happy to introduce the
horses to you. Just be sure to call for an appointment beforehand since the
grounds also serve as their home. Contact information and details on where to
purchase books can be found here.
I have included a few shots from my
visit. Melanie took Kip (my pup) and I on a tour of the
grounds and Kip met his first horse ( and many more) that day. All the horses
are very gentle and came right up to us to say hello. It was refreshing and
inspiring to see how trusting they were.
A reviewer of one of
Melanie’s books wrote the following. I thought it captured the essence of the day
perfectly. “The bond between horse and
caretaker does not happen overnight. It hangs by a fine thread of trust that
the caretaker earns with endless patience and a full commitment to the well
being of the horses in their care. The horses, some of which have suffered
severe abuse, astound time and again with their ability to trust, return the
love they are given, and enjoy the companionship of other horses.”