By Jeremiah Sosa
Photos Courtesy of Happy Hooves
What started out as a small hobby farm for one North 32nd resident has transformed into a growing nonprofit called Happy Hooves, an organization that helps locals heal through animal-assisted therapy.
Located at 15220 N. 27th Street, Happy Hooves is an animal farm owned and operated by Jesse Pekarek.
Pekarek grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota, which was where his love for animals was sparked. After moving to Arizona 22 years ago, he felt like his heart was being pulled to work with nonprofit organizations, so he started working with a nonprofit that raised funds for underprivileged children.
After doing this for over 11 years, he was happy that he was able to make a difference in the community, but he was missing something that has been a part of his life since he was a child—working with animals. This all changed when he found a property in North 32nd that was the perfect place to start his dream farm.
He originally started his farm with just two miniature horses that he rescued from a slaughter pen. He then started taking the horses to nursing homes, memory care centers, and anywhere else that desired animal-assisted therapy. Fast forward a few years and the Happy Hooves operation has grown to house over 20 animals ranging from miniature horses, to alpacas, to a Barbados Blackbelly sheep.
With his organization growing, Pekarek decided to shift from the old model of transporting animals off-site to now mostly offering the therapy on site at the Happy Hooves farm. This is so that the visitors can choose from a variety of animals rather than being only allowed to see one or two during off-site visits.
“It’s a completely different experience by doing it the way I’m now doing it,” Pekarek says. “Since the pandemic, it’s kind of organically evolved into me doing more on-site types of activities.”
The pandemic also sparked another business venture that has helped to fund the Happy Hooves farm: virtual visits.Pekarek started offering virtual tours of his farm to people from all over the world who want to learn more about the animals.
After the past few years of trying out different business ventures and ways to expand the farm, Happy Hooves has grown in popularity and become a hotspot for people looking to volunteer. The farm has a steady flow of volunteers; from those that help a couple times a year to others who help out every week. “I don’t want people to have the presumption that it’s going to be about mucking stalls, picking up poop, and filling up water troughs and hay bags,” he says. “I like to keep it open where people can find what they enjoy doing while working with the animals.”
To learn more about Happy Hooves, including how to sign up to volunteer, visit happyhoovesaz.org.