SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) – This week’s Jefferson Award winner learned a love of animals growing up in Wyoming. So it’s not hard to understand why she didn’t hesitate when she found horses in trouble here in the Bay Area.

Morning is Vicki Sims Whitney’s favorite time of day. It’s when she checks in with her friends, like Coco and Charlie, two of 20 horses she cares for on some borrowed pasture land in Santa Rosa.

“Rose is a little old lady,” Sims Whitney said, offering carrots to another horse. “Some of them are pranksters, jokers.”

Each, she says, is special in its own way. But all of them have come to her from dire circumstances. Sims Whitney started Sadie’s Haven, a horse rescue and sanctuary, four years ago. She named it after the first horse she saved – a mare lame from over-breeding.

With the help of volunteers, she raises money to cover the $2,500 a month it takes for food, medicine, and farriers, often filling in the gaps with her own funds. Finding space for her growing herd has been a challenge.

“Horses are supposed to be like wild horses,” Sims Whitney insists. “They are supposed to have access to freedom of pasture, not be in a stall all the time.”

So when she started working at BrightHaven, a sanctuary for smaller creatures, owner Gail Pope offered her the adjacent pasture land for her project.

“She’s someone who’s born with the gift of passion,” Pope explained. “Compassion most importantly. Vicki is helping horses and other animals that otherwise would be discounted.”

Sims Whitney gets her horses at Sadies Haven from a variety of sources. Most are given up by owners who can’t afford them anymore. Others have been abandoned, and some have been abused. Sims Whitney says almost all of these horses would have ended up at auction.

“Horses that go to auctions, the majority of them go to a kill buyer, and are destined for slaughters and/or the Mexican charreadas (rodeos),” she said.

Sims Whitney supports a federal ban on horse slaughter, and works with local youth groups to provide educational programs and a summer camp to teach the next generation the issues and basics of caring for these gentle giants.

“Every horse we save there are hundreds being slaughtered,” she said sadly. “I think what people don’t realize is what a heart and soul horses have. They’re not disposable, they’re not recyclable. They are actually living beings that have a lot to teach us.”

So for providing a safe haven for horses today, and working for a future where they all have greener pastures, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Vicki Sims Whitney.

Sadie’s Haven has a waiting list of horses that need a safe place to live out their years. If you would like to help or volunteer, visit the website:

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