Horse Protection League weathers inflation as the number of horses in the nonprofit’s care rise.

Stardust, a four-year-old mustang mare, was surrendered to the Horse Protection League in Arvada with the label “crazy,” but like most of the equines at the league, she’s now working toward adoption and a forever home.

“We rescue, rehabilitate and rehome,” said Director of Operations Margaret Blaha, on a sunny day at Churches Ranch, where the league’s animals are cared for by volunteers and staff. “We want them out, we want it to be a revolving door. We have good luck getting horses homes.”

Founded in 1994, the league, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, is dedicated to the welfare of horses, ponies, donkeys and mules, taking in animals surrendered by previous owners and using programs to ready them for adoption. Some of the horses rescued by the league are injured or physically challenged, some were abused or neglected.

With training, work and rehabilitation, the league strives to rehabilitate horses and move them on within a year or two, said Blaha. Still, some horses wind up at the league for longer periods — one horse has been around for 16 years.

In 2021, 21 horses were adopted out; in 2022, only three horses were. Currently, the league is boarding 31 horses, a number that the organization would like to lower in light of rising operating costs brought on by inflation. It spent $20,000 for hay in 2021; in 2022 the same amount of hay cost $38,000.

“It’s been brutal, horrible,” Blaha said of rising costs.

Still, donors, sponsors and fundraising events keep the league financially sound, she said, and 75 volunteers make sure that work — feeding, training, cleaning stalls and horses, veterinary care — is done routinely and thoroughly.

As for the horse Stardust, a volunteer wrangler team worked with her consistently for 30 days and she excelled. Stardust was entered into the league’s and she caught the eye of a young woman, a potential owner. The program requires potential new owners to go through a six-month period in which they feed and groom their potential horse, help train the animal and pay for its feed and grain, among other responsibilities. It’s a feeling-out period where the duo gets familiar with each other and organizers determine whether the match is a good fit. If and when the program is complete, the league drops the adoption fee. The program became so popular, a version is now available for adult candidates.

Lee Kaiser, a retiree from Lakewood, has volunteered with the league for five years. Kaiser briefly worked in Gunnison as a hunting guide outfitter in the 1990s, where he was responsible for a saddle horse and three pack horses. It wasn’t a permanent job, but it was an experience he never forgot.

“It was the hardest work I ever did but I loved it,” Kaiser recalled.

Looking to occupy his time in retirement, Kaiser’s wife, Ginger, recommended the league after hearing from a friend that it was looking for volunteers.

“I think I get more out of it than the horses do, it is kind of a therapy for me,” Kaiser said.

Kaiser’s work as a volunteer wrangler includes training horses to step in and out of a trailer. That moment can be frightening for horses, but it’s something they must comfortably perform if they’re to be adopted.

“It is amazing the trust that a horse puts in a person,” Kaiser said. “They are a prey animal and you can get them to the point that they trust you are not going to hurt them. It’s a symbiotic relationship, it feels good.”

Horse Protection League operates on the historic Churches Ranch property owned by Arvada.

The league pays the city $400 a month to lease the 480-acre property, which includes a barn, a house, corrals, stables and sheds. The league is responsible for maintenance and upkeep of the property as part of the lease agreement.

Arvarda parks manager Steve Gustafson describes the league as a good community partner performing a needed service.

“It’s too bad there has to be an organization like HPL, but thank God there is.”

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