Happy Hooves Sanctuary – A Sanctuary for animals and people alike
For Karen Wang, creating an animal sanctuary and sharing it with the community has been a dream come true.
Karen, who is originally from Laos in Southeast Asia, spent more than 33 years in Los Gatos, CA, working in the tech industry before meeting her husband, Sid Wang. After they married, they moved to Bainbridge, where both Karen and Sid were instantly charmed by the “warmth and spirit” of the island.
Wanting to immerse herself in her new community, Karen decided to indulge her love of “rescuing once treasured items in need of a new home” and opened Meli Melo, a vintage and antique emporium in downtown Winslow, in 2014. Over the next several years, Karen enjoyed meeting other islanders and developing friendships that she treasures to this day. However, rescuing antiques and becoming part of the community was the tip of the iceberg for her, what she really wanted to do was rescue animals in need.
Deciding on what kind of animals to rescue was the next step. Karen grew up around stray dogs as her mom used to purchase food from the market every weekend to feed many strays in the neighborhood, and Karen loved them all (they have two of their own now), but she quickly learned that a canine rescue would be too complicated to get started.
When Karen and Sid came upon the five-acre farm on North Madison, which had previously been a livestock farm, they jumped at it. The property would hold its own challenges though. It was in terrible condition and everything from the house to the dilapidated outbuildings would require serious work. As she told me, the house itself was so infested by mice and fleas, that it required multiple fumigations and had to be taken down to the studs. Neither Karen nor Sid was deterred, they could envision the sanctuary it would become, and as she notes on her website, “I saw so much potential in the property and what it could become, but more importantly, it already felt like a sanctuary and I could envision needful animals thriving there. I felt instantly the property needed me as much as I needed it.”
Rescuing horses was completely unplanned, and in the midst of the long and arduous process of rebuilding the farm, Karen learned of a mini-horse named Melody, who was in dire need of rescue, and although the farm was far from ready to receive animals, Melody’s needs were immediate. It was the dead of winter and Melody would need shelter, so they looked to the only “building” available, a rotting former firewood shed. They turned to their good friends Jeff Henderson and John Bethea for help and together they created a makeshift stable for Melody.
Karen admits she really didn’t know anything about horses, so she leaned on her friends who did, one of which, Eileen Watland, became her mentor. She also relied on the internet, learning everything she could about horses and the care they’d need. With John Bethea’s help, who Karen joked, “pretty much lives here”, they went about building the first of two stables and eventually a barn, even incorporating Karen’s love of vintage items, using reclaimed shutters for the upper doors of the stalls. Before she knew it, more animals joined the farm and they welcomed two goats, Skip and Jercy, and another mini-horse named Shorty.
Although Karen very much wanted to do it all, running the farm and Meli Melo was too much, and in 2020, she sold the antique mall to Zeb Whitehead and Hiromi Yoshinaga who renamed it Zutto Vintage & Antiques. Letting the shop go was a sad time for Karen, but her lifelong love of animals quickly won out, and she hasn’t looked back since.
On a typical rainy spring day, I pulled into the driveway and was greeted by a unique and beautiful gate (which Sid later confirmed, was created by Dick Strom). Beyond that, a rolling pasture and pond, with the house and stables further up the drive. Once there, I met with Karen and Shannon Boss, a second-generation islander, Happy Hooves board member, and a fifth-grade teacher at The Island School, to learn more about the Sanctuary.
Together, Karen and Shannon explained that the farm had evolved (almost by accident) into more than just a sanctuary for animals, but also a sanctuary for children and their families. Initially, Karen had no intention of turning Happy Hooves into anything but a safe place for animals in need. Sid, of course, did everything he could, but he also worked full-time, and Karen quickly realized that she needed help, so she welcomed her friends and neighbors to the farm to assist. In doing so, she quickly amassed a cadre of volunteers who love to come to the farm to visit and help out with the horses and goats.
Many of the horses arrived with health issues that made them uncomfortable and fearful of people. Some of the volunteers (with guidance from Karen) take the horses under their wing and work with them directly, rehabilitating and nurturing them. Watching how the children and their families interacted with the animals—grooming them, cleaning out the stalls and feeding them—Karen discovered a wonderful thing, learning about and caring for the horses was therapeutic, especially for children with social issues of their own. The horses allowed for socialization and companionship, they brought the children out of their shells, especially on the heels of a pandemic that forced them into isolation.
Shannon drove this point home, noting that her own daughter, who was quite introverted, began coming to Happy Hooves last year. Since then, her work with the horses and the other volunteers has helped her gain confidence and better her social skills. Today, Shannon and her family come to the Sanctuary at least once a week to work with the horses. As a bonus, when the work is done, the kids get to ride the eligible horses (something all the children who come to the farm absolutely love).
We then wandered around the barn, and later, the stables, to learn about the animals. As Karen and Shannon shared each animal’s story, it was clear to me that the love, affection and kindness they have for these rescues is allowing them to thrive and have happy lives.
We began with Jewel, a full-size horse that they brought on as a lesson horse to help offset the costs at the farm. However, they soon learned that Jewel prefers experienced riders, so they “lease” her to an individual, who comes to the farm a few times a week to groom and ride her. Next was Bella, who is three years old and the smallest of the mini-horses. Shannon describes her personality as “spicy” as she’s quite spunky for such a small gal. Bella has had multiple owners and health issues, but now that she is at her “forever” home, she’s thriving and learning to trust the people around her.
We headed over to the stables where I met the other animals. Geoffrey is a certified therapy horse, and was already working with kids, which made him a great addition. Shorty is a retired horse carting expert, and Raven is a retired barrel racer. Then there was Candy and Toby, who arrived at the Sanctuary together. Toby is four years old and the sweetest of their small herd. He arrived with a variety of fears and phobias, and although he is still a work in progress, he’s showing improvement each day. Candy is approximately 28 years old. They believe she has a hearing impairment (or at least selective hearing, as she always seems to respond when food is mentioned), she loves to take walks and has become a beloved member of the farm family.
In addition to the small heard of miniature horses and Jewel, their full-size horse, they have Dobi, another full-size horse, who currently lives with a trainer off-island. Dobi is believed to be about five years old and was rescued from a kill-pen, he was very thin and reserved. Although he’s a larger project, he’s showing amazing potential and they hope to find him his forever home once his training is completed.
Today Happy Hooves offers several programs, which are designed to help children and their families through interaction with animals.
- Miniature comfort horse lease – allows you and your child to lease one of the horses (month-to-month commitment required). In this program, you and your child learn basic horsemanship through petting, grooming, and walking/leading the horses around the property (these horses are not for riding though).
- Pony rides – this includes a horsemanship lesson in grooming and effective communication with the animals. Because of their size, the mini-horses are perfect for young children to learn riding skills because they are close to the ground and less intimidating than a full-size horse.
- Events – with the completion of the large barn, Happy Hooves offers an event space that allows for intimate and large-scale gatherings. It’s perfect for birthday parties, holiday parties, office parties, or just a great space for a get-together with friends and family.
- Kids Night Out at the Movies – this is a drop-off program that includes a movie and snacks for the kids (perfect place to drop the kids while you’re on date night!).
- Field Trip and Elective Class – these programs are available for schools as an opportunity to learn about the Sanctuary’s operations and provide hands-on experience with farm chores and horses.
Summer Camp Fundraiser
Join Happy Hooves Sanctuary for summer horse camp! Campers will learn how to safely care for, lead, ride, and drive their wonderful herd of rescued miniature horses and lesson horses. Camp culminates with a pony parade and snacks party for campers and their families.
All profits from tuition go to supporting Sanctuary expenses year-round.
- Summer Camp 2023 will have ten sessions from Monday, June 19 through Friday, September 1. Each session is one week long.
- This event is open to children aged 5-11 years old. Registration is required and availability will be based on enrollment.
- Childcare services for extended hours are available for an additional cost.
To learn more about the Summer Camp, click here.
Volunteer Opportunities – Happy Hooves is always looking for volunteers to assist, to learn more, click here.
Therapy Program – The Sanctuary is in the process of becoming certified in equine assisted therapy programs for those in need. This will include visits to local hospitals, as well as on-site therapy with the horses at the Sanctuary.
Happy Hooves is a Non-Profit 501(c)(3) Organization. Last year they formed their Board of Directors, which is comprised of eight board members.
Vision Statement – Happy Hooves Sanctuary strives to cooperate with other professionals and rescues in an effort to become a community resource for connecting horses and people, in addition to educating the public with regard to horse related issues including rescue and therapy benefits.
Visit their website at: HOME (happyhoovessanctuary.org)
*Images courtesy of Happy Hooves and Margaret Millmore
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