Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary began with just one horse on five acres of rural land outside Sarasota, Florida, and eventually evolved into an award-winning, 320-acre facility located in Mena (Polk County).
Melanie and Jim Bowles, the founders of Proud Spirit, originally earned their livings as professional firefighters for Sarasota County, Florida. In 1990, they purchased a small home on five acres out in the country. A few months later, they decided they had room for a horse and began looking for one to purchase. In their search, they discovered a thoroughbred mare that was being neglected and purchased the horse to get her out of the abusive situation. In 1992, they opened their five acres to more horses in need, and in a short period of time, they had eight horses, all requiring restorative care.
That same year, they officially established Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The couple expanded their property to fifty acres and soon had intervened on behalf of over seventy horses. The herd they personally cared for grew to include over thirty horses.
In 2001, Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary was awarded “Outstanding Horse Rescue of the Year” by the Rio Vista Corporation. Melanie Bowles kept a journal on each of the Proud Spirit horses and compiled the stories into a book that was published in 2003 as The Horses of Proud Spirit by Pineapple Press, Inc. A PBS documentary on the sanctuary, also titled The Horses of Proud Spirit, was released in the spring of 2005 and shortly thereafter won an Emmy.
By 2004, the herd had grown to forty horses. The Bowleses retired from their jobs as firefighters, and in an effort expand their rescue work, they relocated the sanctuary and all forty horses to 320 acres of rolling, lush pastures in Mena. The horses were moved from Florida to Arkansas in three fifty-three-foot tractor trailers outfitted for equines.
The Bowleses do no breeding at Proud Spirit. Once a horse finds its way to the sanctuary, it has a home for life. Horses are never adopted out, leased, or ridden again. The couple has, as of 2007, intervened on behalf of over 150 horses. They network with other rescue organizations and law enforcement officers all across the country. The sanctuary does not utilize volunteers; all of the daily care for the horses at the Mena ranch is handled strictly by family members.
Funding for the sanctuary comes from private donations and proceeds from Melanie’s book. Her second book, Hoof Prints: More Stories from Proud Spirit, was released in the spring of 2008.
For additional information:
Benenati, Katherine. “Melanie Sue Bowles.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. September 19, 2010, pp. 1D, 4D.
Bowles, Melanie Sue. Hoof Prints: More Stories from Proud Spirit. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, Inc., 2008.
———. The Horses of Proud Spirit. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, Inc., 2003.
Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary. http://www.horsesofproudspirit.com/ (accessed December 27, 2007).
Melanie Sue Bowles
Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary