Our story is a bit long. It is one full of struggles and mistakes, really.
I certainly never set out to found an equine rescue organization.
When Heart of Phoenix began as a bit of a small seed, a 501(c)3 didn’t exist in West Virginia for horse rescue. The few that had came before us, both private and nonprofit, were buried in horrible track records, some covered up in abuse and neglect, others in fraud, and West Virginia’s horses were left without a real voice.
I was a very casual horse girl growing up. I collected Breyer models, enjoyed the horses my grandfather purchased and took some riding lessons for a few years.
My grandfather depended on horses greatly for farming and transportation in the 40’s. He took me along to horse auctions across Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky from the time I was very little. I saw shows in rural counties where soring and abuse was prevalent. And growing up in one of the poorest counties in the USA, I knew starvation better than most. He also took me to races from a young age. I didn’t know what happened behind the scenes, and I imagine he had no idea, either. I even dreamed of being a jockey when I grew up as a young child.
I ended up almost 5′ 9” and of no particular gift in the seat. I became an animal advocate, vegetarian and free thinker. A bit (or a lot) of an activist. I still had no thought to actively found a rescue organization.
I looked around in 2009 when the horse market may have been at her worst, and I said, “someone needs to do something about this.” I said it when I was pregnant with pre-eclampsia. I said it following the death of my father, 17 year old sister and 2 young brothers. I said at the wrong time, but when I spoke those words out loud. . .I knew what it meant. I couldn’t say them and leave them as only words.
I started using out of pocket money at a time when we had little to spare to pick up a horse here and there listed for free on Craigslist and in poor shape. I will be honest, I didn’t know how to rehab a horse. I have a lifetime of animal husbandry, but I didn’t know enough. I reached out to groups I didn’t know were doing terrible things behind the scenes for advice. I kept finding myself disappointed. I found no one knew anything and ethics were in short supply locally.
Eventually, I found one particular mare in 2010. She was tied up in Lincoln county. She had no hope, but I wasn’t realistic back at that time. And I tried. I tried so hard, and I failed. I didn’t fail because she didn’t make it. I failed because I tried to make her live when I was too late for her.
In the end, I let her go, and I named her, once buried, Phoenix. . . rising from the ashes anew. I think of her in all the horses that have been saved since. Hundreds of success stories. Phoenix after Phoenix, I believe.
I posted a blog almost 6 years ago to this day. I laid her to rest. I didn’t know rescue meant then. It means hard choices, realistic mind sets and ending suffering.
Suddenly, after her story, I found I wasn’t as alone in my hope for something better here. There were people looking, hoping for something for our in need horses.
The three of us built a small support base. We tried and learned and failed and accomplished.
That seems a lifetime ago, and some 250 horses have come after. What a legacy Phoenix has, though her name does often beg the question, “Are you all in Arizona?”
We are all thankful each day for the lessons we’ve learned. We all had a heart for making sure we built something of tremendous value. Being willing to learn and improve and move forward is so vital to making sure rescue (and most anything) works in the long term.
So we are now on the cusp of a new journey with a new set of challenges as we embark on an expansion of epic size. It will push us out of our comfort zone, but the time to do it has arrived.
We have outgrown our foster only system, and we have grabbed hold of an amazing property near Huntington, WV.
We hope you will rally with us to help HOP by sharing what we are doing with your friends, letting folks know in conversations, as well as giving of your time if you’re local. If you’re able to make a special gift to help with the costs of renovating what is going to be an amazing facility to give so many horses a secure place, know your efforts are greatly appreciated.