KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Just a few blocks from bustling Barry Road, Changing Leads Equine Rescue is a venture dedicated to improving the lives of unwanted or neglected horses.
Previously known as Riverbluff Rescue Ranch when Mike and Carol Poland founded it in 2004, the rescue became Changing Leads in 2009 and now operates at Woodson Hill Equestrian Center, located at 7990 NW Mace Rd. The facility operates in anonymity despite its location near one of Platte County’s busiest roads.
“Not a lot of people realize we’re back here; we’re sort of tucked away,” said Changing Leads board president Pat Watson.
Changing Leads provides a safe home for horses that have been abused, neglected or abandoned, giving those horses a second chance for a new life. The volunteer staff rehabilitates rescued horses and works to train suitable horses to ready them for adoption. Volunteers — even children as young as 10 with an adult supervisor — can learn how to properly care for horses while spending time with the animals.
“The whole point is to take horses that need care and rehabilitate them,” Watson said. “But we do have people relinquish perfectly good, trained horses that they just can’t afford. They know we can find them a better home than if they just sold them.”
With the capacity to house up to seven horses at a time, the rescue spends several hundred dollars per month to feed and care for their animals. Changing Leads always need donations of both cash and goods, and, most importantly, time.
Specifically, Changing Leads is seeking volunteers on weekday mornings.
Changing leads functions with about 20 to 30 volunteers ranging in age from youngsters to a retired lady in her 70s. All that is required is time, a willingness to learn and to handle sometimes unpleasant chores, such as cleaning stalls.
“A lot of folks just want to play with the horses,” Watson said. “Very few of our horses come rideable. We’re not a riding stable; we’re a rescue.”
The horses come from a variety of sources, sometimes rescued from very abusive situations by law enforcement.
“It’s a very good learning experience for the volunteers because these horses come in neglected and abused,” said Brandie Tryban, communications officer for Changing Leads. “These horses have to learn to trust people again.”
All volunteers undergo a two-to-three hour training session and are then mentored by an experienced volunteer to continue their learning experience. Volunteers learn to handle the animals, properly feed them and to lead them to and from pasture.
The barn must also be maintained, with stalls and water buckets cleaned and refilled.
Experienced volunteer trainers work with those horses that can be trained to ride, though some horses, generally elders or those with a history of injuries, are posted for adoption as companion animals only.
Changing Leads adoption requirements are stringent, and fees vary, depending on the animal.
“We have a detailed application, just like if you were adopting a human child,” Watson said.
Hopefuls must provide references, including veterinarian and farrier contact info, as well as detailed housing plans for the animal. The board then must approve the application, and both parties must sign an adoption contract.
Those with little horse experience seeking to adopt a horse must attend horsemanship classes at Changing Leads, and the rescue reserves the right to check on the horse periodically. The horses must not be used for breeding.
With this rigorous process, some horses do end up returned to the rescue. The board keeps working to find forever homes for these animals.
Other adoptive families, however, keep coming back to Changing Leads for equine companions.
As Changing Leads builds this clientele and reputation, a rise in demand of services could be on the horizon. Watson said the rescue continually seeks grant funding, as well as donations. Nancy Stancel, board secretary, noted that Changing Leads has also worked to improve the facilities at Woodson Hill, giving the horses more room to roam and practice their lead skills.
Horses also get to show their skills — and their charms — at the rescue’s Fuzzy Horse Shows, held at Long Wolf Ranch in Cleveland, Mo. The shows serve as fundraisers and give riders and horses both the opportunity to practice during the winter months.
Visitors are welcome at Changing Leads, but only by appointment.
“It’s not good for people to just show up and wander around,” Watson said. The equestrian center is private property, and horses are on specific diets so treats brought by visitors could make them ill.
Changing Leads and its featured rescue horses can be found online on Facebook and at changingleadsequinerescue.org.