We never know who’s going to come visit the Hilltop Refugio in La Peñita these days. Recently, a boy brought a rooster to us after hearing that we accepted rescues. Even though Jaltemba Equine Education Project (J.E.E.P.) is not a “refuge for roosters,” we were able to find the rooster a new home and he is doing well!

Hilltop Refugio Updates


Construction continues under the guidance of George Leavitt, with the assistance of our Junior Trainers… and thanks to generous donations! The dog kennels are now complete and provide comfortable accommodations for our rescues.

JEEP Dog Kennels

The most recent construction are the poles on the property. They are being installed along the road side so the horses can get exercise in the large outdoor area, without being able to run over the edge to the street (which one infamous horse has already tried!).

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All 75 new bougainvilleas were finally delivered and are in the ground. They were planted along the new poles to create a wind break for the horses. Those planted earlier in the season are doing well and are an example of what the new wind break will look like when the plants mature.

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Refugio Horse Rescue and Education

Ongoing community equine education continues and includes teaching owners how to care for their horses, doctoring the horses and providing needed medication. The Junior Trainers are at the refugio almost daily assisting with the care of the dogs and horses, as well as receiving additional education.

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Helping the only way we could. This month, we rescued a mule whose foot and leg were severely damaged. The mule was living near the refugio and was generally tied and healthy. We are unclear what exactly happened, but somehow, he got tangled up in the rope and his hoof and leg were mangled. George received several calls about the mule and went out to find him, as well as the mule’s owner. He recommended putting the mule down, but the owner would not agree. We figured the owner would then take care of the mule, but that was not the case. George saw the mule a couple days later and its hoof had fallen off. George and Ron moved the mule up to the refugio and contacted the police to see if they could intervene. They didn’t, but knew about the refugio and allowed George to deal with the mule. George and Ron contacted the local vet, Dr. Eladio Tello, who said the mule was suffering greatly, could not be healed and to put the animal down. Eladio has been extremely helpful to J.E.E.P., donating his time, medication and assistance whenever asked or needed. We are so appreciative of his help. When contacted, the mule’s owner thanked George for stopping its suffering. Although it is sad to put an animal down, needless suffering is much worse. Too frequently, both mules and horses are injured from being tied out. George continues to educate local owners when these circumstances occur.

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Therapeutic Horseback Riding

Visit the Hilltop Refugio any Wednesday during our therapeutic horseback rides, and it’s easy to see the importance of this weekly event. The special needs children who participate are thriving, and we continue to receive positive feedback from the teachers, parents and caregivers. In one example, a young boy was not speaking when he first starting coming, but he is now talking up a storm. The smiles of confidence on the children’s faces are visible testimony to the benefits of this experience.

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Dog and Cat Rescue/Fostering & Adoption

This has been a big month for both rescue and adoption. George Leavitt and Ron Nicholls oversee this activity and have taken in four rescues.

One dog was hit by a car and is being cared for by Ron. Another was brought to us for care, but had to be euthanized. It was a pup, and someone kicked it so hard that it crushed his hip. After the vet recommended that the dog should be put down, Ron took him to a vet in Puerto Vallarta for a second opinion, and he confirmed the diagnosis. We were very sad. A third dog was repeatedly attacked by other dogs and had bites all over his back. He has since recovered and has been adopted.

Last we rescued “Rusty,” a pup that we think had boiling water thrown on him. His head and the front part of his body, chest and legs were full of blisters. He had no hair left. Thanks to Ron’s care, his hair is growing back and he is one happy little guy. Rusty has just been adopted as well.

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A happy and almost healthy Rusty today (shown on right) / Rusty when rescued (below)

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Many of you may have heard about the heartrending story of “Spider.” Spider was found in La Peñita. He was so weak that he could barely stand and his body was covered in mange. He was immediately taken to the vet and given life-saving injections for mange and parasites. For the first couple of days he just laid there. Ron and Simone cooked rice mixed with veggies and ground pork. They delivered and fed it to Spider for at least two weeks, maybe longer, and he gobbled it up along with small amounts of kibble. His recovery was quite remarkable, and after a couple of weeks, he began to grow his hair back. After two short months, he has fully recovered and has a new lease on life. He is an active, loyal and loving dog that is neutered and fully leash trained. He’ll make an excellent dog for a family with children.

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Spider before (above) and Spider now… ready to be adopted! 


What a marvelous community we live in. Donations continue to flow in, and our two fundraisers were a huge successes this year. We are so very thankful!

On a personal note: For me, the “heart” in J.E.E.P. represents George and Loretta Leavitt. Their monetary donations, time commitment and hearts are dedicated to all phases of this project. The project has grown by leaps and bounds in all its activities. George is up at the Hilltop Refugio twice daily – rain, shine or muggy summer weather. Loretta assists in the summer when their hotel is closed. Donations come from her restaurant profits. Loretta also cooks frequently for the kids. I want to give them the credit they so strongly deserve. Donna Brownfield, one of the original project visionaries, has been in town and up at the refugio training horses. She also deserves commendation. We are so lucky to have such dedicated people overseeing J.E.E.P.

– Valerie Bennett-Naquin


The 3rd Annual Pony Up! for J.E.E.P. Fundraiser was held on Friday, January 23rd at the Hilltop Refugio in La Peñita, and it was a huge success. Attendees had an opportunity to meet the rescue horses, dogs and cats, and to see the progress being made at the stables. Thanks to the generous participants and volunteers, our annual fundraiser broke our last two event records. Together, we raised a whopping $112,780 pesos in support of the J.E.E.P. project! You can read more in our annual Pony Up! update.

Our second fundraiser of the season was a “meat auction” held on February 10, 2015, and brought in a total of $11,320 pesos from 50/50 tickets, meat and alcohol sales. The event was a success thanks to Linda and Orval Haugan, who planned the event, and of course, all the volunteers who pitched in to help.

Monetary Donations:

George and Loretta Leavitt:

  • Construction: $2,500 USD
  • Personnel: $450 USD
  • Boarding income: 3 horses = $300 USD

Other Monetary:

  • Greg and Madeline Bennett Family Foundation: $200 USD
  • Donna Brownfield: $25 USD
  • Laura Gross (Corvallis, Oregon): $100 USD
  • Anonymous donations from people visiting J.E.E.P: $1,850 pesos

Donations of Equipment and Other Items:

  • Lunches for Therapeutic Horseback Riding: Greg and Cathy Weller; Brad and Karen Mattern; Bertha Cueva and friends; Carniceria La Nayarita, owner Efrain Cueva, in La Peñita
  • Jodi and Mike Ryall donated several kennels, collars, leashes and supplies for dogs and cats; also tack for the horses reins, bridles, etc.

by Valerie Bennett-Naquin

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.