The sun was already hot and climbing into the sky Wednesday morning when Kimberly Kissmann had her team assembled at the Breckenridge equestrian center. Gearing up to head out to the Far View Horse Rescue in Fairplay were Kissmann, four 10- to 12-year-olds, a yellow Lab named Woody and a tall brown horse named Portia.
Kissmann and the kids “talked horse” the entire way, winding down Highway 9 from Breckenridge to the rescue center just south of Fairplay. This is tradition and makes the trip go faster.
Upon arrival at the center, two kids hop out of the truck to undo the chain and open the gate. Pulling up to the outdoor pens, the new arrivals are greeted by a ragtag band of goats, a spotted donkey and a black rescue horse named Jasper.
This is Far View Horse Rescue.
An early passion
Although the center had been in the making for a long while, it officially started in 2010. The nonprofit’s mission is to rehabilitate abused and neglected horses. The horses split their time between the Breckenridge stables and the 40-acre center in Fairplay.
“The seed’s been there for years and years,” said Kissmann, founder of the center and chairman of the board of directors.
Horses have always been a part of Kissmann’s life, from her childhood in Germany to her life and work in Colorado.
“As far as I can remember, right from the beginning, my room was covered with horse posters and full of horses,” she said. Since her family never owned any, she attributes this passion to her grandfather, who used to take her along to watch horses at the racetrack. When she got older, she got herself a job at a stable, cleaning out stalls and interacting with the horses and ponies. At age 13, she moved with her family to Colorado Springs, where once again, she found a way to be around the animals she loved.
“I just wandered onto a facility, just walked over down a field down the neighborhood and just arrived and said I’d start cleaning stalls for free,” she said. “I just wanted to be around the horses.”
It was there that she learned how to train young horses and rehabilitate those that had been abused, or were rescued from the killing yards.
Kissmann arrived in Summit County in 1988, where she worked as an elementary school teacher for the Summit School District until just five years ago. In the summers, she would then give horse education classes to children.
“Being outdoors is just a big passion of mine,” said Kissmann, who lives in Breckenridge with her own set of horses. “This is heaven for us.”
Rescued and on the road to recovery
The kids that piled out of Kissmann’s truck Wednesday knew exactly what they needed to do. Without being asked, they headed toward the shed, grabbing rakes and a wheelbarrow, getting down to the dusty chores that accompany horse care.
The Far View Horse Rescue takes on no more than seven horses at one time. This is to ensure that the horses receive the absolute maximum of care and attention that they need. Most of the horses come from Animal Control from surrounding counties in Colorado, seized from their owners due to abuse or neglect.
Sometimes it will take more than a month for a horse to lose its skittishness around people. The key is patience.
“Horses have taught me to be clear with my communication and patient,” Kissmann said.
Often, volunteers will eventually pair up with one horse, working with it on a regular basis, anything from feeding and grooming to more advanced training techniques, depending on the skill of the volunteer. In addition to the youth educational program, Kissmann teaches a skills class.
The goal of the center is not only to rehabilitate the horses but to get them adopted into new homes.
“We don’t want to just pass them along,” Kissmann said, not between owners and not between other centers. “We want to make sure they’re successful.”
The time it takes to gentle and re-train the horses depends entirely on the horse and its background.
Halona, one of the newest horses, is still skittish and afraid of human contact, so Kissmann tells her young students that if they can get the horse to accept food and six strokes from them, they will get a treat.
On Wednesday, Kissmann and one of her helpers worked on Odessa, a mare whose history of abuse involved her being tied down on the ground to be saddled, resulting in a fear of saddles. By walking Odessa around a saddle on a stand, and slowly letting her sniff it, Kissmann was able to finally place the saddle on the horse’s back, something she hadn’t been able to do before.
At least nine Far View horses have been adopted after going through their training. Many are involved in events like 4-H and Gymkhana, ridden in competition or through parades.
“We pride ourselves on our success stories,” Kissmann said.
The center has about 15 regular volunteers, as well as many others who come whenever they can. Anyone can volunteer at the center, regardless of horse experience, after going through a short orientation. Often people bring their families and young children play with the goats or in the nearby creek while the adults and older children work with the horses.
“Everybody’s so involved and our members, our volunteers are absolutely amazing,” Kissmann said. Her favorite part of her work at the center, she added, is “just seeing that interaction with human and horse and just watching that trust being established through time, and then knowing that there’s a chance for these horses to get a great new home.”
For some horses, however, the journey home is a long one. After a few minutes of calmly allowing the saddle on her back, Odessa took fright and bucked herself against the fence and out into the pasture while Kissmann and the others looked on, stricken in their momentary helplessness.
“Once they’ve been abused like that, it’s just so hard for them,” Kissmann said, shaking her head. “They (horses) forgive, they’re incredible animals, but they never forget. That memory — it’s so hard. So you just have to keep working on their trust.”
And that’s just what Kissmann, the board and all of the center volunteers, plan to do.