MONROE— Darlene Kindle has trouble saying "no" to an animal in need.
Her organization, Carolina Equine Rescue and Assistance (CERA), has been assisting horses and other creatures since 2008.
She said about 50 horses have come through the farm in that time. There are also dogs, goats and other four-legged friends, but the horses are the main event.
Kindle has spent about 13 years in horse rescue and has been an animal lover her entire life. She is president of CERA.
"My dad was my...inspiration," she said. She said they used to bring in raccoons and other animals to take care of.
She said that horses have so many things they need from people and in return, they can give a lot in return. She said you can learn a lot from an animal.
For Cynthia Scott, a volunteer from Waxhaw, learning from horses is an important aspect of her life.
"I think if the public were more aware of their natural healing abilities, mankind would be much better off," Scott said.
Scott has been volunteering for less than a year. She was introduced to Kindle through a mutual friend who thought they would get along.
Upon visiting the farm, Scott said she was "blown away by the environment."
She said it was peaceful, tranquil with so much love and support for the animals that "you can't help but be drawn to it."
She said horses give back unconditional love in exchange for the care they receive.
Scott said she has loved horses "since I was knee-high to a grasshopper."
"I know that horses will always be a part of my life," Scott said. "And a priority."
Scott also serves as the fundraiser coordinator for CERA, she has been planning fundraisers for the non-profit and has some coming up later in September and in October.
Scott also appreciates how Kindle gives back to the community. Kindle works with the Daymark Recovery Center to help people, she also hosts students from Forest Hills High School to volunteer and other community organizations or community service opportunities.
She said the work is very successful in bringing the children out of their shells. It allows them to be comfortable and gives them responsibilities.
Stuart Duncan, who lives in Matthews, comes almost weekly with his 12-year-old daughter and her friends. He said they come out and complete their chores and enjoy the structure and the work.
Kindle noted there are very few farms allow children to care and learn about horses at their age level. Duncan's daughter feeds the chickens and pigs. They do other work that is age-appropriate.
"When it's time to adopt, I'm comfortable with what she knows," Duncan said.
Duncan is planning to adopt a horse from CERA when the time is right.
His family moved here from Texas and his daughter became obsessed with horses. He found the farm by searching the internet for a place to introduce his daughter to horses.
His Aunt in Texas is now a long-term donor, he said. His aunt loves it because she can see where her donations go and it all goes to the horses.
Becky Craven is no stranger to CERA adoptions. Craven, a Monroe resident, has been volunteering for CERA for three years.
She currently takes care of Pelear, Jules and Sergio, all from CERA. Pelear and Jules were born on the farm, but lost their moms soon after birth. It is her first time owning a horse.
Craven retired and found herself needing something to do. She found CERA and said she now considers Kindle a life-long friend.
"The animals...all the wonderful people I have met," Craven said when asked what her favorite part about volunteering is. "(It is) really nice to be able to do something for animals."
She has been taking riding lessons for the past three years and had horse experience in her childhood.
She said her feet were pretty planted on an animal path long ago, but volunteering at CERA has given her direction and purpose.
"I wouldn't have traded this experience for anything in the world," she said.
Kindle said she is thankful for her volunteers.
"I have wonderful volunteers," she said. "I'm very blessed."
She noted that a lot of her volunteers have been helping for years.
"Volunteers come and go," she said. "It shows that these friends believe in me and believe in what I'm trying to do."
Kindle also hopes to spread awareness about horses and horse ownership. She has in the past provided assistance to owners in need.
Her biggest concern is continuing in the economy.
"I really hope I can continue," she said.
She added that she does not want to quit, but the economy is terrible and she is limited to what she can take in because grants often do not cover care.
"It truly breaks my heart to turn one away and say no," she said.
However, Kindle has the support of volunteers who offer time and services to assist her in her work.
One volunteer, Dorrie Stebbins, from Wingate, Kindle called her "savior," saying that she will drop everything if there is an emergency.
Stebbins has been volunteering for about three years and has been riding horses for about 25 years.
She remembers being seven years old and telling her parents she was riding her bike around her Massachusetts neighborhood. She would ride her bike to a local horse farm, jump on a rock and then jump on a horse using two pieces of twine as reins.
She has owned her current horse for the past 20 years. She recently adopted a dog from Kindle.
She met Kindle after moving to the area, she saw her at a yard sale and asked if she needed help. Three years later, the answer is still yes.
Stebbins said she enjoys "the love and compassion that (CERA) gives the animals...(they are) trying to bring them back to life and give them comfort."
She said the farm is nice and comforting and relaxing.
"(I) just like it here," she said. She added that she likes the farm and the people.
Ed White, a Monroe resident, has been volunteering for the past three years. He came to the county when his company transferred him from West Virginia. He said he did not know anyone and looked on the internet for horses, finding CERA.
He has been involved in horses since the sixth grade, when he started riding a Shetland pony.
White said he enjoys "helping the horses, becoming their friend...I've just got a thing about animals."
Two horses were recently adopted out to new families. White said it was "bittersweet" and that he cried like a baby when they went away to their new homes.
"They were my girls," he said.
He said that every horse has its own personality and they deserve friends, even if they come from a past where they have been abused and neglected. White enjoys getting to know the horses and rebuilding the trust that may have been lost in their lives prior to coming to CERA.
"This place, everybody here gives the love the horse deserves," White said. "(There is a) self-satisfaction I get. The horses give me more than I'll ever be able to give them."
He said he gives them water and food and the reward for him is that they can be so trusting.
There are currently about 10 horses at CERA, in addition to goats, dogs and other animals. Some are permanent residents, while others will be adopted shortly.
"I do what's in my heart," Kindle said. "I treat people the way I want to be treated and I treat animals the way they should be treated."