From Neglect to Nurture: How One Woman’s Vision Has Saved Countless Horses’ Lives
Camille Pandian works to rehabilitate, train, and place rescued horses into forever homes
Camille Pandian, founder of Driftwood Horse Rescue and founder and lead trainer of Unbound Horsemanship, has always shared a deep connection with our equine friends. Born and raised in Oregon, her aunt was a dressage breeder and trainer, and Camille learned to ride before she could walk. Passion and love for the animal was ingrained in her, and she doesn’t know any different.
“In many ways, riding feels more natural to me than walking with my own two feet,” she says. For a while, with an insatiable passion and love for horses, Camille trained them as a side job. However, when she visited Texas, she realized she could make it a career here, and so she moved to the Austin area in 2013 to train horses full-time.
In 2014, Camille bought her property in Driftwood (about 25 miles southwest of Austin) and has lived there with her personal horses ever since. She decided to wait until her kids were older before she started her own business. In 2021, right before she was about to take the plunge into entrepreneurship, two big events happened: her “heart horse” (the horse she was most deeply connected to) died suddenly, and her friend shared some books about rescue horses.
“I began to learn about that plight of rescue horses and the slaughter pipeline,” says Camille. “It was such a great need that as soon as I began learning about it, I knew I couldn’t not try to help. So we opened Driftwood Horse Rescue and Sanctuary to help those horses who needed it the most.”
The rescues come from low-end auctions, kill pens, abandonment, abuse and starvation. Some have even been pulled off trucks headed to Mexico for slaughter. “I wanted to help the horses who had the most dire need and were the most misunderstood,” says Camille.
Driftwood Horse Rescue and Sanctuary is located on a beautiful 50-acre ranch in Driftwood, Texas, in the middle of the Hill Country. They try to keep the horses as close to how they would naturally be in the wild, so the majority of the herd has unlimited access to the entire 50 acres of long grass, shady live oaks and colorful wildflowers.
They specialize in Arabians because they are particularly sensitive, which, combined with trauma, can make training them difficult. Known for being more emotionally tuned in to humans and energetic, this breed is great for endurance riding but also more reactive overall. Arabians require more gentleness and patience, especially when overcoming previous trauma.
“I wanted to help these horses heal and show the world that they are just as worthy as expensive purebred horses from breeders.” They have 20 to 30 horses at the sanctuary at any given time. If a spot opens up, Camille reaches out to Arabian Rescue Group, who can immediately direct them to the next horse in the most need. While it’s undeniably her calling, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. As the head trainer, she usually feeds all the horses at 6:30 a.m. and then starts training, which includes individualized interaction and guidance dependent on each horse’s unique personality and background.
Fortunately, she has an amazing team that makes the operation possible and sustainable. Camille also has a training business called Unbound Horsemanship, which accepts horses owned by private clients, specializing in training Arabians. They also focus on fostering the horse-human connection and exploring the emotional depth of horses through art and creative writing. All proceeds from Unbound Horsemanship go directly to the rescues.
Driftwood Horse Rescue Executive Director, Timea Chemez, has her own business called The Zen Horse Co. that specializes in equine nutrition, biomechanics and holistic bodywork. Timea helps train the rescues, runs the lesson program and coaches horse-human relationship building. She also does a lot of the organizational, managerial and administrative work. They have some dedicated horse feeders and stall cleaners, including Juliana Peterson and Reagan Flores, and the amazing Aliya Rose runs the websites and marketing. All are passionate about the mission of the rescue and work tirelessly and cohesively to progress that mission.
The time and expense of running the operation is huge. Feed and hay alone costs a small fortune right now (around $2,500 each month), still elevated due to the Texas drought last year. Furthermore, horses who have undergone such trauma and neglect need about six months to a year of vet care, supplements and proper nutrition before they physically look and feel well enough to begin the mental and emotional rehab.
Most horses come to them completely feral, scared to let humans even come near them. Camille and her team work with them until they are well-mannered riding horses safe enough for beginners. At any given time, there are horses at the rescue with a range of goals, from working on first touch to getting used to a saddle to developing rider skills.
“Horses are like children, each one has a different personality and learns in a different way. So I like to have a ‘toolbox’ of methods and ideas that I can draw from to work with each distinctly different individual horse.”
Taini, who was pulled from a low-end auction, is one of their most amazing success stories. She had been harshly abused, starved and abandoned by her owner. “When we rescued her, she just looked like a skeleton,” says Camille. “I actually cried when I saw her.”
Camille didn’t think she would survive the trailer ride home, but she fought for her life on the ride and the days following. Eventually, she gained weight and her coat completely changed color. As her health was restored, her true personality and confidence began to shine. “She’s now glossy and plump and the sassiest mare in the herd,” says Camille. “I nicknamed her Taini because it means returning moon in Chippewa.”
The work is hard but meaningful. Camille and her team are saving the lives of these beautiful, intelligent animals. And in return, the horses teach Camille lessons about resilience and companionship.
“Helping each horse heal completely — physically, mentally and emotionally, and flourish into who they were meant to be — I feel like also helps heal something within ourselves.”