Darlene Nickerson is the founder and director of Black Feather Horse Rescue. According to its website, the “mission and passion of this rescue is to find abused and neglected animals, particularly horses, to give them a loving and healing home, earn their trust, care for their needs and when possible, find them new loving homes.” Located in a pine forest in South Plymouth, the nonprofit BFHR celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Plymouth residents make up the bulk of its volunteers and supporters.

This is part of an occasional series of short “as told to” profiles by Plymouth resident Carl Mastandrea, who describes himself as a “photographer, teacher, and storyteller.” This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

I always loved horses. I had a horse that I rode when I was really young. I got away from that as I got older. I worked on a lobster boat with my brother. I worked on a dragger, too, which was amazing. But then my mother got sick and I was taking care of her. I was at a crossroads. I was a little lost. I’m thinking, “I don’t know who I am, where I’m supposed to be. God, can you send me my path?” So, pretty much every day I said that and just asked for direction.

I knew I wanted to ride again. My girlfriend had this beautiful Palomino, and I went and met him and kind of fell for him. He was just such an amazing horse. About a year later, she asked me to take him because she couldn’t afford him anymore and didn’t want to send him to auction. So, I took him. There he was, in my backyard. I put a shed up and that’s where it started. I had bunnies and goats and chickens and a dog and cat.

Then the next year, a neighbor said, “I’ve got three minis. They’re a little crazy. What do you think? Do you want them?” I’m like, “Yep.” So, they came. Now my backyard is all fenced in – 25 horses and donkeys, two pigs, one llama, five goats, two dogs, one cat, and a bunch of chickens.

And, you know, we just have this amazing community that believes in us and has stood by us and helps us whenever they can in any way they can. And I don’t think we could be any luckier.

A llama named Apache at Black Feather Horse Rescue. Credit: (Photo by Carl Mastandrea)

The first rescue came to me in 2004. That’s when I realized what I wanted to do, what God had intended for me to do. Now we do a lot of therapy work, too. So if someone comes to visit, they can groom a horse and, you know, just be with them. I’d like to do more of that. There’s nothing that makes my heart sing more than when someone gets something from the animals because they’re going through stuff.

Our budget is about $100,000 per year. Just the hay costs $40,000. Then we have vet bills and other expenses. But we’re very, very fortunate. Our annual fundraiser, a Barn dance, is on March 23 at the VFW on Seven Hills Road in Plymouth. It’s 6 to 10 p.m. There’s a DJ. It’s $15 a person to get in. I think kids are free. We ask if someone’s got something they’d like to bring, maybe a basket for us to raffle, or if they have craft that they do. Because we raffle stuff. And we just have a really nice time. We have all of our things on sale – our T-shirts and sweatshirts. People want to support us. And it’s just lovely.

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