From Horse Dreams to Animal Rescue: A Journey with Just Horse Riders

In the latest episode of the Just Horse Riders Podcast, host Aaron Englander chats with his sister Nicole about her incredible journey from a horse-loving child to the founder of a flourishing animal rescue. Their conversation sheds light on the highs and lows of animal welfare, the challenges of running a rescue, and the powerful impact of a life dedicated to animals. Watch now on YouTube.

How It All Began

Aaron kicks off the episode by introducing his sister Nicole, who runs Changing Lives Animal Sanctuary. Reflecting on their childhood, Nicole shares how her passion for horses started when their family moved to a farm. "I always had a love for animals. But before we moved to the farm, we didn’t even have a dog," she recalls.

Falling in Love with Horses

Nicole’s journey with horses began early. At just seven years old, she was captivated by these majestic creatures. "Who doesn’t have that dream as little girls, to go riding on a pony?" she says. Despite being only three feet tall at the time, her determination to ride the biggest horses set her apart. "I wanted to ride all the big ones, but I was never allowed because I was probably three feet tall," she laughs.

The Therapeutic Bond

Horses became a form of therapy for Nicole, helping her manage her energy and difficulties in school. "Being the child that I was, I was quite an energetic child. I wasn’t particularly good in school, and when I got home, all I wanted to do was play with the ponies," she shares. This early bond with horses set the foundation for her future in animal care.

Independence and Dedication

Nicole's love for horses taught her valuable life skills, such as independence and dedication. "You’ve got to be dedicated to it. It's the early mornings, the 4:00 or 5:00 AM get-ups," she explains. Her routine of mucking out, tacking up, and preparing for shows instilled a strong work ethic in her.

The First Horse

Getting her first horse was a milestone for Nicole. She fondly remembers her first horse, a Lithuanian sports horse named Rosie. "My first horse, I can remember it. I got on it, fell straight off, and never wanted to get back on it again," she chuckles. Despite the initial setbacks, Rosie became Nicole’s beloved companion.

From Horses to Animal Rescue

Nicole's journey didn’t stop at horses. Her love for animals expanded to founding Changing Lives Animal Sanctuary, a charity dedicated to rescuing and rehoming small animals. "We rescue, rehome small animals. Cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, hamsters, anything smaller than a cat," she explains.

Challenges and Triumphs

Running an animal sanctuary is no easy feat. Nicole shares some of the heart-wrenching and inspiring stories from her work. "We’ve had so many neglect cases," she says. One recent case involved a severely neglected cat whose claws were curling back into its paws. "We had to shave this cat; it was awful to do it, but there was no other way," she says.

Rescuing During Floods

Nicole's dedication extends beyond routine care. During severe floods, she went above and beyond to rescue stranded animals. "The farm down the road, 3 or 4 miles away, was flooded, and I really wanted to help them," she recounts. Her quick action and coordination with the community saved numerous animals from dire conditions.

Support from the Community

The success of the sanctuary is largely due to community support. Nicole recalls a generous donor who unexpectedly filled a van with dog food, treats, and toys. "He opened the van, and the whole thing was full of food, treats, toys, everything you could need for a dog," she says. This support has been vital in sustaining the sanctuary.

The Costs of Caring

Running an animal sanctuary involves significant expenses. Nicole estimates that they need at least £13,000 a month to cover vet bills, staff wages, food, and other essentials. "It’s about £13,000 per month," she states. This figure highlights the ongoing need for donations and support.

Fundraising Efforts

To keep the sanctuary running, Nicole organizes various fundraisers, from showjumping competitions to summer fêtes. "We’ve done music nights and they are really successful. They raised just over £2,000," she notes. Despite these efforts, the sanctuary is often just breaking even, making continuous fundraising essential.

The Impact of Covid-19

The pandemic brought additional challenges. Many people adopted pets during lockdowns, only to abandon them once life returned to normal. "For Covid, people were getting their animals, but then they couldn’t afford to keep them," Nicole explains. This influx of abandoned pets added to the sanctuary’s workload and financial strain.

Adoption Stories

Despite the challenges, there are many success stories. Nicole shares the tale of a cat named Daniel, who despite severe neglect, remained trusting of humans. "Daniel was so friendly, rubbing on you, giving you good boops with his head," she recalls. Although Daniel had to be euthanized due to severe health issues, his story reflects the resilience and trust animals have, even after experiencing neglect.

Heartwarming Reunions

Not all stories end in sorrow. Nicole recounts the heartwarming reunion of a cat that had been missing for nine years. "The owner was just crying her eyes out when she found out we had her cat," she says. These moments of joy and connection are what make the hard work worthwhile.

Government Policies and Animal Welfare

Nicole also discusses the need for better government policies to protect animals. She criticizes recent laws that impose fines on owners who fail to microchip their pets, arguing that such measures could make things worse for rescues. "It’s probably going to make rescues more full because people don’t want the £500 fine," she notes.

Future Plans and Aspirations

Looking ahead, Nicole hopes to achieve charity status for the sanctuary, which would allow them to apply for larger grants and expand their operations. "Once we get charity status, we can start applying for bigger grants, like £250,000," she explains. This funding could enable the sanctuary to purchase new premises and increase their capacity to help animals in need.

Aaron’s Perspective

Aaron shares his pride in Nicole’s achievements and her unwavering dedication to animal welfare. "You’ve been meant for it. You really, really care," he tells her. His support and admiration are evident throughout the episode, highlighting the close bond between the siblings.

How You Can Help

If you’re inspired by Nicole’s story and want to support Changing Lives Animal Sanctuary, consider donating or participating in their upcoming events. "We have a summer fête coming up in July, with pony rides, bouncy castles, and a dog show," Nicole announces. Every contribution helps keep the sanctuary running and supports their mission to rescue and rehome animals.


Nicole’s journey from a horse-loving child to the founder of a thriving animal sanctuary is a testament to her passion and dedication. Her story is a powerful reminder of the impact that a love for animals can have, not just on the animals themselves, but on the lives of those who care for them. To hear more about Nicole’s inspiring journey, listen to the full episode now.

Explore More from Just Horse Riders

For more equestrian content and updates from Just Horse Riders, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. Check out our collections for the latest in Jodhpurs, Boots, Gloves, Socks, and more!