Murphy-Pettee: Get to know a rescue horse at Mountain Valley Horse Rescue |

Murphy-Pettee: Get to know a rescue horse at Mountain Valley Horse Rescue

Cookie Murphy-Pettee
Valley Voices
Jackie, one of the horses rescued by Mountain Valley Horse Rescue, provided many children with their first riding experiences at this summer's Beaver Creek Rodeo.
Mountain Valley Horse Rescue | Special to the Daily |

Editor’s note: Find a cited version of this column at

The past two summers, I helped each week with the free pony rides for children offered by Mountain Valley Horse Rescue at the Beaver Creek Rodeo. It is a chance for children, many for the first time, to be on a horse and for MVHR to become better known (the rescue is near McCoy, and we serve the whole north-central Colorado region).

Some evenings, it is so hot we just want to go home. Sometimes it rains a lot and we just want to go home. But we stay.

There are always memorable moments. Last year, one upscale-cowgirl fashion-bedecked grandma plunked a $100 bill into our “donations” feed bucket. “Wow! Would you like a receipt?” I asked. She smiled, waved a well-manicured hand and said, “No thanks.” We didn’t see her this year, but there were lots of $10s and $20s.

And there are the special moments on the horses. On the last night, two little boys walked up with their parents — Hudson, about 5, and his little brother, maybe 3. Hudson was reluctant. I offered to stand with him while his parents walked around with the toddler. His parents were relieved. I loved the instant trust, which arises simply because of who we are: the horse rescue.

Hudson and I chatted while I fitted other kids with helmets, his eyes fixed on his folks. Then Dad came over with a big smile, “Hudson, they just told me you both can ride on the same horse! What do you think about that?” Just as they were taking off, Hudson smiled — another successful introduction between horse and human, another happy kid.

The “we” includes a regular cadre of volunteers and MVHR’s diversely skilled Executive Director Shana Devins. Everyone else involved with MVHR is a volunteer. We stay at the rodeo in hot, rainy or mild weather not just because of the commitment to our equine charges but because it is fun to see the faces of children light up at their first experience on a horse.

This year, we brought two of our rescued and retrained horses — Jackie and Foxy — along with one of Shana’s non-rescue horses. All are very gentle and patient as we load child after child on their backs and walk them around in a circle, stopping at least once so that parents and grandparents can take pictures.

Annually, 120,000 or more horses are shipped — often roughly and crudely — to Mexico or Canada for slaughter as meat. It is no longer possible to slaughter horses and sell the meat in the United States, but there are no regulations to cover transporting them outside of the United States.

In Colorado alone, the ongoing estimated number of unwanted horses stays steady at 6,000. When MVHR finds a new, permanent home for a horse, a pony, a mule, a donkey, we are making a dent in those numbers. Since 2005, we have rehomed more than 100 horses, including two that my daughter and son-in-law own.

Which brings me back to Jackie. She was rescued, with several other horses, at an auction in May 2014, keeping them from probable slaughter. Emaciated and with only one eye, Jackie was the poster child for rescue. In spite of her terrible condition, Jackie was a steadfast friend to her corral-mate Rosie, also emaciated, terrified.

Rosie was pregnant and gave birth to a colt just weeks after being brought to MVHR. Jackie was the good auntie throughout her own recovery and helped raise little Indie, giving Rosie breaks from the little guy. Jackie’s nurturing nature continues, and now she is helping with all of our programs at MVHR — kids and adults. Indie, now 3 years old, is one of my grand-horses.

I always leave the rodeo uplifted. Most of the time, I am just outside the corral, initially standing behind our red-and-white checkered cloth-decked table of information and waiver-form clip boards — and the donation feed bucket — then moving in front of the table as the crowd gathers. As adults with various sizes and numbers of children approach, some with a bit of confusion in their eyes, I start my spiel: “Hi there! Would your child like to ride?” Parents fill out the waiver and are asked to make a donation and then steered into the helmet line.

Once in a while, someone requests more knowledge about MVHR, about horse rescue issues in general or about programs for children. Having those moments is a big reason why we come — education, outreach and new volunteers.

While I am completely fatigued at the end of these evenings, I also know that upward of 100 children have had good experiences with a horse. And a few more people have become aware of equine rescue issues and of our efforts to make a difference. And every week, I am impressed by the patience and beauty of these horses.

Cookie Murphy-Pettee lives in Gypsum and invites you to come see Mountain Valley Horse Rescue in McCoy, become a volunteer or support efforts to complete the organization’s capital campaign to fund an indoor arena and other key facilities, totaling $1 million. Contact Murphy-Pettee at or call MVHR at 970-653-0185.

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