ST. IGNATIUS — There is a ranch in the Mission Valley that rescues horses — but not just any horses.
LES Haven Ranch in St. Ignatius takes in blind horses and with training and lots of love, the group says these animals are now having full lives.
Louise Schmidt was gifted a blind horse while she was in high school.
“I was told to euthanize her, that was gonna be her best option,” she explained.
However, Louise decided Lea deserved to live a full life and decided to keep her.
“Lea was my first horse. I've never really trained a horse before, let alone a blind horse. Her and I had a strong connection in the beginning and kind of stuck with it.”
It took three years for Louise to be able to ride Lea but now they go on adventures all over Montana. She uses voice commands to direct Lea around obstacles while on trails.
“I'm basically her eyes. We've gone on lots of adventures that most people wouldn't consider seeing a blind horse go on," Louise detailed. "There's still that capability of being a normal horse. Once that blindness comes to be a normal thing.”
When Louise and her then-fiancee Korey were ready to add another horse to the family, they were planning on getting a sighted horse. That’s when they came across Sadie online. Sadie was going blind but they opted to keep her anyway.
“It didn't even take a minute and [Korey] fell in love with her," Louise excitedly said.
With two blind horses, the couple decided to begin a sanctuary.
“Both my husband and I had the thought at the same time — ‘We should open up a rescue and sanctuary for these horses and have a safe haven’," Louise stated. "It was like God telling us, you know, both of us, it's in our hearts. It's, this is my will for you. This is how it's gonna be.”
Now, as LES Haven Ranch, the Schmidts have 10 blind horses and a miniature deaf horse on their property in St. Ignatius. Additionally, they have other blind horses with a caretaker in Texas. Some are rescues from kill pens and have gone blind due to trauma.
“The ones we've rescued from the kill pen, it's pretty rough. Bringing them here, they get training, they get treats they get loved on and it's like a, a start over," described Korey.
People can visit the ranch to meet the herd, learn, and deeply connect with the horses.
“It's pretty powerful when people are hurting or dealing with rough stuff. Everybody goes through hard life, coming here and just receiving love, not just from horses, but horses that also have had a hard life being able to relate to these animals," Louise explained. "Knowing that they're broken, I'm broken but sharing that love and connection with one another.”
Through watching the horses run and live freely, LES Haven Ranch seeks to inspire others.
“It shows when you get a group of people together and they see something that isn't right, which is these blind horses going to slaughter. We have the chance to save them, give them a better life and it brings people together and it helps us all grow in a way,” Korey shared.
Louise added, “These blind horses can do all these things. Just think what you can do when you put your mind to it.”
Click here to donate and to read more about LES Haven Ranch.