Alyssah Schafer was born with a congenital heart defect and has never been able to run or compete in sports. Over time, her friends drifted away, and the girl became depressed. But then she met a mustang named Montana at All About Equine, a horse rescue and rehabilitation organization in El Dorado Hills.
“I think Montana literally saved Alyssah when she had given up hope,” says Diane Schafer, Alyssah’s mother. “He is her legs, and for the first time, she is able to feel the wind run through her hair and in her face.”
On the day in 2011 that the Schafers visited All About Equine looking to adopt a horse, Montana began to follow Alyssah. The animal that previously had been unapproachable and standoffish even let the teenager rub his nose.
“He chose her. Their personalities are identical,” says Diane. “Now, he will come to me if I have grain in my hand, but then he’s gone and he’s fast.”
Diane and Alyssa adoped Montana and a 3-year-old horse named Carson. The Schafers board their horses in Newcastle, not far from their Rocklin home. Alyssah, 18, is a freshman at Sierra College, and she and her mom spend time with Montana and Carson almost every day.
Since its founding in 2009, All About Equine has taken in 82 horses and found homes for 48. They’ve rescued pregnant mares from a feedlot in Fallon, Nev., where animals are kept before being shipped to slaughter. They’ve taken in horses that were given up by their owners.
“Since 2008, the economy has gone down, and people are having to give up their properties and their horses. And because of the drought in the Midwest, hay prices have tripled. People can’t afford to feed their horses anymore,” says Sharon Covington, a volunteer who handles fundraising projects and writes for the organization.
Nearly everyone involved in All About Equine is a volunteer, including the 100 or so individuals who regularly come to feed and tend to the horses. The organization pays for the services of a veterinarian and a farrier, but even executive director Wendy Digiorno draws no salary. All About Equine currently is based on her parent’s 14-acre ranchette, but she’d like to find a bigger property and expand the programs.
Plans are to offer therapeutic riding lessons for disabled people and to establish a horse-handling program for returning military veterans. Covington recently wrote a grant proposal that would allow victims of domestic violence to work with the horses.
“We have a lot of ideas,” Covington says. “We just need the backing.”
Digiorno founded All About Equine because she saw horses in need. “Horses are incredible animals.” she says. “There is a peacefulness when you’re with them.”
Kim Sturla’s biggest challenge isn’t caring for thousands of animals at a time. It’s trying to get people to think about a pig’s life in the same way they would think about a dog’s.