By Nicole Rivard

The first day I volunteered at 13 Hands Equine Rescue in Bedford Hills, N.Y., back in the winter of 2017 I put my hand on the belly of a miniature horse named Leena, who was going to be a mom soon. I felt her foal kicking, and my heart beat faster. It was thrilling and moving, yet heart wrenching in a way, knowing that these two were slaughter bound before they were rescued.

I knew I would be back and almost two years later, I’m still volunteering on weekends. The truth is, it feels wonderful to give back to these amazing animals since they’ve given so much to me (horses have been a part of my life for 34 years), and it is right in line with our mission at Friends of Animals, to free animals from cruelty and exploitation.

I feel that I’m getting back as much as I’m giving. As the saying goes: “Let a horse whisper in your ear and breathe on your heart. You will never regret it.”

But what I’ve noticed this time of year is that volunteering also makes me feel less stressed and more capable of enjoying the holidays instead of just “getting through them.” Filling the days with experiences rather than focusing on the material things that inevitably become part of the holidays is truly joyful.

Now I have stories to tell rather than just stuff to show. 

For instance, last weekend, Jade, a horse being fostered at Centerline Stables in Ossining, N.Y., who I have been helping rehabilitate for adoption under the thoughtful supervision of Sara Vanacek, showed such amazing progress that I realized working with them has one of the highlights of my 2018. This horse who was rescued from a Louisiana kill pen has taught me amazing lessons:

Take a risk and trust again

Don’t overthink, be in the moment

Our past does not define us

We are already enough

Enjoy what’s in front of you

Progress not perfection

Spend the time it takes

Be brave

Believe in happy endings

In addition to being hands-on with the horses, some days are spent simply cleaning water buckets, mucking stalls, clearing manure from pastures, adding shavings to stalls—anything to help each horse live a more comfortable happy life. Other days it’s helping with publicity at farmer’s markets or even reaching out to new volunteers.

One day I was scrubbing grooming brushes at 13 Hands with some new volunteers and one of them said, “Rescue horses need clean brushes too.”

Indeed, they do. Rescue horses are just as special as any other equine.

Rescues, shelters and sanctuaries could not survive without the help of volunteers. Friends of Animals knows this all too well since we have managed Primarily Primates in Texas since 2008. It is home to 300 plus animals, many of whom who were captives of the research or entertainment industry or exotic pet trade.

But perhaps some of us could not survive without volunteering and making a difference for animals. It’s something to think about for 2019. I promise it will not only get you through the holidays and make a difference for animals, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Nicole Rivard is editor of Friends of Animal’s quarterly magazine Action Line. She brings 22 years of journalism experience to the front lines, protesting and documenting atrocities against animals