Friday Standing Ovation, Presented by Ovation Riding: Sunrise Horse Rescue

Each week we honor an organization that is doing good work in the horse world. Today we salute Sunrise Horse Rescue of Napa County, California.

Presented by:


This week’s Standing Ovation honoree:


Since the downturn in the economy, more and more horses have been found neglected, abandoned and starving. Recognizing this, a small group of individuals in Napa County founded Sunrise Horse Rescue in 2007 with the mission of rescuing horses in their area who were in desperate situation. Since then the organization has rescued 75 horses, with 15 horses currently on the farm. Their mission:

To rescue and provide sanctuary for abused and neglected horses in Napa County, as well as to provide community members of all ages with life-enhancing skills and experiences derived from horsemanship.”

To learn more about this great program, we spoke with Lisa O’Connor,  President of the Board of Directors of Sunrise Horse Rescue:

When horses come to you, what kind of situations are they coming from?

They come from all different types of situations and the one thing they all have in common is somewhere in their lives the chain of responsible and loving care has been broken.

A few examples:

Captain, who was spotted at auction and recognized as a beloved lesson pony who had been a part of many lesson programs for children in the Napa Valley. The meat buyers were bidding on him pound for pound and he was bound for slaughter. Are we ever glad he made it to Sunrise to live out his years. “Capi” lived such a happy and contented life well into his 40s! Our vets say that he was the oldest horse that they knew of in the Napa Valley. He recently peacefully passed surrounded by many of his loving human and equine friends.

Pete, who is a retired police horse. He was found starving to death with 100 lbs. of sand in his intestines. He will be coming to Sunrise Horse Rescue this week. Our vets asked if we could make a home for him with us… we welcome Pete to the herd with open and excited hearts! He has given his life to service and deserves our respect and loving care .

Shorty, a gorgeous thoroughbred/warmblood cross who was a very fancy dressage and eventing horse. Just four years ago he was competing in Woodside, Ca. His owners fell upon hard times, a divorce and miscommunication ensued about who was caring for Shorty. He was found malnourished and essentially abandoned. He was picked up to be used in a lesson program. Once he arrived he had an accident and shattered his hock. They could not afford his care. A concerned person spotted him and called Sunrise Horse Rescue.

These are a few of our stories, there are many more.


What is your rehabilitation/rehoming process?

The horses are rehabbed in several different ways. It begins with the best of vet care. We have an overall examination of the horses when they first arrive so that we can establish their baseline health needs. We have a team of top-notch vets who support us; their practice is here in the Napa Valley, Napa Valley Equine. One member of the team, Dr. Claudia Sonder, is the current Executive Director of Equine Health at UC Davis and is also a member of the Board of Directors of Sunrise Horse Rescue. We are very, very fortunate to have this level of  support.

We then follow with the best diet possible which includes supplements. Each of our horses receive supplements that have been tailored to their individual needs. If they have been starved, we feed many small meals around the clock and our volunteers come out at all hours to help with this.

Through this loving care the horses day by day begin to realize that they can count on us and they begin to regain their emotional and physical strength. They begin to trust again. It is a gift to see the spark come back into their eyes. The “loving” and constant care is the most key component of this transformation.

We are a forever sanctuary; the horses become a permanent part of the Sunrise family on the very first day that they arrive. We offer them sanctuary because we do not want them ever to be at risk again. We rehome only when we are at capacity. No horse is ever turned away. If a horse in desperate need is made known to us, we get to work immediately by bringing them to Sunrise or, if at capacity, finding a suitable home for them through a very intensive and lengthy interview and follow-up process.


It sounds like not only are you serving horses, you’re serving the community as well by allowing children and adults to assist in the horses’ rehabilitation. Tell us about that aspect of the organization.

One of our frequent expressions at Sunrise is, “Who is saving whom?”

Through our mission to rescue and provide sanctuary for horses in desperate need we realize the “silver lining” is the impact on the lives of the many volunteers and special groups that come out to Sunrise to work with and just be with the horses. So many of our volunteers talk about how much these relationships with the horses have given them deep satisfaction and peace in their lives. They are people of all ages and walks of life — some are school-aged children who have been bullied, some are people dealing with terminal illness, some are elderly, others very young… It is a beautiful place to be where people can commune with horses and nature and be renewed.  Some of the special groups who have come out over the years are The Lighthouse for the Blind (a school for sight-impaired and blind children), St. Helena High School Special Day Classes (for high-school aged young adults who have special needs), Kidz Reach (a community resource supporting at-risk kids), Teen Centers and more.


Do you have volunteers?

Yes! We have approximately 45 active volunteers who come out weekly/monthly to spend time with the horses. We have a wider reach to 130 total volunteers that are a part of our Sunrise Horse Rescue network of volunteers that receive weekly updates. The volunteers groom, walk, hand graze, turnout and work with them always using natural horsemanship (a technique based on how horses interact with each other within the herd).


Shorty with volunteers Dawn and Bob.

How can people help the organization?

1. Donate!! ( or  Sunrise Horse Rescue, P.O. Box 143, St. Helena, Ca. 94574 ) We are constantly in fundraising mode. It takes a lot of money to support 15 to 20 horses for their lifetime. Our base operating budget which includes feed, supplements, vet care and farrier is over $100,000 a year. In order to make this a permanent sanctuary far into the future, we must have predictable yearly funding. This way, we can support staff, which currently we do not have budget to hire or support. To achieve sustainability and secure our place far into the future, we need to hire staff to manage the day to day operations which is a huge task. Currently the Board of Directors and volunteers provide the total infrastructure for the rescue.

2. We are looking to move to a permanent home. We are looking for 10-20 acres in the Napa Valley to be donated — a location that volunteers, board and future staff can get to daily. In other words, we would like to be on a mountaintop somewhere but it is not practical for our operations! Volunteers, vets etc. need to be able to get there with ease.


Many thanks to Julie Ann Kodmur and Lisa O’Connor for their help with this feature!

Also of note, Sunrise Horse Rescue will be having its fifth annual benefit dinner and auction, Harvest of Hope at Blossom Creek Farm, on Saturday, September 6, from 5 to 9 p.m. The event takes place at Blossom Creek Farm in Calistoga. Attendees will be able to meet the rescue horses, who will travel to Blossom Creek from Sunrise for the occasion, as well as enjoy a seated dinner, live music and a natural horsemanship demonstration. Silent and live auctions will feature items including a getaway to Ireland, an African safari, horse-themed experiences, winery tours and tastings and more. Tickets are $150/person or $1,000 for a table of eight and can be purchased here or by calling 707-320-3120.

At the Harvest of Hope event last year, the non-profit welcomed an overflow crowd. “Last year we raised enough money to operate for the year, which encompasses the care and feeding of 20 abandoned and neglected horses,” says Lisa. “This year, with the gracious support of Valerie and Bob Fish at Blossom Creek, we’re hoping to go even bigger.”

We applaud Sunrise Horse Rescue for the great work they do and encourage Horse Nation readers to visit their website and Facebook page to learn more about its programming as well as ways in which you can help this great organization continue serving its community.

Go Sunrise Horse Rescue, and Go Riding!

Many thanks thanks to Ovation Riding for their support of both Horse Nation and individuals and organizations that are doing good work in the horse world. If you know someone who deserves a Standing Ovation, we would love to recognize them in a future post. Email the name of the person or organization along with a message about the good work they do to [email protected]. Photos/videos are always welcome, and include a link to their website if applicable.


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