“The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose.”

These words are etched on the very heart and soul of Melanie Bowles, and it is the philosophy by which she lives. The youngest of six children, Melanie and her siblings were raised to find something to be passionate about and give back to the world around them. Melanie has done just that. Along with her husband, Jim, she is the founder of Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary, one of the longest existing, privately run sanctuaries for horses in the United States. Over 150 abused, neglected, elderly and unwanted horses have come here to live out their lives in peace and safety.

But Proud Spirit is not just any sanctuary. It is a place where horses rediscover everything that man and domestication has taken away. The horses at Proud Spirit live as natural a life as the Bowles can give them. They have the freedom to roam and move and run – something they so desperately need to thrive. And they function as a herd, safe in the companionship of other horses – something they desperately need to be happy.

It all began when Melanie and Jim were living in Florida, entrenched in the stress of their jobs as fire fighter/medics. They moved to the country in the hopes of finding a peaceful life away from work. Melanie knew very little about horses, but she decided there was room for one on their newly purchased five acres. She bought a Thoroughbred who revealed behavioral problems and couldn’t have been a worse match for a novice. But rather than giving up on the difficult mare, Melanie was driven to educate herself about communicating with horses. It changed her life on a very profound level, and it was then that she made the life-altering decision to create this unique, award winning sanctuary.

In the spring of 2005, Jim and Melanie relocated the sanctuary to 320 acres in Arkansas. They are currently caring for 54 rescue horses. When asked about the unyielding responsibility of caring for so many, Melanie responds with a smile, “I get so much more from these horses than they get from me.” And of the monumental financial commitment, “We live simply,” she says. “Having these horses in my life is far more rewarding than vacations or accumulating ‘stuff’. Making a difference is what matters.”

Melanie Bowles is the author of two books, The Horses of Proud Spirit, an inspirational true story about the start-up of the sanctuary, and the soon to be released Hoof Prints: More Stories from Proud Spirit, which picks up where the first book left off. Both are a must read for any animal lover.

A PBS producer was so moved when she read Melanie’s stories that she filmed a documentary about her work with the sanctuary. The special, entitled “The Horses of Proud Spirit”, recently won an Emmy and is currently airing nationwide. The accompanying notoriety is something Melanie is unaccustomed to. This inspiring woman has always believed that we are happiest when we take the focus off ourselves and instead find ways to give back. And she continues to do so with extraordinary grace.