Sometimes it's a nonprofit retirement home for equines. Other times it's a hospice for horses that deserve some love and attention in their final days and weeks on Earth.

But CARE Ranch owner Sherrie Larson's first priority is to help struggling horse owners keep their four-legged friends at home — by offering help with vaccinations, equine dental care, veterinary consultations, owner education and other assistance.

"We give our adopted horses an enriched life they wouldn't have otherwise," Larson said of the animals that have found a home at Consulting and Rescuing Equine — the full name of her 5-acre ranch in Bodfish.

"But adoption," Larson said, "is not my main mission."

Dressed in a Western hat, boots and jeans, Larson said she never imagined saving horses and helping equine owners care for their own horses would become her passion. And she certainly never imagined the horses she saved would, in turn, save her.

After leaving a 30-year career as a civil servant with the U.S. Navy, Larson found herself again being drawn to horses, a love that began when she was a child. She and her brother, Dean Larson, decided to found a nonprofit dedicated to saving horses that needed saving.

But the ranch was still in its infancy when Dean died unexpectedly in 2019.

"It was the worst time in my life," Larson remembered. "I thought, 'Can I do this without Dean?'"

For a while, she didn't want to get out of bed. She was a ship sinking, an idea gone dark.

"I found myself at the point of needing rescue," Larson recalled.

But the horses couldn't wait.

There were several rescue horses on the ranch that needed to be fed every morning and every evening. They needed to be brushed, bathed, exercised, cared for and loved.

"We all need unconditional love," said Patricia Davis, a local volunteer who helps on the ranch. The horses receive it from the humans, she said, and the humans get it back from the horses.

Weldon resident Dawn Foster said Larson "has a heart for horses," a dedication to her mission.

"Oh, yes. She helped me with two of my horses ... with equine dentistry," Foster said. 

By partnering with veterinarian Christian Comeau, CARE Ranch has been able to marshal its donations and grants to hold drive-thru clinics at the ranch and provide care where it's needed.

Foster said she was in a tight squeeze financially, and wasn't able to afford the dental work for her horses.

Yet, thanks to CARE Ranch and its equine health outreach, she was able to get the care that her horses needed. Without it, horses can lose weight, have difficulty eating, and cause more serious health issues.

Lake Isabella resident Matt Ball also got help through CARE Ranch for an eye problem his horse was experiencing.

"What she does, it really helps the community," Ball said of Larson's nonprofit.

"She doesn't want people to lose their animals," he said. "She doesn't want the horses taken. She wants the horses taken care of."

The Bodfish ranch, nestled in the hills and trees above the Kern River Valley, is home to a small group of rescue animals, four horses and a 16-year-old mini mule named Dory.

"That little mule was impossible to catch until Patricia came along and tamed her," Larson said. "We call her the mule whisperer."

Diva, also about 16, is a chestnut quarter horse who happens to be pretty bossy.

"Diva is the boss of this herd. She's the boss of everybody," Larson said.

Owen, a Belgian draft horse arrived with Marilyn, another Belgian. It is believed they were work horses on an Amish farm. Owen protected Marilyn as if she were family, but Larson said she knew the female draft animal was a "hospice horse," and that her time was limited.

"We lost Marilyn a few weeks ago," she said. 

Both draft horses may have been on their way to a Mexican slaughter house, so being able to keep Marilyn comfortable in her final days meant a lot.

Meanwhile, Owen's swollen legs are healing up, although he seems to miss Marilyn.

Ranch foreman Bill Smith, who grew up in a family of cowboys, said work on the ranch is hard, and yet there's a relaxing feeling that comes with being outside in the brisk mountain air, working around the five equines, two goats, chickens and dogs.

"These horses, they ain't got a care in the world," Smith said. "They're more spoiled than anything.

"But it's all worth it at the end of the day."

People say the ranch is doing good work, but without donations and support, there's no way the work can be sustained.

Larson is optimistic.

She's applying for a grant or two and she hopes valley residents will be able to make donations on occasion to keep the work going, and to help purchase feed, supplements and medicines for the equine rescues.

"A lot of it is about what the community needs," Larson said.

It seems everyone needs rescuing now and then.

For more information about how to help, visit CARE's website at consultingandrescuingequine.com or call the ranch at 760-223-5088.

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.