Fleet of Angels receives prestigious equine award from ASPCA

Vernell Hackett
Many horses were rescued and moved to Colorado.
Courtesy photo |

Elaine Nash and Fleet of Angels (FOA), the equine protection organization she launched, have been honored with the first ever Equine Welfare Award from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Late last year, Nash was asked by the state of South Dakota to create and run a massive national campaign to gather, sort and find homes for hundreds of privately owned horses they’d seized after being determined by South Dakota state vets to be starving and neglected. The state planned to auction off hundreds more from the same seizure, but Nash was determined to save all 907 horses, so she reached out to other equine welfare organizations to help with the massive rescue. When the courts gave full custody of all the horses to Fleet of Angels, Nash and team adopted out hundreds more of the horses out directly from the facility on which they were impounded by authorities, in spite of the work having to be done on an emergency basis during weeks of horrific blizzards and sub-zero conditions. Still hundreds more were transported to Colorado to an adoption hub they established in Fort Collins.

“We had to get those horses to a milder climate”, Nash said. “With 40 mph winds, temperatures dipping to -40 chill factor, and snow blowing sideways for days at a time, our crew could barely even see the horses to work with them. It was brutal. I was indoors on a computer making arrangements, knowing that the ground crew was about to freeze. And the horses were really suffering in the cold without shelter of any kind. Dozens had died before we got there to help, and some were so starved and cold that they didn’t make it.”

“Fleet of Angels doesn’t usually take actual custody of the horses we help, since most of the time our members are providing transportation for horses that someone else has rescued. This case was very different in that we found ourselves with almost 1,000 horses to feed, care for, and find homes for — and we didn’t even have a horse facility to take them to when this first happened,” Nash said. “It was a huge responsibility for us to take on. It was incredibly tough work for the crew, unbelievably expensive to cover all the costs, and extremely stressful on us all. It took the help of hundreds of individuals and dozens of organizations to make this mission successful. People pitched in to donate money and feed, adopt horses, and help us feed and care for the horses. We all jumped in and did what had to be done to save all these horses. Fleet of Angels’ mantra is ‘Teamwork works!’ for a reason.”

The project became known as The Hallelujah Horses because the horses involved were all saved from probable slaughter. Nash, who usually directs and coordinates Fleet of Angels mission from her home office in Colorado, had to be near the horses in South Dakota to oversee the operation and work with adopters, and then relocated to Colorado when the remaining several hundred were taken there, but stayed near the horses. In all, she found herself away from home, staying in country hotels, for 290 days. With Nash rounding up qualified adopters, and adoption manager Barbara Rasmussen carefully reviewing each adoption applications, most of the horses were adopted out to good homes in just 12 months, setting a second record of becoming the largest and most successful adoption effort of horses in history. By December, there were only a few horses left that still needed permanent homes.

“We are so appreciative to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for honoring us with the ASPCA Equine Welfare Award, and also for their support throughout this operation,” Nash said. “This is the first equine welfare award that the ASPCA has presented, and those of us at Fleet of Angels are very proud to accept it on behalf of all the rescuers who work so hard to save at-risk horses.”

FOA members were instrumental in evacuating and finding stabling and other services for thousands of horses before and after Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma this year, and they are also currently working to help evacuate and care for at-risk horses in the areas fighting the California wildfires. FOA is also being praised for developing and releasing an online, searchable Horse Helpers Directory in each disaster-prone region of the country, making it fast and easy for horse owners facing a natural disaster to connect with rescuers and service providers to protect equines that are at risk of being injured or killed during storms, fires or floods.


Nash founded Fleet of Angels after realizing that more at-risk horses could be saved if there were free or inexpensive transportation for them from where they were, to their forever home. She set up Fleet of Angels as a place where owners of horse trailers could register and be ready to assist those who might need a horse transported from one area to another, or for people who can offer a safe spot for an overnight stop for horses traveling long distances. That work has evolved into Fleet of Angels becoming one of the largest boots-on-the-ground, or wheels on the road, equine protections organizations in the country.

FOA is the only organization with a national network designed to quickly evacuate equines from the paths of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, wildfires, floods and tornadoes. They can also arrange for stabling and other services until the animals are able to return home.

“I’m so proud of our members and supporters,” Nash said. “I am the person who runs the organization and coordinates the rescues by phone and internet, but there is no way we could do what we do without a huge amount of help from people all over the United States and Canada. If you are counting actual staff (we have none), we are a very small organization, but we’re huge in heart and determination, and we have a whole army of people willing to help when called upon to transport at-risk equines from danger to safety.”

Fleet of Angels welcomes others who wish to get involved in the organization, including corporations willing to donate monetary funds to help feed, house and get the horses from place to place. Farmers, ranchers and individuals who are interested in rescue efforts of equines are also a valued part of the organization.


Nash grew up on a farm-ranch operation in New Mexico where horses were a major part of her life. She first trained so-called “problem horses” for neighbors while in high school, then worked her way through college while operating her own training stable, and was the first freshman ever crowned Rodeo Queen while in college. After a 20-year career in Nashville, where she promoted numerous singers and songwriters in the entertainment industry, Nash made the decision to take her son and daughter back to the west so they would be able to live the western lifestyle, and own and ride horses as a part of their growing-up experience in Santa Fe, N.M.

Nash later moved to Pagosa Springs, Colo., and had a facility where she used natural horsemanship to work with her own horses and those of her clients. During this period of time, Nash became active in the world of equine protection. In 2006 she had an accident that caused her to be unable to ride, but she continues to work to help at-risk horses, and considers her work “Paying it forward because of what horses have meant to me throughout my life.”

Nash now lives in Evans, Colo., where she continues to build the network for Fleet of Angels and oversees its various rescue operations. She also works to educate people about the crises facing American horses through public speaking engagements, writing articles and networking on social media.

For more information on Fleet of Angels, go to its website at

Fleet of Angeles Horse Helpers Directory website: