Giving Back

How a Resort in New Mexico Gives Abandoned Horses a Second Chance

The Hyatt Regency Tamaya in New Mexico is saving wild and abandoned horses — and relying on the help of meeting attendees to do it.

Horses aren’t the only ben- eficiaries of the Hyatt Regency Tamaya’s rehabilitation program. Volunteers and guests often form meaningful connections with the animals,
Horse Rescuer The Tamaya Horse Rehabilitation Program cares for 51 rescued horses at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico.

The horse was near death. Dollar was old, thin, and weak, and suffering from an infection known as shipping fever. When his owner abandoned him at an auction in New Mexico, the auction manager asked Connie Collis for help. Collis is the director of the Tamaya Horse Rehabilitation Program, which cares for 51 rescued horses at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico.

Because of Dollar’s infectious illness, Collis quarantined him in her own garage. “He was about 300 pounds under weight, had a high fever and snotty nose, and he just plain didn’t feel good,” she said. After two months of care, his strength grew, and Collis brought him to the Hyatt Regency’s stables for rehab. Dollar now rules the grounds, preening and trotting and greeting guests, and occasionally stealing their food. “He is so healthy,” Collis said, “and so beautiful.”

Dollar benefitted from a unique partnership between the rehab program, the Hyatt Regency, and groups that hold meetings at the resort. Meeting attendees frequently volunteer with the program, from building shelters to bathing horses. They also provide financial support. After one group volunteered, they went to the local hardware store and bought rakes, shovels, pitchforks, and wheelbarrows. Other organizations sponsor horses like Dollar, who was adopted by a financial-planning company at Christmas in 2014; the firm held meetings at the Hyatt Regency the following July, and during breaks attendees visited their resilient horse.

“Sometimes we’ll be showing a group the horses and he’ll gallop by, and we’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s Dollar,’” Collis said. “He has such a personality. He’ll live the rest of his life happily.”

A STABLE PRESENCE

The program was launched in 2011 to address the rising number of abandoned horses following the recession as well as the increasing size of wild-horse herds. To confront the problem, Collis — who also manages the Hyatt Regency’s stable and trail-riding program — discussed an idea with the property’s then-manager and sales manager: to create a 501(c)(3) rescue and rehabilitation program at the resort.

“When we started this, I thought I would go to the sale barn and buy horses that no one wanted anymore,” Collis said. “I’ve never had to do that. I get calls every day: ‘Can you take my horse?’” The horses often come from owners who can no longer afford the expenses, from vet bills to shoeing costs. Making matters worse, severe drought in the Southwest has raised the price of hay and feed. In 1990, a bale of hay cost $3; today, it’s as high as $12.

“We get a lot of ‘My daughter went to college and left us with this horse and we don’t know what to do with it’ problems,” Collis said. “I own a feed store, and sometimes I get up in the morning and find horses tied to the fence. There’s a huge need.”

NEIGHS AND MEANS

Tamaya_Group Horseback Ride
Instant Bond Horses aren’t the only beneficiaries of the Hyatt Regency Tamaya’s rehabilitation program. Volunteers and guests often form meaningful connections with the animals.

The Hyatt Regency provides financial support to the rescue effort, which is largely funded by the resort’s trail-riding program. But for Collis, the most crucial assistance comes from organizations that host meetings at the Hyatt Regency — and who provide funding, labor, and love. 

ABM, a facilities-management company, took the reins during a meeting in the fall of 2015, with about 150 volunteers performing construction work and donating money to renovate the arena, an area where riders receive lessons and horses roll. (That’s a horse thing — they like to roll and run in the sandy area.) Other volunteers from ABM bathed horses and oiled saddles, and when some of them scrubbed the stable’s water buckets, they decided that the program needed a power washer. “After they worked all day and gave us the money to rebuild our arena,” Collis said, “they also gave us the power washer and donated another $1,300 for feed.”

Groups frequently continue to support the rehab program and ask for horse updates long after their meetings have ended. “We’ve met so many wonderful people,” Collis said. “They build, they clean — it’s amazing.”

Just as volunteers find meaning from the work, Collis wants the horses’ lives to have purpose. Her goal? In 10 years, she wants everyone who rides a horse at the Hyatt Regency to be riding a rescue horse. Not every horse is suited for this — some are old, and wild horses can be hard to train — but many of the rescues have become excellent trail horses. “Horses are like people,” Collis said. “They need to have a job. And they need to be needed.”

Ken Budd

Contributing Editor Ken Budd is a freelance writer based in Burke, Virginia, author of the memoir The Voluntourist, and host of “650,000 Hours,” a new digital series about travel and volunteering.