These rescue horses in Milton have two jobs: enjoy life and bond with seniors

At Joyous Acres in Milton, a rescue that started as a family pastime is bringing the healing power of animals to local elders

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Joyous Acres
Betty Lim King Cuyugan, Andrew Nakrin, Teresita Lim King, and Joy Lim Nakrin with their animals at Joyous Acres.

Photograph courtesy of Joyous Acres

For most of his life, Geronimo pulled a plow in Pennsylvania Dutch country. But after an injury left him unable to work, the large black-and-white farm horse was consigned to the slaughterhouse, where his life would have ended had the Lim King-Nakrin family not stepped in.

Now Geronimo’s enjoying a different routine, which consists largely of eating fresh hay, running around a pasture, and nuzzling pockets for hidden treats. But on the days when residents from nearby retirement communities come to visit, Geronimo does have one extra job: hang out. “He just loves the seniors, and they love him,” says Teresita Lim King, one of the co-founders of Joyous Acres, a Milton nonprofit that brings seniors for therapeutic visits with rescue animals. “I’ve never met a horse as gentle as Geronimo.”

Geronimo is one of six horses living at the 21-acre animal rescue, which is also home to Humphrey the pig, Gertrude the pocket pit-bull, a gaggle of elderly dachshunds, and a rotating assembly of barn cats. The local deer aren’t officially part of Joyous Acres, but Lim King and her family feed them all the same. “The horses really get along with them,” she says.

At first, the animal rescue was simply a family passion project. But starting this past December, Joyous Acres began opening its gates to elderly senior center residents, who come for monthly therapeutic visits with the rescue animals. For Lim King and her family, it’s a way to give back to their community while giving their animals a second chance at a life well-lived.

Joyous Acres
A senior visits the horses at Joyous Acres

Photograph courtesy of Joyous Acres

A multi-generational love for animals

After retiring from medicine, Lim King and her husband, Andrew Nakrin, spent their life savings launching Joyous Acres. They run the rescue with their daughter, Joy Lim Nakrin, and Lim King’s sister Betty Lim King Cuyugan. Joy Lim Nakrin is a familiar face in Atlanta: she’s an anchor and legal expert for Atlanta News First, where she covers major legal news and trials. But growing up on a horse farm in North Carolina, she said, her first love was animals. “When I was seven or eight, I went to the shelter and got 13 cats,” Lim Nakrin recalls with a laugh. “Mom and I didn’t tell dad, we just put them in the tack room!”

That affinity for animals was hereditary. Lim King, who at 71 still has the vigorous energy of a teenager, grew up in the Philippines, where her family had a large menagerie of animals. She learned to ride horses while practicing rural gynecology and obstetrics in the Filipino mountains.

“You go to these women in labor, or who have cancer growths, in these areas where they don’t have doctors,” Lim King says. “So I’d get all my equipment—scalpels, anesthesia, everything—and ride up there on a horse.”

That job sparked a lifelong love for horses. She and Andrew Nakrin met in Illinois and later bought the horse farm in North Carolina where their daughter grew up. Nakrin, 71, who is soft-spoken with a playful sense of humor, says he quickly got used to living in a family of rescue enthusiasts. “It took some getting used to,” he says mildly, “But I love being with the animals.”

Joyous Acres
Teresita Lim King

Work eventually took them to Massachusetts and away from horse farming, but Lim King dreamed of opening a horse rescue after the couple retired. They bought land in Dover, but their daughter pointed out that Massachusetts has snow on the ground four months a year and convinced them to move the operation south. With plenty of broadcast television work for Lim Nakrin in nearby Atlanta, the bucolic equestrian hamlet of Milton was a good fit; the family relocated in 2021, and Cuyugan joined them from North Carolina later that year.

Joyous Acres
Teresita Lim King and Betty Lim King Cuyugan

Photograph courtesy of Joyous Acres

The family lives in two houses on the property, while the horses have stables adjacent to pastureland. The property’s historic barn—featured in Robert Meyers’s Barns of Old Milton County—is rented out to boarder horses. The other animals live in the house with the Nakrim-Lim King family, including Humphrey the pig.

“He has his own dog bed!” says Lim King. Her daughter shakes her head, correcting her mother: “Actually, he has two.”

A herd of rescues

Though Lim King was intent on rescuing horses, Humphrey—who weighs nearly 200 pounds and escaped a hog farm—was the first animal to arrive at Joyous Acres, besides the dogs the family moved with. Their first horse was Bella, a senior Arabian mare, who Lim King rescued from the Save the Horses shelter in Cumming in July 2021. Difficult around other horses, Bella had been at the shelter for seven years, waiting for a permanent home; Lim King fell in love with her at first sight. Horse herds are matriarchal, so as the only female at Joyous Acres, Bella runs the show. “She actually gets along great with other horses—so long as they know she’s the boss!” Lim King says.

Since then, Joyous Acres has rescued five more horses from shelters and rescue organizations around the country. Lim Nakrin rescued Enduring Honor, a thoroughbred originally bred to race, from the grim racetrack-to-slaughterhouse pipeline. More than 7,500 race horses who fail to turn a profit for their owners are slaughtered in the U.S. each year, usually for dog food or human consumption in Asia or Europe. “They’re perfectly healthy, they’re just not fit for racing,” says Lim Nakrin.

Joyous Acres
Joy Lim Narkin and Enduring Honor

After rescuing Enduring Honor, she pivoted him to show jumping: they’ve since won a slew of awards together, including 2022 champions in their category at the Georgia Hunter Jumper Association championship. Lim Nakrin has highlighted Enduring Honor’s success to encourage horse rescue and demonstrate that rescued horses can still dominate in competition. “He knows what it’s like to have a hard life,” she says. “Now we’re really bonded, and he’s so eager [to jump].”

Onaqui, a white Mustang, grew up wild on federal land before being rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the population of wild horses and burros in Western states. The agency uses cash incentives to find permanent homes for the horses, but it’s a controversial policy: investigations have found that many buyers pocket the cash and then sell the horses to slaughterhouses. Onaqui landed first in Kentucky, where his owner was charged with animal cruelty, and then at a rescue in West Virginia. He came to Joyous Acres in August 2021, malnourished, blind in one eye, and too skittish to touch; two years later, he’s calm enough to let Lim King sit at his feet in the pasture and enjoys romping on the grounds with Enduring Honor.

Joyous Acres
Onaqui and Gertrude

Photograph courtesy of Joyous Acres

Rounding out the group are Prince—a premium-stock show pony whose owner surrendered him when he refused to jump—and Johnny, a gray colt and newest addition to the family. As a juvenile, Johnny’s still got some rambunctious habits. “We think the deer taught Johnny how to jump the fence!” laughs Lim King.

“I remember Geronimo”

As the rescue grew, Cuyugan, Lim King’s sister, had the idea to welcome senior citizens to Joyous Acres. The retired sociology professor saw it as a seniors-helping-seniors opportunity: “After my husband passed away, I fell into a deep depression,” Cuyugan says. “But when I joined my sister on the rescue farm, the animals gave me new life. I wanted to share their healing power with other seniors.”

Cuyugan reached out to a few local retirement communities, and the first group arrived from Village Park Alpharetta in December 2022, followed by several other nearby centers. For visits, Joyous Acres sets up small tables in the backyard, adjacent to the pasture: Bella and Geronimo, the calmest horses, walk amongst the tables, where visitors can pet them, while the others stay behind the fence to be admired from afar. Gertrude, Humphrey, and the dachshunds also serve as therapeutic animals, gladly making themselves available for lap snuggles, pets, and ear scratches.

Joyous Acres
Teresita with a visitor to Joyous Acres

Photograph courtesy of Joyous Acres

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, says Lim King. “Many of the ones who visit are from memory care, and when they come back, they remember the animals. “They know all their names. They’ll say, ‘I remember Geronimo!’”

Animal-assisted therapy can be hugely beneficial for elder adults: research has found spending time with animals can help reduce anxiety, encourage social interaction, and improve quality of life. Interacting with animals can be especially impactful for older adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s, with data showing a reduction in symptoms like depression and distress.

While Joyous Acres doesn’t offer a certified therapy program, simply welcoming seniors into their backyard to meet the animals is a positive experience for everyone, human and animals alike.

Joyous Acres
Seniors visit Joyous Acres

Photograph courtesy of Joyous Acres

Joyous Acres
Seniors visit Joyous Acres

Photograph courtesy of Joyous Acres

“It’s good for the animals, it’s good for [the seniors],” says Lim King. “The animals are giving back, and they are giving back to the animals.” Joyous Acres doesn’t charge for the visits, which has made it easier for groups to visit and benefit from the therapeutic interactions.

For her and her family, connecting their rescue animals with others in the community is part of why they founded Joyous Acres in the first place. “We wanted to give a voice to the voiceless,” Lim King says.

Plus, as a seniors-helping-seniors program, it’s keeping the Joyous Acres family active, too. Finished with her interview, Lim King got up and led her rescue herd back to the stables, five happy horses following behind. Her husband got up to go find Johnny, who had trotted off to the explore far fence, a mischievous gleam in his big brown eye.

Joyous Acres
The Joyous Acres crew

Photograph courtesy of Joyous Acres

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