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Healing through horses: Youth club, H.E.A.R.T. rescue ranch make emotional connection
Members of the local Youth Club of the Washington State Quarter Horse Youth Association have a big heart for horses.
Club members named Rancho Laguna’s H.E.A.R.T. (Home of Equine Assisted Rescue Therapy) ranch in Snoqualmie as their charity of choice for 2013.
Besides donating funds, the club members are committing their volunteer hours to the ranch, spending hours this winter organizing bins of tack donations, picking stalls, and grooming rescue horses and donkeys.
Tina Laguna, owner and director of Rancho Laguna’s HEART, is a long-time Quarter Horse Association member and past board member.
Capucine Zimmerman, youth club member, interviewed Tina to learn how her non-profit got its start and hear stories behind the rescue horses and donkeys.
“I’ve been rescuing horses my entire life,” said Tina.
In 2006 she opened her doors to the public.
“I wanted to just fill in where there was a need. Every now and then someone would call about a neglected animal.”
When Tina bought her ranch near Snoqualmie Falls in 2000, she boarded horses and rescued others. She had one boarder that “just never came back. That person never really cared about her horse. It’s unbelievable to me that someone would buy a beautiful creature just for show and not love and care for it.”
Today, one of those abandoned horses is a therapy horse named Truman. Tina tries to “adopt out” as many as possible but some just don’t get adopted. Instead, they become permanent fixtures at Rancho Laguna’s HEART and become wonderful therapy horses.
While Tina understands the benefits of equine physical therapy programs, she is currently focused on her main program, emotional therapy. This program helps people in need of grief counseling, and those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, chemical dependency and addictions. It made an impact on one group of military veterans, who recently came out to HEART and built an outhouse with wheelchair access.
Asked how big an endeavor it is to become a non-profit, Tina happily says, “It’s a lot of work, but we love it.”
Tina and HEART co-founder Anna Lvova work around the clock when a new rescue horse first arrives.
“The first two weeks are vital and usually will indicate, for those in the worst of health, whether or not they will survive” Tina said. “The rescues are usually emaciated and in bad shape. Sometimes they are so weak they cannot get up. Typically, after the initial two- week period, they are gaining weight and on the road to recovery.”
Sadly however, some just don’t make it. With emotions in her voice, Tina shares the story of “Rocky Man” who had been hanging in there eating some, but not enough.
“He had been fed such horrible things in his previous environment that his body had already begun to shut down,” she said.
While Tina is always sad at the loss of a rescue, she is happy that he spent the last weeks of his life at Rancho Laguna’s HEART surrounded by loving, caring friends.
Other rescues happily move on to families who are thrilled to adopt them. Ruby is the most recent to be placed in her forever home. Ruby and her mom, Big Rose, age 30, came to Tina together. Big Rose was 450 to 500 pounds underweight, and the worst case Tina has ever seen. Mom and baby were so severely underweight they could not lie down, even with stalls full of extra shavings.
Tina never gave up, and with added pads, blankets and shavings she made them comfortable while building their health and weight back up. Ruby became the love of a little girl named Gia, who volunteered at HEART last summer and adopted her.
What led Tina to create the emotional therapy program? “It’s a personal story,” she says. “Horses will push you hard because they know. A woman I worked with this year had just lost her child.
“She and I walked through the pasture and Lil’ Rosie, a rescue donkey, came right up to the mom and put her head on her. They stayed that way for about an hour.”
Tina feels they shared a level of sadness as a common bond. Lil’ Rosie had lost her family too—she understands loss and provides comfort for humans grieving a loss of their own.
“I thought it was sad to hear the way some horses can be treated by their owners,” said Graysen Stroud, Youth Club president. “Tina’s work is so important. Our club is happy to be giving a little back to Tina and her rescue horses and donkeys.”
This spring, Tina was listed as a resource with Animal Control and immediately began to receive calls. “I tend to reserve my rescue for the ‘worst of the worst’ cases.” In order to support the ranch, Tina puts on fundraisers. Rancho Laguna’s HEART operational cost and feed is about $50,000 a year.
Tina is currently trying to fund a small covered arena for her emotional therapy programs, which would allow two horses at a time in a covered area.
“The need is increasing for this type of therapy; my dreams are to be able to meet these needs.”
Barbara Crosby, club fundraising chair said, “This year, I am pleased to say we are increasing fundraising efforts in the community and expanding our knowledge of rescue horses.”
Club members are looking forward to their next work party out at Rancho Laguna’s HEART.
For additional information, visit their web site at http://www.rancholagunaheart.org/index.html.
Above, members of the local Youth Club of the Washington State Quarter Horse Youth Association hold a work party at Rancho Laguna.
Club member Lily bonds with a rescue horse named Truman.
The WSQHYA club got to meet animals on the farm, such as this mini-donkey.