It's a long drive for Ariane Jackson from her acupuncture clinic, Palm Harbor Oriental Medicine in Palm Harbor, to Hernando County, but the hour or more is worth it, she says.
On the 40 acres surrounding the home she and her husband, Alex, recently purchased southeast of Brooksville, a dozen horses run freely, their sleek bodies shining golden or sable brown in the flood of sunlight covering the property.
The animals appear healthy and strong, but that wasn't always the case. One recent morning Ariane pointed to a 14-year-old mare that had been starved and abused.
"When she came, you couldn't get near her," she said. "I went slowly and let her come to me."
Now the animal appears comfortable and trusting with the humans who approach her.
The Jacksons, dedicated to rescuing horses, use their knowledge of acupuncture to help rehabilitate them. Many of the animals have been skinny, fearful, malnourished or abused.
For Ariane, 62, a native of Geneva, Switzerland, horses only recently have become a passion. A former nurse, she came to Florida in 1984 and pursued studies in acupuncture, which she had begun in Geneva.
"I just have a feel for horses," she said, "and fewer people are interested in rescuing horses than dogs."
Alex, 59, who emigrated in 1987, grew up with horses in his native Scotland and wanted to own horses here in Florida as well.
"I grew up on a farm," he said, "and we always had ponies to ride."
The couple rescued their first horses in 2006 while living off Keystone Road in Tarpon Springs.
"We had 5 acres of land, and I wanted horses," Alex said. "I had to convince Ariane to agree."
She agreed, but specifically wanted horses in need of rescue.
The couple purchased their first two horses from a dealer in Brooksville. One had been confiscated by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office because of neglect; the other, of unknown origin, also showed signs of neglect and malnutrition.
"They were really skinny when we got them," Alex said, "and one turned out to be pregnant."
Since the malnourished animal had shown no signs of pregnancy, the Jacksons were surprised five years ago to find that the filly had given birth to an ill foal, requiring all their skills to nurse it back to health.
"Now she is one of the biggest horses we have," Ariane said.
The couple subsequently purchased 10 more horses, seven of which are rescue horses and one a sleek, sable-coated stallion from Russia that is used for breeding. The stallion, ordered by a client in Seattle who changed his mind, was later secured by a dealer and then purchased by the Jacksons.
Several of the rescue horses are of the Akhal-Teke breed, said to be one of the oldest domesticated breeds still around and the couple's favorite. Their Tekes came from Canada and suffered years of neglect. The graceful golden-hued animals originated in Turkmenistan, where they were renowned for their intelligence, loyalty, speed and endurance. The Tekes were used for food in the Soviet Union and parts of Asia after World War II, said Alex, and were almost wiped out.
"When one of them won a gold medal in dressage in 1960 (at the Olympics), there was a renewed interest in the breed," he said. "There are still only a few thousand in the world."
The care of all the horses is time-consuming and costly. The whole family pitches in, providing hay and grain twice a day. The feed costs about $200 a week. Alex, who homeschools the couple's young daughter, said the girl helps feed the animals daily.
The adults do the other jobs, including grooming half the horses in their care every day and cleaning all their hooves once a week.
"On Sunday, everyone gets a little massage, and they love it," Ariane said.
The couple also gives acupuncture treatments to relax them before trimming their hooves and also for pain relief or other signs of stress. Watching for signs of pain necessitates being attuned to the horses' reactions.
"If they have colic, they look at their stomachs, which are tender to the touch," Alex said. "You can tell by the horse's reaction that something hurts."
The couple agree they want more horses. Ariane, in particular, has some long-term goals.
"I would like to find a lot of rescue horses and find them homes where they will be loved and cared for," she said.
She also envisions using some of the horses as therapy for children with problems such as autism, or the physical and emotional pain of child abuse.
"A horse that has been abused and a child that has been seem to have an understanding of each other," she said.
Alex looks at the big picture of horses in society and is less goal-oriented, although he would like to help preserve the Akhal Teke breed.
Throughout history, he said, horses have been used in war, for transportation and for sport. Now that many of their functions have been taken over by machines, horses are still raised for sport.
"Many people think if you have horses you should do something with them," he said, "but what gives humans the right to do anything with them?"
Horses, he said, are not instruments for human use.
Mainly, the couple wants to help horses heal and to rid them of fear and distrust of people after the years of abuse many have suffered.
"With acupuncture and massage we can put back the trust of horses for human beings," Ariane said. "I want to see them run free and be happy."
Elaine Markowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.