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Giving horses a peaceful retirement
Horses feed on hay early Thursday morning out at Adopted Acres, Inc., an Equine Retirement Farm north of Monroe. The farm, founded by Bonnie Falkowski, provides a home for horses that may have otherwise been slaughtered or euthanized due to old age, health or the inability to remain useful in a traditional sense. (Times photo: Anthony Wahl)
MONROE - Cody turned up in an ad on Craigslist.

"Somebody just said, 'Free horse. I don't care what happens to him, I just want him out of here,'" remembers Bonnie Falkowski.

Cody and seven other rescued horses live at Adopted Acres, the nonprofit equine retirement farm Falkowski founded. It's located on a scenic hill north of Monroe off County FF.

Each horse came to the farm through a confluence of misfortune and heartbreak.

"They all have their stories," Falkowski said.

Chester was a casualty of divorce. Queenie was headed for the slaughterhouse, her body broken from a lifetime of pulling heavy loads.

Muggsie lived with a hoarder. Nan and Candy couldn't have more babies.

Morena injured her leg pulling a cart around a track for human entertainment, and who wants a deformed horse?

Adopted Acres does.

Falkowski started Adopted Acres ( in 2005 after retiring from a career in administrative work at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the National Guard. She lives in a prefab house on the farm, always within sight of her family of horses and a stunning view down a valley of pasture.

The 69-year-old has dedicated her retirement to helping horses live out their golden years in peace. She splits her time between Adopted Acres and a job at the Culver's in Monroe.

It isn't an easy life, or cheap. The irony, as she sees it, is nobody would think she was "goofy" if she spent her retirement money on a new condo, a fancy car or cruise vacations. But, she said, "I can't imagine doing anything else."

Making the Rounds

Falkowski's mornings begin with feeding. Skinny horses get hearty grain feed, and the rest get hay. She's soft on a naughty pony named Apache, or "Pache Poo."

Apache's former owners placed him at Adopted Acres because they didn't have a use for him anymore - they got him for their children to play with, and when the children grew up and went away, he was out of a job.

Many of the horses Falkowski has taken in have improved their health. Queenie, the Belgian draft mare and former work horse, came to Adopted Acres with a beat-up body.

"Now she just runs up and down these hills in the snow," Falkowski said.

Morena, the horse with a leg injury, still has the deformity but it doesn't cause her pain. Falkowski rides her now.

A Dream Job Come True

Rescuing horses is a lifelong dream made into reality for Falkowski. Growing up in West Allis, she remembers taking apples to feed to the horses at the nearby state fairgrounds. Her dad hated horses and wouldn't let her get one. Years later, when her three children were young, she finally got a pony to have around their rural Racine property.

The idea for Adopted Acres came in the early 2000s, around the time she retired. Her children were grown and she didn't (and still doesn't) expect grandchildren.

"I was sitting in the middle of my living room floor," she remembers of the moment the vision hit her: "How about a horse rescue?" Even before she snapped up acreage in Green County, she had a sign made for the farm.

"I do believe God gave me the whole dream. I had the name, I had the picture of the barn," she said. "I'm living my dream."

Costly Retirement

The cost of caring for the horses adds up. Hay went up to $600 per month during the drought last summer, forcing the operation into debt. Grain costs about $150 monthly. Just basic foot care for the horses costs $315 every six to eight weeks. Then there's the big, unexpected expenses, like when Candy needed a $5,000 surgery to remove tumors from her stomach.

Financial backing does come in. Adopted Acres is set up as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation, with a two-member board. Raising money is an "ongoing effort," Falkowski said. A grant last year fortuitously covered $800 in vaccines.

Adopted acres is currently at its financial limit housing eight horses, even though Falkowski estimates she has room and time for at least two more. She has to restrain herself from taking on more than she can afford - to illustrate this point, she slaps her own hand.

"For me, it's my labor of love," she said.