I arrived in La Peñita the night of September 29th, having never been to Mexico before (other than when I was a toddler) and not speaking a sentence of Spanish. Many would call this a quarter life crisis. I had recently acquired some free time, last minute unforeseen circumstances forced me to enroll in online classes for this semester of graduate school. I knew I didn’t want to stay in Alaska for this season, fall in Southeast is not the nicest time of year, but where would I go, what would I do? Somehow with all of these unanswered questions I still jumped at the opportunity to come to a place I never even knew existed. It was a last minute decision to come here, the tickets were cheap and a good friend of mine who spends her winters here offered me the opportunity to stay at her place, free of rent (what more could a college student ask for). I booked the ticket, looked at the map, read about the area and downloaded a Spanish language app for my iPhone. Before I knew it I was already here.

(above photo) Bath time for Freckles. I sang rubber ducky to her the entire time.

I was in search of something, personal growth, self-discovery, adventure, independence, whatever it was it lead me here. My friend had mentioned a horse refuge nearby that peaked my interest even more; I had always loved being around horses and had ridden a bit in the past. There is a level of comfort I feel being around them, no need to pretend to be anything, they see you for who you are. The first day I was here I went on a hunt for a couple named George and Loretta. I wandered the neighborhood asking for George, Loretta and the horses in mangled Spanish mixed with some English, until I finally wandered to the right spot.

George was on his balcony and told me to meet him at 8am on top of the hill. I walked up the hill that afternoon to time how long it would take me to get up there, not long at all, and went to bed as soon as the sun went down, too excited for the next day. I couldn’t sleep, I tossed and turned, lightning and thunder isn’t something common in Juneau, Alaska. But finally morning came and if I was fit enough to run up that hill, believe me I would have.

George pulled up, opened the gates and what I found was more than I could have ever dreamed of. George introduced me to all of the horses; I learned each of their names and conversed with all of them. I spent the first few days talking and walking with them, getting to know each one individually. It’s lonely in a place where you don’t speak the same language as everyone else, but horses speak the language of love and compassion and I had never felt more at home.

That very first day, Freckles and I made eye contact. George was lunging her around, and something in her eyes made me feel like she could see into my soul. (She also reminded me of a unicorn, a species I believed really existed until I was 15 years old, this made her even more special.) I told myself to get to know her slowly, but we instantly bonded, walking and talking, I knew she was the one because the conversation was never forced and the silence was never awkward. We chose each other, and I decided then that I would spend every day of my trip working with and spending time with her. In the first week I learned the stories of all of the horses that had been saved, and those that had been lost.

JEEP Lindsey 4
A very clean Freckly face.

I found some WiFi and read about the J.E.E.P program and all that it stands for, not just rehabilitating horses but giving a safe place for special children to come and be with such incredible creatures. How perfect, therapy for horses and humans! Having studied mental and behavioral health in my undergraduate work, I was aware of the healing and therapeutic nature of horses, but never in my dreams did I think I would get to be a part of something like this.

JEEP Lindsey 2  JEEP Lindsey 1

Freckles is three years old, the least experienced and newest of the group, and just like me, everything is foreign to her. It only seemed fitting that her and I take on this next chapter of life together, spending time learning about ourselves, each other, and the world around us. I look forward to seeing her each day. In the mornings she’ll put her nose to my nose or on my forehead while I ask how her night was. Small things like resting her head on my shoulder, lets me know she trusts me. In the afternoon when I say goodnight, she watches me with those all knowing eyes as I walk away. I have made friends here these past nine days, but none compare to the friendship I have already developed with her. It’s early in our journey, I have 22 more days left here and each day I see changes in her, her confidence and her demeanor, and I consider myself so lucky to be a part of this. I thank George and Loretta for being so welcoming and allowing me to be a part of this incredible family here, I have found whatever I was looking for here with them and their rescued animals and I can’t wait to see where the rest of the month will take me.

by Lindsey Kato, Juneau, Alaska

About Jaltemba Equine Education Project (J.E.E.P.): Jaltemba Equine Education Project was established in December 2012 by George & Loretta Leavitt to help large animals like horses, donkeys and mules who are ill, malnourished or being mistreated in Jaltemba Bay, Nayarit, Mexico. To learn more or to make a one-time gift or recurring donation, visit Jaltemba Equine Education Project (J.E.E.P.)

Your donations will help J.E.E.P. buy food, shelter, medication and the equipment necessary to care for the rescue horses, as well as complete the Hilltop Refugio. Remember, donations of tack and gear, both new and used are always needed and much appreciated.