Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary in Wilkesboro horses in need - Carolina Country

A Herd for Healing

Melanie Sue Bowles is helping horses in need.

By Bridgette A. Lacy

Melanie Sue Bowles, author and founder of Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary in Wilkesboro, believes we all have a superpower. “I discovered mine was helping horses who are hurting,” she says.

The former Sarasota, Florida, medic firefighter fell in love with horses when she was looking for one to buy in the late 1980s.

Melanie Sue Bowles

Melanie Sue Bowles

“We moved out to a little property, and everyone around us had a horse to ride. I became intrigued,” she says. “I didn’t know anything about horses in the beginning.”

In looking for that first horse, she saw a lot of neglected horses in need of care. That’s when Melanie and her husband, Jim, opened up Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary. They quit firefighting to help horses.

What started with one horse in need on five acres of land in Florida has since moved several times, with its current location on 50 acres in Western North Carolina served by EnergyUnited. Over its history, the Bowles have intervened on behalf of more than 300 horses. The herd is currently down to 13 horses, and the sanctuary has stepped away from active rescuing.

“The herd has become more manageable. We are in our early 60s. We need to think about the future,” Melanie says, explaining that she and Jim do all the work to maintain the herd. “We rise around 8 a.m., and after having some tea we get up and go outside and check on the horses, filling water troughs, and cleaning the barns.”

“They are no longer in service to men,” she explains. “They are never stalled … Most of the horses here were failed by humans; horses who have been horribly abused — but being with the herd heals them … They stand in the great big open barn or graze on grass under trees. There is plenty of clean, fresh water, and in the winter, we supplement them with hay.”

Melanie is also the author of four books, three of which are about the sanctuary: “The Horses of Proud Spirit;” “Hoof Prints: More Stories from Proud Spirit;” and “The Dogs of Proud Spirit.’’ Her newest book, “Liberty Biscuit,” is a middle-grade novel published by Trafalgar Square Books.

“‘Liberty Biscuit’ is her first coming of age fictional story,” says fellow North Carolina author Donna Everhart. “Melanie’s animal rescue background adds authenticity to her work.”

The Bowles have taken in a lot of other animals over the years — including dogs and cats, goats, and llamas — and Melanie hopes to leave the sanctuary as part of their legacy.

“We’ve always wanted this unique facility to carry on after we’re gone.”

About the Author

Bridgette A. Lacy is a freelance writer and the author of “Sunday Dinner: A Savor the South cookbook” by UNC Press of Chapel Hill. Reach her at

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