The Horse Shelter’s founder Jan Bandler was a lifelong animal lover and horsewoman, starting with her first job as a teenager working as ranch hand in Arizona. In 1985, she was able to realize her dream of owning her own horses, and so began learning more about the horse industry, including the fact that many horses were abused or neglected.
Jan’s private efforts to help needy horses took a major step forward in 1998 when she attended a seminar on horse rescue at the Hooved Animal Humane Society in Illinois. At the time, there was no such organization coordinating statewide rescue efforts in New Mexico. Instead of being disappointed by this, Jan was energized; she decided to found her own group, and two years later The Horse Shelter gained approval as a 501 (c) (3) organization. In addition to completing the application for tax-exempt status, Jan assembled a board of directors, secured initial funding for the group, and negotiated the organization’s long-term lease on the Cerrillos, NM, property that The Horse Shelter still calls home.
In June of 2000, The Horse Shelter officially opened its doors. The property had previously been used for sheep and goats, so there was a small barn, which Jan persuaded her friends and family to renovate so it would be safe for horses, and horse fencing was installed for the first paddocks. When the first resident, Ted, arrived, he was actually the second horse The Horse Shelter had rescued. Jan, in her typical impatient fashion, had begun rescuing horses as soon as possible, bringing an elderly Thoroughbred broodmare named Dancing Crow home to her own barn. It didn’t take long to outgrow that small barn with its three paddocks.
Just two years later, a three thousand square foot adobe hay bar was completed entirely by volunteer labor. Conveniently, the hay barn was finished just in time for the first major on-site fundraiser – a trail ride and gourmet lunch that later grew to include both a silent and a live auction. The fundraiser was held in a tent the following year, as the barn was now filled with hay for the ever-increasing number of rescued horses. In addition, paddocks were built around it, so the horses could enjoy the shade of the portal that wraps around three sides of the barn.
Every other aspect of the work, from cruelty investigations to humane education projects, kept pace with the physical expansion of the facility, and by 2003, The Horse Shelter had established a real presence in the rescue community. In that same year, the organization was dealt a major blow when Jan was diagnosed with cancer. She fought it to the end, but lost the battle in June of 2004. In a testament to the amount she had achieved in just four years of The Horse Shelter’s operation, the organization was well prepared to carry her mission forward; at the same time, though, there is no way to be truly prepared for such a loss.