JACKSON, Mich. — Laura Hauenstein says it just came to her one day.
Working in insurance, she felt a calling to help horses get a second chance at life. A year later, she opened up Reality’s Chance, a horse sanctuary in Pleasant Lake.
“I was a workaholic,” Hauenstein said. “I’m in the insurance industry and I was the minority owner of a business where my partners kept saying, ‘Laura, all you do is work. Get a hobby. Do something. Go on a date. Drink a glass of wine.’”
She took their advice and signed up for riding lessons at a local barn. A horse was brought in one day that was going to be taken to an Amish community if nobody wanted to adopt him.
“I decided at that point, it was a sort of a fly-by-night, last minute, ‘Just, I’ll take care of him,’” Hauenstein said.
She boarded the horse at a nearby facility for a little bit to rehab him and soon became known as a person that would take horses in.
"I just became known for this, ‘Oh, if nobody else can handle this horse or nurse it back to health, maybe she will,’” Hauenstein said.
In 2010, she purchased the 30-acre property at 4519 E. Berry Road in Pleasant Lake so the horse could have its own space.
“At the time I didn’t really think I was going to open a full-out rescue,” Hauenstein said. “I wanted him to have his own space and live out his life really easy after all the work he did on the racetrack. After I bought this space, it just kind of escalated.”
The sanctuary is a seven-day-a-week job for her. She still consults for insurance and risk management which helps keep the sanctuary going.
“If I have the morning feed I will head over and start feeding around 7:30 or 8 o’clock. I try to fit one or two horses in for training before I go back to my day job. Grab some lunch, check on my dog, work on the computer a little bit more. Then I come back for more training with horses or some lessons. Be here for a little bit in the afternoon, then back for some dinner really quick maybe, maybe not. Then a little bit more work on the computer. Then back for some more lessons or training,” Hauenstein said.
She's traveled to locations in Illinois and in west Michigan to pick up mustangs that were rounded up out west. The federal Bureau of Land Management will round up wild horses in an effort to preserve land and protect herds.
Hauenstein says she has had 558 horses come through her sanctuary. They’re broken up into two different categories. Horses they will be able to adopt out and horses they know will stay with them, “horses that are very ill and very high maintenance and we know that adopting them out would be very rough because they would be very costly from the feed standpoint or medical bills."
Reality’s Chance has one barn manager, six core volunteers, and approximately 15 drop-in volunteers.
“We came out a few years ago and met Laura and were just so impressed with the place,” volunteer Joel Freehling said.
“When horses get old some people don’t think they’re valuable anymore and Laura does," he added. "Just spending time with some of the horses it just makes an impact and you can feel it. I think that’s the thing with volunteering that people think you’re giving your time you’re giving your skill but really you get so much back it pays you back tenfold."
Last year was challenging for the horse sanctuary. Donations dropped off because of the pandemic while they also cared for horses with owners who had become very ill from COVID-19.
“The pandemic really truly brought on the older horses. The pandemic hit the older generation harder. As they were going into the hospital and not able to care for their horses. We did take a couple horses in at that time. We did have one owner who passed away in the hospital and we took in his Gelding,” Hauenstein said.
Two of the horses are Thor and Bart. Bart is 24 years old now and is constantly by Thor’s side. Thor at 26 years old is a medical marvel according to Hauenstein. She says vets are amazed that Thor is still alive at that age and with his medical issues. He has a choking problem due to his esophagus size and can only have a very specialized diet. Laura says there are plans to write a children’s book about Thor.
There are additional attractions at the rescue and sanctuary. They recently built a yurt for people to stay at and help if they wanted to. There is also a pavilion donated by Action Builders with an outdoor kitchen and a separate gift shop.
She’s hoping to use the rental profits to purchase supplies and feed for the horses.
They plan on hosting their first street fair on Saturday, June 26, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. They will have 38 local vendors ranging from food to entertainment and from face painting to yoga.
“If you haven’t been here come out and see what this place is. Maybe you haven’t been around horses for a few years and have that itch, come on out,” Freehling said. “The biggest thing is, take a look at social media and see the work that Laura does and I guarantee you will want to be part of this too.”
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