FALL CITY, Wash. — At Kataluna Horsemanship, Katie Berman uses compassion to build trust with traumatized horses needing a second chance.
"The ones that need the most help seem to reach out to us the most and that's kind of how we pick the ones that end up coming to the rescue," Berman said.
She's found many in auction yards and feedlots, tagged for slaughterhouses. Their trust in humans is gone.
Removing the tags is the first thing she does when the horses arrive at her Fall City farm. Many hang on a fence post outside a corral.
"They're identified as numbers until they come to us and we give them a fresh start," Berman said. "It's kind of the initial step. We are telling them, 'This is your new life. Things are going to be better from here on out and you don't have to worry about it ever again.'
Berman has rescued sixty horses since starting her non-profit in September of 2018.
"We've had a few really tough cases," Berman said. "I mean you walk up to them and you go to pet them and before your hand even gets close they start trembling in place. "
Those are the ones that remind Berman of Luna, her first rescue.
"She was very shut down when she first came into the program," Berman said.
Luna may have taught Berman as much as Berman taught Luna. Berman realized Luna needed the freedom to say no if she was ever going to trust people again.
"So if she wants to go off and do her thing I'm not going to force her to participate with me," Berman said.
That's the gentle "Liberty Horsemanship" training philosophy that defines the way Berman rehabilitates her rescues.
"My biggest thing is making sure my horses' happiness comes first," she said.
In Kataluna Horsemanship's first four years, most of the rescues have been adopted out. Some remain. One gave birth two months ago to a miniature horse named Wetzel, who loves to lie down on the ground and get scratched. Wetzel will be trained to visit nursing homes.
Volunteers Stella Moosman and Lauren Rogers say they've learned a lot from Berman's kindness.
"Her spirit is unbreakable," Mossman said of Berman. "I tell her all the time that she is aggressively positive but she never gives up."
"She is also very bright and very happy," Rogers added.
"Have you ever given up on a horse?" we asked Berman.
"No, never," she said. "I have had challenges and struggles but horses have never given up on me in my hard times and no matter what's going on I know I can always count on them to be there if I need them.
"They are my best friends and I love that my horses want to work with me and I love that they want to be with me. That's a big part of my philosophy is that my horses want to be with me."
Kataluna Horsemanship is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that can always use donations.