Each Friday, Horse Nation teams up with Ovation Riding to spotlight an individual or organization doing good work in the horse industry. Today, we recognize Zuma’s Rescue Ranch, based in Littleton, Colorado.
Zuma’s Rescue Ranch is a twofold operation based in Littleton, Colorado: the program both rescues horses in need and provides a therapeutic program for at-risk youth. We spoke with Jodi Messenich, executive director of Zuma’s Rescue Ranch, to learn more.
HN: How did Zuma’s Rescue Ranch get started?
We started in 2004 rescuing horses. Some of those horses suffered great damage — physically, mentally and emotionally — and they needed a role other than competitive activity. We decided to create a place where the horses could still experience daily human contact. Wild horses don’t long for human contact, of course, but domesticated horses who still crave it need that interaction.
We started with a pilot program with Denver University’s graduate program in counseling for equine-assisted psychotherapy and build our program from there. We’re now able to help horses and youth at the same time — healing one and healing the other.
We don’t do any diagnosing at Zuma’s Rescue Ranch — we do have licensed counselors on staff, trained equine assisted psychotherapists and social workers. We follow an experiential learning model in our program.
HN: From where are you rescuing horses? And how do your youth clients get enrolled?
Our horses come from owner surrender, legal seizures and some auction pulls. We’ve kept up to 70 horses at a time but we usually average around 40. Our clients are referred to us from several agencies in surrounding counties, as well as social workers and from group homes. Both our horses and our clients come from all walks of life!
We do charge clients and students for our services, but on a sliding scale. We found that we had to assign some value to the experience to make it truly worthwhile, but our equine assisted psychotherapy clients are the lowest cost at $20 an hour.
HN: Do you adopt or rehome any of your horses or do they all stay in the therapy program?
Every horse goes under a 60-day assessment period, during which we get them on track with health — both physically and emotionally. We’ll assess what the best job is for them. We network with trainers in the area who can get young horses started. We’ve also started lots of horses with liberty work so they can be non-riding companions. Some horses do stay here for the therapy program.
Horses who are adopted from us go with a lifetime first right of refusal so that if for any reason they ever need a new home they’ll come back to us.
HN: Can you describe your facility and any staff or volunteers?
Zuma’s is housed in a former hunter/jumper facility that my husband and I own — so we have an indoor and outdoor arena, paddocks, a conference room and plenty of amenities. We have three full-time employees and three mental health professionals on staff, and 4,000 registered volunteers in our database. Not all of them are active, of course.
HN: How are you funded?
Once a horse is rehabilitated, we will use that horse to teach lessons and in the therapy program. So the horses are able to pay their own way, and the riding horses help pay the way for the unrideable animals. We also do a lot of grant writing, and various fundraisers and awareness events.
Our next fundraiser is our October 23 Halloween parade and party — we have a costume contest and horse parade as well as hay rides and some other activities.
HN: If there was one thing you wish people knew about the good work you do, what would it be?
There’s never enough money. And there’s never enough help.
70 horses take a lot of time, and it costs about $450 a month on average per horse. It’s a huge number to hit every month — we’re paying for insurance, our professional staff, as well as the cost of taking care of the horses themselves.
We have a need for foster homes: if people can foster horses, it’s less on our plate.
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.