Kelly Stackpole never thought that Hinkley, the grey, doe-eyed, speckled rescue horse, would trust a human. Rescued last March after being badly abused, Hinkley was terrified of human contact. Whenever his always-twitching ear heard footsteps approaching, he would flatten himself against his stall wall.

Today, not even 12 months after his rescue, Hinkley not only accepts human affection, but craves it. He lives with his head sticking out above his stall door, perpetually looking for a person to pet him. He has transformed into a total goofball and lovebug, and has recently been adopted by a local family.

“I never thought he would be able to do [this],” says Stackpole, owner and founder of Rising Starr Horse Rescue. “The animals come first. To see them happy, to see [people] petting Hinkley like that, makes it all worth it.”

Rising Starr Horse Rescue is a 501(c)(3) non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to saving horses just like Hinkley by providing a safe space for them to heal and thrive–a task demanding abundant patience, training, acceptance and love.

Rising Starr moved to Wilton from Redding on Dec. 5, 2019. In the one month since the move, the farm has rescued five new horses, six if you include the unborn foal carried by 3-year-old pregnant “Tessa,” who was rescued just this past Monday from a kill pen in Texas.

Located at 93 Silver Spring Rd in Wilton–the previous home of Larkspur Farm–Rising Starr’s new location encompasses a 30-stall barn, 40 acres of land, an indoor arena, and a perimeter of over 1oo acres.

Stackpole hopes to use the new location to expand the pasture space and trails, as well as making it a place anyone can come and enjoy.

“We want the community to be able to come and visit and volunteer,” she says. Plans include creating “picnic spots” and walkable, open trails for anyone to enjoy.

Standing out from other barns, all programs at Rising Starr are goal-oriented, not competition based. Stackpole, who initially was a trainer at a very competitive barn in Greenwich with horses worth up to $1 million, switched gears to the non-competitive style. “It became all about the blue ribbon and not the animals. [I] just want[ed] to get back to loving the horses.”

Saving Horses from Slaughter

Deciding to open her own non-competitive barn, Moonlight Farm, Stackpole started to look for horses. She was stunned and devastated by the number of young, healthy and able horses sent to slaughter houses every year.

That’s when, in 2005, she launched Rising Starr Horse Rescue to rescue, rehabilitate, and re-home horses facing abuse, neglect, and/or the threat of slaughter, and to educate the public about responsible horse ownership and care. Though originally intended to be a one-horse-at-a-time rescue, the organization soon “exploded” into something much bigger.

Today, Rising Starr has 16 horses at its barn, only five of which are not rescues. Stackpole gets calls every day about more horses.

From the start, the organization has been heavily supported by Stackpole’s riding students, who raised the money themselves to save their first rescue and are still involved.

“Ninety percent of the people that started Rising Starr are here with us today,” Stackpole says.

In addition to adoption and rescuing, Rising Starr offers riding lessons, volunteer opportunities, boarding, leasing, life coaching, equine yoga, trail rides, and sponsorship. Rising Starr also supports the Girl Scouts, high school senior spring interns, and children from Easton Country Day School who come to the farm weekly to ride, brush a horse, and even “pick up the poop.”

Rising Starr Horse Rescue founder Kelly Stackpole

At its new location, Rising Starr hopefully will expand even more. Stackpole is currently in the process of funding a new program for veterans and their families to engage with the farm, free of charge. The goal is for the program to offer free trail rides led by staff, life coaching with the horses, learning to work with horses on the ground, and riding.

She also hopes to launch “Read for the Rescues,” a program that would invite lower school children from Wilton Public Schools who are struggling with reading to read to the horse of their choice to improve their skills.

Rising Starr looks to participate in the Wilton Farmers’ Market in the spring, bringing Pixi, its “Spokes-Mini” miniature pony that has been featured in the Ridgefield Holiday Stroll and other community events, and any adoptable rescue horse comfortable with crowds.

The biggest part of what Rising Starr does, says Stackpole, is education.

“We can’t save 100,000 horses here. We might be able to save maybe 20 or 30 horses this year, because we have such a big facility now, but that doesn’t make a dent. Education is the biggest key to giving horses a second chance at life.”

People Helping Horses, Horses Helping People

The programs are only possible because of volunteers. Rising Starr has around 30 regular volunteers spanning all ages and abilities who do anything from barn chores and brushing to bookkeeping and organizing for those who want to support the cause but are not comfortable with horses. Volunteers will even spend hours sitting with a new horse to teach it that a human presence does not always mean it will have to work.

Liv Taber started volunteering with Rising Starr in the fall of 2018 after receiving treatment for anorexia. Taber has found volunteering extremely fulfilling and motivating, especially for her own recovery.

“I knew that in order to take care of the horses and make a positive difference in their life, I needed to take care of myself too,” Taber wrote in an email to GMW.  “Rising Starr has been a huge part of my recovery and taking care of the horses is extremely therapeutic.”

Taber adds that the RSHR community “is beautiful in every way,” adding, “We are all connected through our love of horses and everyone is friendly, motivated and incredibly hard working.”

Stackpole encourages anyone interested in volunteering–regardless of age, experience, or comfort level–to reach out.

“You don’t need to know anything. We will teach you everything you need to know and everything you want to know,” she says.

Rising Starr is hosting a Volunteer Orientation on Saturday, Jan. 11, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at its new location. All are welcome and encouraged to attend to learn more about how to get involved.

“Volunteering at Rising Starr saves lives, not just the horses, but the people,” Taber says. “I think it saved mine.”