Galloping into the giving season

Shecky_HH
Visiting Horses’ Haven is inspiring.

As the year begins to wind down (where did time go?), it’s an important time for nonprofits that work year round to make a difference in our lives. From fighting diseases to protecting nature and animals to helping people with food and shelter, thousands of charities rely heavily on the generosity and kindness of others.

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I hope you’re considering a year-end, tax-deductible donation to a charity, if you haven’t already donated. I’ve written much about various charities over the years, those that touch my heart and I personally donate to and volunteer for as I support their mission, programs and services. Since November and December are big months for charitable giving, I wanted to provide an overview of some of my favorite charities. To be frank, there are so many that I could probably write posts every week all year!

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I’ll kick off November with the lovable animal charity, Horses’ Haven. Horses Haven is a local organization that rescues horses, donkeys and other animals who are abused, neglected, unwanted, aged or whose owners can no longer afford to keep them.

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Horses have ranked, along with dogs, as my favorite animal since I can remember. I think “horse” was one of the first words I spoke as a child. After years of begging my parents, they finally let me take riding lessons when I was 9 years old. I still remember dancing around the house singing “I’m so excited” by the Pointer Sisters.

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For the next 13 years, I lived and breathed horses. My first trainer spotted my talent for handling horses and riding so invited me to work at the barn every Saturday for a few hours to earn riding time. I rode hunter/jumpers, having no fear of riding a horse jumping 3’-5’ fences or riding the high-energy, mischievous horses. I switched barns when I was 15 to ride with a trainer who pushed me a bit more. I never owned my own horse, however, always had requests to ride others’ horses for lessons and at horse shows.

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When I went to college, I couldn’t get home often enough to ride at my regular bar so found a farm that bred and trained Quarter Horses near the university. I offered to work around the barn in exchange for riding opportunities. The owner happily accepted so I spent the next four years learning much about training horses. I loved spring time when the new colts and fillies would run around the pastures. Nothing brought a smile to my face faster. When I was 21, near the end of my senior year, I got a job exercising racehorses for a local trainer. It was at this farm that I finally stopped ignoring the growing pain in my left knee. I went to a walk-in clinic near school and discovered my bone cancer.

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Shecky52010
Such a handsome boy.

It changed everything. As scared as I was with the cancer diagnosis, I was devastated at the idea of not riding again. Since my knee and femur were to be replaced with titanium, I could very much jeopardize my leg if I fell off a horse. Despite that fear, I decided to try riding for pleasure after I finished chemo. I didn’t have the previous carefree attitude, however, I was thrilled to be back in the saddle. I unfortunately had to soon replace my titanium rod again after a fall at work and my surgeon said I would have to decide – continue to ride and risk losing my leg in a fall from a horse or stop riding.

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It wasn’t much of a choice of course. I was blessed and grateful to still have my leg. But I took giving up horses very hard. I became a little bitter and angry toward cancer, and hated those feelings. I cut my favorite animals from my life – sold my tack, took down pictures, gave away books and movies. I thought it was easier. For so many years of my life, horses were my escape from school, peer pressure, work and life in general. I relaxed the moment I crossed into the barn. I could stand in a stall with a horse, run my fingers through his mane, rest my cheek against his shoulder and enjoy minutes of peaceful quiet. I lived for these moments. And cancer took it away.

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About 10 years ago I decided to get those feelings back. I found Horses Haven. I attended one of their farm tours and felt an odd pull like I had come home. Horses Haven began in 1995 and is completely volunteer run – no paid staff at all. That fact still amazes me when you consider how much time and energy goes into feeding, watering, cleaning stalls/pastures, taking care of many animals who often have health issues, and just ensuring these well-deserving animals feel love. Dedicated volunteers work in shifts throughout the day, every day, to keep the farm running and the animals taken care of.

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HH_Sheckyheadshot3 1009
Horses have been my passion since childhood.

I often wanted to volunteer to help at the barn, however, the farm isn’t very close to my home and my schedule fairly full so I decided to sponsor a horse – basically my monthly financial support helped take care of him.  I sponsored Shecky, a gorgeous chestnut Thoroughbred, for many years. He was neglected when Horses Haven first rescued him years ago, then adopted by a great family. Unfortunately, they couldn’t keep him so he returned to Horses Haven. He had bad knees at that point so couldn’t be ridden. I thought we were a perfect pair with my rod that prevented me from riding. He enjoyed a relaxing life with his pasture mates until he died (of old age) two years ago. I loved visiting him, and all the other horses. They each have special stories, of overcoming the odds. Some from neglect and abuse, others from kind owners who could no longer support them.

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There are many ways to support Horses’ Haven – volunteer regularly, on their farm work days or special events, sponsor a horse as I did, donate to the general fund, provide items from the wish list. Some of the horses are available for adoption as companion animals or for riding.

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This volunteer organization makes a wonderful impact on the lives of the animals they support and provide shelter and love to. Donate today.

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