We’ve always relied on horses. Now it’s their turn to count on us. And that’s what Mountain Valley Horse Rescue (MVHR) is all about. It’s a place that lets kids and adults love on horses, helping bring them back to life. And it seems, once someone sets foot onto this expansive property, sees the abused and abandoned horses and subsequently falls in love with them, they have a hard time leaving, and will come back time and again.
It’s horse country, for sure: wide-open spaces and snow-capped mountains surround the vast expanse of land where horses roam. What makes this place so special, however, is that horses come here to heal. It’s an idyllic piece of property nestled near the Flat Tops north of Wolcott in McCoy. It is truly a spacious piece of paradise for the horses. In 2004 two horses were abandoned in the nearby Flat Tops; they were rescued and MVHR was founded. The ranch that first housed MVHR was in Salt Creek in Eagle; it was a rental property and accommodated nine horses. Twelve years later through a generous donation, the rescue was able to buy a 114-acre piece of property in McCoy where 32 horses now live and are loved.
The horses who come to the rescue have had lives that were far from idyllic. The group is set up to help horses learn to trust again, with no timeline in mind. Some of the horses were neglected and arrived with jagged bones clearly visible beneath their fur; others, who never had their feet cared for, were hobbling; still other horses were just left, abandoned in the wilderness. Some were saved from slaughter. All have been brought back to life by the caring two-person staff and many volunteers who are passionate about helping heal these gentle giants.
“Our goal is to get them all adopted,” says Amy Ben-Horin, program manager at the rescue. She and Executive Director Shana Devins exude the calm, gracious spirit that comes along with horses. It’s far more than a two-person job, feeding and caring for horses. On average, 86 volunteers a month make the long trek up Highway 131 to care for the horses, whether it’s feeding them (three meals a day), helping train them or building fences. In addition, there is a list of contractors who work with the horses: farriers, vets, trainers.
While the work may be tough, the rewards are great, as is evidenced by the way the volunteers and staff describe each horse, its personality and their stories. “Roxy is the sweetest horse. Dan and Gabby were adopted together. Gabby is his pal, the companion horse. Latigo has neurological issues. He has a sponsor who loves him. All of his medical issues are covered by MVHR. Union was a race horse,” Ben-Horin waxes on like a proud mother.
“Sinclair is our oldest horse. He’s had a purpose his whole life, I think it’s what kept him alive,” Ben-Horin says of the 46-year-old horse. “Horses enjoy when they have a purpose.” All the horses at the rescue do have a purpose; many of them work directly in the programs. In the summer camps, each camper builds a connection with their “own” rescue horse, that has been trained by volunteers.
“The camps instill what it means to take care of horses. The campers will muck, clean and feed daily, it shows the responsibility of owning a horse. They’re your pet… it’s not fair to get rid of them,” says Ben-Horin.
The hope is that each of these six horses is then adopted, freeing up space for a new wave of horses who need a place to call home-for-now.
“Operationally our big push is adoption,” Devins says. “These are amazing animals, who, through no fault of their own, have fallen on some hard times. They are not broken. They can be incredible animals for somebody looking. All of these horses have had full veterinary treatment. We know their ages. We know their personalities and what they are capable of and what they are not capable of, so you can come and adopt a horse and know a lot about it.”
While no horse is pushed out, there is a waitlist of at least 40 more horses that need the rescue. MVHR estimates there are 6,000 unwanted horses in Colorado alone. As the only rescue on the Western Slope, there’s a lot of territory to cover and a lot of horses to care for… and only 32 spaces available. Luck has one of those spaces. For some of her life, she definitely didn’t have luck. She arrived neglected, emaciated and hurting. Now she’s a beautiful, strong, filled-out horse. The horse came just when a young girl got involved with the rescue; she needed a friend. Enter Luck. They work together multiple times a week and it’s hard to tell who saved whom. “They are saving each other,” Ben-Horin says. “We go back and forth with the tagline.
Are we helping the horses or are the horses really helping us?” Care for a horse doesn’t come cheaply: 12 of the spaces are currently used for boarders, which creates a funding stream. Ideally, they would like to do away with the boarders to have even more rescued horses on site. Devins estimates to care for one horse for one month costs about $500. There are various programs at MVHR that help offset those costs: the cost to sponsor a horse for one year is $5,000. There are big plans too — that come with a big price tag. The stack-yard to store hay and keep it from molding is framed and getting there. There’s the dream of an indoor arena so horses can be ridden and trained year-round. Maybe classroom space so schools and large community groups can continue to come up, volunteer and learn. Horses are considered livestock, so many grants that are open to places like animal shelters are not available to MVHR, explains Ben- Horin.
And one of those first two abandoned horses who stared it all? Now named Willow: “She will forever have a home with us,” Ben-Horin says with a contented smile.