The Hearts & Hands Story
We all choose what is most important in our lives. Sometimes our priorities change when events confront us, or when our interests change, so at different times in our lives, one or the other thing could be most important. Sometimes we just look back, and sometimes we return.
To Nancy Nunke, animals were always the most important thing in her life, from her earliest memories. A shy, skinny little girl, she was excellerated through school,taking two grades at a time, even skipping grades. To some this might seem like a dream, to finish school in their mid teens. To Nancy, it was a childhood of social difficulty, always being the youngest in the class, with the age difference growing greater between she and her piers with each excelleration.
Growing up in a home with a very protected childhood, and not having many friends her own age, Nancy turned to her pets for association, comfort and communication.
By the time she was was just three years old, she was communicating with animals in a way that was noticed by everyone. Her first ‘mane’ event that she can recall was when her mother and father took her to visit a relative who was looking after a horse that had put two trainers in hospital and had killed another. The horse was behind a chain link fence and her relatives were instructed not to go in with the horse at all. They threw the hay over the fence and put the water hose through the links for watering. A court case was pending as to the disposition of the horse.
Nancy’s mother and her relative were visiting in the house, and it was thought that Nancy was nearby. Suddenly Nancy’s mother looked around and realized that Nancy was not within eyesight. Both ladies began to look for her, and discovered that she had opened the screen door and had gone outside where they found her inside the corral with ‘killer’ horse. Nancy was sitting under the horse’s belly, facing his hind legs, with her little arms wrapped around his hocks and was playing with his tail, letting it tickle her face and giggling. The horse was looking back at her, watching her, not moving a muscle.
Nancy’s mother, having heard the story of the horse just that morning, was terrified. The women did not dare to go into the pen. They were frozen in place. After gaining her composure, mom quietly told Nancy to come back to the fence. Being the obedient youngster she was, Nancy looked at her mother, and with a tear creeping down her cheek, crawled out from under the horse and walked to the fence, and crawled back under the chainlink to the outside. The entire time, the horse just watched her, and did not resume grazing until Nancy was safe on the other side. It was Nancy’s experience with this horse that ended up saving the animal’s life. It was given and reprieve and another chance with a trainer who had ‘different’, softer methods of training, and ended up being successfully trained. She became a great family horse.
Nancy’s experiences with animals throughout her life include rescuing many animals injured on the roads. She remembers a snake that was run over by a car, with many babies coming out of it. She sewed the snake up, with her mother’s needle and thread, and put all the babies and the mother in a box as the sun went down. The next morning she ran outside to see how the snakes were doing. They had all disappeared in the night except for three babies which had not left the box. She was just seven years old at the time.
Another time, when Nancy was ten, a young porcupine was hit by a car near her home. She took her cardigan off and rolled the porcupine into it, carrying it home. Again, she went to her mother’s sewing kit, got a needle and thread and sewed the little guy up. She put him into a chicken cage and cared for him until he was healed up, made a pet of him, and then released him when he was healed and before winter came.
Nancy and her mother tell anecdote after anecdote of similar events, with many different species of animals. Snakes, raccoons, muskrats, mice, beaver, otter, deer, black bears, rabbits, and more. She was never bitten or clawed or injured in any way by the animals she was saving. Her mother always said that Nancy had something very special with the animals.
Once Nancy finished high school and simultaneously business college as a young teen, she went to live on her own, and within two weeks was the proud owner of her first horse, an 18 year old buckskin mare with heaves. Nancy was always in love with horses, drawing them from the time she could hold a crayon, staring at a horse trailer going down the road until it was out of sight, riding her two invisible horses, Thunder and Lightning, to school every day.
Nancy has never been without horses since that time when her dream of owning her first horse came true. She has raised and trained mountain lions, a Bengal tiger, two black bears, many, many zebras, deer, wolves, and a host of other hooved and pawed species.
Decades later Nancy is still rescuing and nursing animals back to health, both psychologically and physically. Nancy has given almost all of her acreage to her mission. It was something Nancy always did quietly, on her own, with no thought to forming a non-profit corporation. She worked to look after all the animals financially and cared for them all personally. She felt it was her ‘give back’ to the animals for being there for her and giving to her during her lifetime.
Over the years, Nancy learned to speak many languages, ‘becoming the animal to understand and train the animal’, as she puts it. Nancy is now considered the ‘Zebra Whisperer’ of the world, giving much needed advice to zoo keepers throughout the world to help them better understand and keep their zebras. She puts on two zebra training clinics at her ranch per year, in May and October. People come from around the world to soak up what she has to say and share as she works with the zebras. Nancy calls the zebras the ‘ultimate equine’, and uses all that she has learned from these amazing equines to train horses, donkeys, mules, zorses and zonkeys. As she puts it“If you can train a zebra, you can train any equine, just as if you can train a wolf, you can train any dog, but give a hundred dog trainers a wolf, or give a hundred horse trainers a zebra….and your results will be slim to none. The wolf and the zebra are extreme representatives of the dog and the horse, and the nuances are what make or break the success of the effort. Nancy has learned the nuances of both.” Dr. Robert Miller, DVM, author of forty books on horse care, training and behavior, has written about Nancy in his latest two books, ‘Natural Horsemanship Explained’ and ‘Passion For Horses and Artistic Talent’, and an article in Western Mule Magazine published in July of 2010. He has encouraged her and been instrumental in the taping of her first two training DVD’s, being edited now and soon to be available. Dr. Miller travels the world and in his lectures speaks of Nancy and the many ways that she interacts with and trains the zebras and horses; things that other trainers leave out of their programs, which Nancy and Dr. Miller feel are integral to the relationship between the equine and the human, and which nourish trust and safety between human and equine.
The proof of the Friendship Training she has learned from the zebras is that it works on all equines. If you can train a zebra, you can train any equine, just as if you can train a wolf, you can train any dog, but give a hundred dog trainers a wolf, or give a hundred horse trainers a zebra.. and your results will be slim to none. The wolf and the zebra are extreme representatives of the dog and the horse, and the nuances are what make or break the success of the effort. Nancy has learned the nuances of both.” Dr. Robert Miller, DVM, author of forty books on horse care, training and behavior, has written about Nancy in his latest two books, ‘Natural Horsemanship Explained’ and ‘Passion For Horses and Artistic Talent’, and an article in Western Mule Magazine published in July of 2010. He has encouraged her and been instrumental in the taping of her first two training DVD’s, being edited now and soon to be available. Dr. Miller travels the world and in his lectures speaks of Nancy and the many ways that she interacts with and trains the zebras and horses; things that other trainers leave out of their programs, which Nancy and Dr. Miller feel are integral to the relationship between the equine and the human, and which nourish trust and safety between human and equine.
Fast forward to October 21, 2007. The California Wildfires destroyed the ranch. With six horse trailers and six hours, all the equines were saved. However, the residence, all outbuildings a twenty stall barn, all equipment and most tack was lost to the fire. That day many things changed for Nancy and the ranch. Intentionally under insured by the insurance company, there was little money to rebuild and the animals and their welfare has always come first.
Fast forward to 2010, Nancy, still living in a travel trailer on the property since the fire in 2007, decided to take the advice of many people, and form a non-profit organization, a CBO, a Community Benefit Organization. This way, others could help Nancy look after all the animals she has selflessly taken in and given of her time, land, and finances. She could no longer do it alone. It was time for others, both in their community and outside of it, to be able to lend their hearts and hands to help Nancy with all the animals in her trust; animals that came from her own community and from communities around the country, finding their way to the person who could help them when others could not.