The horses at Mountain Valley Horse Rescue, located in McCoy just off of the scenic Highway 131, have all come to the rescue in hopes of rehabilitation and subsequent adoption to a forever home.
As stated on their website, “Mountain Valley Horse Rescue (MVHR) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization committed to rescuing, rehabilitating and re-homing abused, neglected, abandoned and unwanted equines.”
Some of their horses were saved from meat auctions for human consumption. Others were surrendered by owners no longer capable of providing proper care for these animals. Many, if not all, are being offered a second lease on life after truly difficult beginnings. Working with these horses over the past several months has been a surprisingly and unintentionally healing experience for me personally. The simplicity of connecting with these gentle giants, experiencing first-hand their capacity for resilience to life’s challenges, is an inspiration beyond words.
Rescue horses are unique in the sense that “They’ve been traumatized and it takes a lot for them to trust people again,“ says Joel Aguilar, MVHR’s on-site caretaker. “We’re here to show them that we are OK and we are not going to hurt them.”
He shares that his style of horsemanship may be strict at times but always comes from a place of respect, patience and love for the animals. Horses need manners, which Joel is committed to teaching them. His dedication and consistency with training gives each horse the best possibility of adoption with a forever home. He values the individuality of each horse and allows it to shine through with clarity and discipline. This is at the heart of Joel’s work at MVHR.
One doesn’t need to become a horse trainer to enjoy and learn from the horses and staff at MVHR. Matt, a volunteer from Avon, can attest: “You don’t need anything … Just come here and they’ll teach you everything you need to know.” Sparky, one of the mini-horses, playfully attempts to nibble at his ear while we chat.
This has absolutely been my experience at the rescue. My previous “horse experience“ resume included only pulling over on family road trips to feed carrots to random horses along the way. We would gently pet their noses, tell them how sweet they were and continue on our way.
I had always hoped to interact with horses in a more meaningful way, which is why I chose to start volunteering with MVHR back in January 2019. I was pleasantly surprised upon meeting the warm, welcoming staff at the rescue. Executive director Shana Devins and director of community programs Amy Ben-Horin  are a wealth of knowledge. I didn’t know much about horses at all. I did, however, have the feeling that I would learn a lot. I was right about that.
Fellow volunteer Matt encouraged me to “get rid of preconceived notions about what you do and don’t know.” He could not have been more on-point. On day one I was feeding and mucking the corrals. I have since groomed, saddled and ridden sweet one-eyed Jackie — I even picked her hooves, which initially felt close to impossible.
World-renowned American horse trainer Buck Brannaman is known for his innate ability to work with and rehabilitate even the most difficult of horses. In the autobiographical documentary “Buck,” he emphasizes the importance of sensitivity: “Horses are sensitive. A horse can feel a mosquito land on [his or her] butt in a wind storm.”
I had this idea that as a highly sensitive person I would need to “toughen up” in order to work with horses. My sensitivity is a quality that I’ve attempted to change on seemingly endless occasions in the past. As a survivor of trauma myself, I can resonate with the sensitivity of these animals on a deep level. I not only feel like I understand them, but they understand me. I have continued to learn to embrace my sensitivity by appreciating the same quality in each of the horses. It is truly a super power. It is my sincere belief that relationships, especially with animals, are like mirrors. Regardless of species, we are all connected in some way and are continually in the role of both student and teacher.
Each of these horses has experienced hardship. And each of them are healing and becoming more and more “themselves” as time goes by. Boone literally falls asleep standing up, relaxing the weight of his head into my shoulders while I offer endless neck-scratches and Reiki healing. Jackie and Dale have a silly sibling-like relationship. Dale stares at Jackie a lot of the time, with the old “I’m not touching you” vibe. It’s hilarious. They’ve been seen taking naps together while “dream-running” and snoring simultaneously. Each horse’s sweet personality peaks out the more confident they become over time.
They undoubtedly feel well cared for by the loving team of staff and volunteers at the rescue. There’s no doubt in my mind that the horses know things are different now. They are safe and loved. The staff at MVHR helps remind the horses of their true nature regardless of what the past has taught them about people and life. These horses are smart, resilient and loved beyond measure, just as they are. Each of them are gently encouraged to trust again and to reclaim their right to happy lives.
These horses are smart, resilient and loved beyond measure, just as they are. Each of them are gently encouraged to trust again and to reclaim their right to happy lives.
They are each an inspiration in their own right. No matter what anyone, or any animal, has experienced in the past, each being holds an inherent worthiness and right to live life fully. Beings heal through connection, acceptance and encouragement. Resilience to life’s challenges and the reclamation of a happy and healthy life is an inspiration that transcends species lines. Volunteer with these sweet animals to experience this level of inspiration for yourself. Jackie, Dale and the rest of the horses (and chickens and cats and dogs) will be waiting to meet you.
For more information on MVHR or to donate or volunteer, check out their website: www.mountainvalleyhorserescue.com
Photos by Mary Gavin.