The True Meaning of Free Range: The Olde Windmill Trail Farm Animal Sanctuary
New Mexico is called “The Land of Enchantment” for good reasons. Nestled away in the distant and rural part of northern New Mexico among the mountainous landscape of the Cerrillos Hills, Ortiz Mountains and Sangre de Cristo mountain range is a magical place called The Olde Windmill Trail Farm Animal Sanctuary (OWTFAS.)
Run for the last ten years by Karin and Andrew Brandi, a dedicated and still-friendly divorced couple, this sanctuary is a unique experience and breath of fresh air. Karin calls it primitive and the six mile drive over the bumpiest dirt road I have ever experienced is just the beginning of the magical trip. I’m not exaggerating when I say my head hit the roof of Karin’s pickup truck more than once at a mere 5 mph — and yes, I was wearing a seatbelt!
How the Sanctuary Came to Be
Originally, the Brandis moved there to build a home and experience nature as it was meant to be. Living totally off the grid, the house is powered by a generator and heated with a wood stove. No small feat considering the intense winters and scorching summers of the Santa Fe area. They have no phone lines, but do sport cell phones to keep in contact with the outside world.
The 42 acres of high desert land had the only well in the area which was powered by a windmill, hence the name. This is the reason Karin and Andrew found a few wild horses wandering through their property. As it turned out, those horses weren’t wild at all. They had been dumped there by different locals for various reasons. The horses they saw were thin and sickly from years of abandonment, but that didn’t stop the Brandis from making the commitment to care for them for the rest of their natural lives.
All the animals at OWTFAS have a permanent home and will not be sold or adopted out. They are also free-ranging and come and go as they please, like nature intended. The one exception is Snowy, a 40-year-old gelding. He is corralled near the house due to his age and declining abilities. He requires a special equine food for senior horses that is quite expensive.
Then, along came some cows that were either slaughter escapees or also abandoned and they were added to the crew of four-footed critters. The really beautiful thing about OWTFAS is the commitment made to the animals to allow them to live their lives out in their natural state. None of the horses are ridden, ever.
The cows did come in contact with some free-ranging bulls and have since created new generations, but they are a family in the truest sense of the word. The cows graze all day long on the available lands but are not milked for human consumption. All their milk goes to their calves just the way nature intended.
The first several years saw a multitude of chickens living there, but they have since died out. Karin says she will not replace them, even though she misses them all. They also lived a free-range life.
After about three years of continuing to find new additions to their family, Karin and Andrew decided to form a 501 (c) (3) animal sanctuary. As time went on, more and more animals have been dropped off at their location. They now provide a loving home and shelter to 17 horses, 13 cows and one donkey. And this excludes their four pet dogs and one cat.
About the Brandis
Andrew is a 65-year-old retired U.S. Marine who supports himself by giving talks to veterans and veteran groups about PTSD, a condition which is personal to him, having served in Viet Nam. And Karin is an artist with a loyal, local following. It is through the sale of her paintings and rock art that she supports the needs of the animals.
Karin grew up in Ohio next to a Shetland pony farm and was always drawn to the spirits of animals. At 58 years of age, she has developed a keen sense of connection with the horses and cows at the sanctuary. All the animals are considered pets, not livestock. Karin readily admits she is not sure how much longer she will be able to provide the daily hands-on care to her beloved animals, but she estimates at least another 10 years.
Meet the Animals
One of the first horses they rescued is called Stallone. A blue corn Appaloosa gelding, Stallone did not want to be ridden. He escaped from his owner after three days of being tied to a stake with no food or water in an attempt to break him. Karin and Andrew found him on their property and purchased him from his owner who realized this horse would never be broken. Through the years, Stallone has become the comedian of the crew and delights the others when he turns on all the outside water faucets!
Scarlet is the grandmother of the cows. Rosie, Paint, Miguellie, Tiffany, Stephanie, Sarafina, Rafina, Cory, Ariel, Michael, Uriel and Joshua make the bovine clan. Cows are considered by many as just big, dumb animals but Karin begs to differ. “Cows form very strong family ties, much as human beings do,” says Karin.
She related to me the tale of Claire, a cow who lost her young calf and experienced a mental breakdown as a result. She never recovered from the loss and did not survive. Then there is Rafina, Cory’s mom, who treats Cory with the overbearing mother syndrome to this day. And grandmother, Scarlet, still passes by the grave of Claire and pays her respects with a bowed head.
Snowy, Star, Co-Co and Ci-Ci were among the original horses at OWTFAS. Stallone, Comanche, Cheyenne, Maya, Luna, Rowdy, Tessie, Ariana, Lily, Blossom, Spirit, Lance and Ellie make up the loving pack of horses. And the donkey is called Miss Stella. She eats carrots at the Brandis front door every morning.
How You Can Help
The constant challenge is keeping up with the cost of medical care, food and supplies. Aside from the sale of her art, Karin has placed donation jars in the Madrid, NM area to gain some extra income for OWTFAS. The Brandis could use some extra help with fundraising as the vast majority of their time is dedicated to hands-on care of the animals.
Is there anyone with fundraising skills that can help Karin and Andrew raise money for the animals? They can also use volunteer construction crews to build more shelters for their gang of animals and put up fencing. And if anyone has any connections with veterinary pharmaceutical companies or food suppliers, donations in kind are also welcome.
With the current state of the economy, many more animals have been found on the property. In the past year and a half, ten of the horses were dropped off in trailers by owners that could no longer afford to feed them.
The Brandis will not turn away any animal that crosses their path. Please find it in your heart to help this remarkable couple and the animals in their loving sanctuary.
Photo: Karin Brandi offers Snowy a slice of apple. Photo by Megan Drake.