Jeff Anastasio / KENS 5 | PIPE CREEK, TEXAS -- Regine Weatherholtz never owned a horse, but she always knew one day she'd get one. Then in 1987, a quarter horse named Nikki walked into Regine's heart and changed the next 25 years of her life.
It was in that year that Regine and her husband Bill took ownership of Nikki and opened the doors of the Brighter Days Horse Refuge in Boerne.
"Nikki was first, then it was one after another after another," Regine said. "As soon as people caught onto what we were doing, horses came from everywhere."
The need was great. Before the non-profit organization became a haven for horses suffering from neglect or abuse, animals in this condition were traditionally condemned to a death sentence.
"We tried to stop getting more because we had so many here, but it's hard to turn them away," Regine said. "They need someplace to go, and I don't want them sent off to the slaughter house."
More space for more horses
The horses kept coming. The 10-acre facility in Boerne swelled to nearly 100 horses, and in 1994, Regine and Bill moved the refuge to a property off Highway 16 in Pipe Creek.
Many horses that come here have been seized by law enforcement or surrendered by their owners.
"It's usually because people can't feed them anymore or they just don't want them anymore," Regine said.
These once-great creatures enter Brighter Days broken and scarred, but it's just a matter of time and patience before these horses feel a genuine connection to humans.
"If they've been abused for any length of time, they're always going to feel that," Regine said. "It doesn't take long to stroke their head and talk to them. They listen, and those ears twitch when you talk to them."
An expensive operation
It's a long road of rehabilitation that never really ends. Horses that were once hungry now have a huge appetite, and the cost to sustain the non-profit organization is substantial.
"It's kind of rough right now," Regine admitted. "Because of the economy, it's rough getting money in for the horses to keep them well-fed and everything."
The Brighter Days Horse Refuge depends on support from the community. Visitors are welcome to visit their Pipe Creek facility and interact with the horses.
"I would just like those that haven't been out here to come out here and see for themselves," Regine said. "If you can afford a little bit of money to bring out here for the horses, we would appreciate it so very much."
And for those that visit Brighter Days and fall in love with a particular horse, adoption is available. The remaining horses will live out their golden years at the facility.
A passion for horses
As for Regine Weatherholtz, the heart and driving force behind Brighter Days Horse Refuge, it's been a tough year.
What should have been a time to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the organization has instead been a year of goodbyes. Not only did Regine lose her husband, she recently had to say farewell to the horse that started it all.
"Nikki was kind and sweet and taught me everything," Regine said. "He was the one that just grabbed my heart and held on."
Despite the pain of losing her two partners and the challenge of keeping the doors open in a tough economy, Regine's mission continues in the extraordinary love she gives to each horse and the joy of gently guiding these great creatures to trust humans once again.
"People are changed," she said. "They pet on them, take a brush and brush on them, and once they get out here, they keep wanting to come back."
It's a passion for horses that she hopes captures the hearts of others.