How a group of eight children, ages 7 to 11, are coping with the pandemic by turning their dreams of a horse rescue into a reality so other children in their community will have access to horses.
Bad things happen on Friday the 13th. On Friday, November 13, 1307, King Philip IV of France arrested the Knights Templar. On Friday, September 13, 1940 the Germany bombed Buckingham Palace. On Friday, November 13, 1970 a cyclone killed 300,000 in Bangladesh. On Friday, January 13, 2012, the Costa Concordia cruise ship crashed off the coast of Italy killing 30. On Friday, March 13, 2020, half the children forming Grand Valley Horse Rescue where celebrating a birthday party at the local skating rink when they learned that school was going online until the fall.
The birthday party on Friday the 13th was the beginning of their spring break. Over the next couple of days, their lives drastically changed. All their spring break plans were canceled, all their spring horse events canceled, and the Governor put a stay-at-home order separating them from each other for sixty days.
Fortunately, they could go exercise their horses a few times per week during their sixty-day stay-at-home order. As discussed in Elizabeth C. Hirschman’s 1994 research paper entitled Consumers and Their Animal Companions, the children view their horses as a friend and a family member. While being isolated from their social peers, the children developed a deeper relationship with their horses and started spending a great deal of their ride time having in-depth conversations with their horses.
At the end of their sixty-day isolation, one of the horses at the stables was losing her battle with founder and it was decided that the most humane thing to do was to put her down. Each child spent time with her in the days leading up to her rainbow crossing. They all had a chance to say good-bye.
The horses at the stable witnessed the passing of Bonnie. Over the next three days, the horse mourned the loss of their herd-mate, except Maximum Horsepower. Maxi was angry! For three days, he terrorized the stables, biting and kicking the other horses. To complicate matters, Maxi’s Princess was on the river rafting.
On the afternoon of the fourth day after Bonnie’s passing, Maxi’s Princess and her Mom arrived at the stable. Maxi mourned the loss of his stablemate for 25 minutes in their arms. When the sadness had been shared and his riding lesson was complete, he returned to his paddock a happy boy. No more, mad Max!
The next day after Maxi mourning all the losses of his life in the arms of his family, summer camp started at the stables. The children were thrilled to see each other again! They welcomed the new students that they knew from school. And they reluctantly welcomed the out-of-town students who were shipped to Grand Junction from COVID-19 hot spots to spend the summer with relatives.
Summer camp at the stables is more than just riding, the children feed, water, groom, muck the stalls, pick rocks out of the arena, and hunting for shade in the hot afternoons. But most importantly, summer camp is about learning to become part of the herd. And one of the best ways to integrate into a herd is to get to know them through the stories.
At the stables is a permanently lame orphan gelding names Paulsar. Typically, orphan horses lack boundaries and tend to bite and kick. Paulsar is no exception and loves to nip if being ignored. It is his stories the children shared with all newbies.
At one time, Paulsar’s owner was followed into his stall and physically attacked. Paulsar saved her by picking up her attacker, shaking him violently and then throwing him six feet out of the barn. In their story, the children always add the caveat, “if someone comes to the stables to hurt us, we are to go into Paulsar’s paddock. He will protect us!”
Paulsar’s summer fun activity is to play with the water therefore every time his water bucket gets filled, he will go play with whomever is filling it. He was playing with an out-of-towner when through her laughter, she started crying. Then she said, “I wish you could come live with me in my backyard. I could sleep with my window open and you would protect me!”
The older children, those who were 10, decided the younger children did not need to know about this revelation. They also promised the out-of-towner that they would not tell anyone provided she told her relatives.
The next day, all the children started verbally daydreaming about a barn with an apartment above the stalls. Someplace where they could hide away from the world. Over the course of the next week, the barn apartment had transformed into a horse rescue.
These children live in Western Colorado, the outdoor recreation capital of the world. These are adventure kids. They river raft, ski, climb, bike, hike, paddle board, hunt, fish, and camp. On the longest day of the year, Maxi’s Princess was on the back of an ATV with another child while an adult was driving. The ATV flipped!
Even though Maxi’s Princess was fine, the other child on the ATV was not fine. Her hand had been almost severed in half. It was so severe that a helicopter flew the child to the hospital.
The ramification of the accident on Maxi’s Princess was significant and she spread that urgency onto the other children. The world has become an unsafe place. The horse rescue of their fantasies had to become a reality.
Their next step was to design out a T-shirt to start raising money for their rescue. Maxi’s Princess was talking to the other students about slogans on the T-Shirt while brushing out Maxi’s tail. Out of her mouth came the words, relationships are made in dusty arenas and here is the proof in your tail.
A local artist, whom they all call “Aunt Mel”, stepped up to help design the T-shirt and Princess Buttercup attended the meetings with the artist and turned a random statement into a T-shirt. The only change that was incorporated was changing the word made to forged. The final product was a design of a horse’s tail with dust particle showing the different activities with the slogan “Relationships are forged in dusty arenas. They are so proud of their final product.
The children continued forward through the summer cementing their ideas about the rescue when food insecurities crashed into their happy summer camp life. This was the first time that most of them had encountered firsthand someone being hungry. They share their concerns with their parents and the community resources which were available were incorporated into their daily lives. Fortunately, they live in a community that takes care of the children.
However, this added a new dimension to the rescue. They were going to have a kitchen and someone to cook so no one at the rescue would go hungry. Again, Princess Buttercup stepped up and encouraged her Daddy to follow his dream of operating a restaurant. All the children agreed with her decision because they all love his cooking. What started out as a daydream to escape the realities of 2020 was becoming their new reality.
A random lightening strike ignited the largest wildfire in Colorado history. The Pine Gulch fire held the title of largest wildfire for about a month. Now, it is the third largest in Colorado history. The children watched the mountain burn 8 miles from the stables. Since the fire fighters were being housed at the fairgrounds all the fall horse shows were cancelled.
Between Covid-19, all the trials of the summer, the fire, the canceling of the horse shows, and school starting in a couple of weeks was almost more stress than they could handle. As a group, they all decided that if they had to wear masks at school, they wanted fun ones with horses. They shot photos of Maxi sticking out his tongue and Paulsar laughing, then took them to Aunt Mel. Once again, she did not disappoint the children. They were going to be heading to school with cool horse masks.
Even with the super cool horse masks, not all the children returned to school as twenty-five percent chose the online school option because of their fear of getting Covid-19. The school district’s online program started two weeks after in class sessions. During this two weeks of down time, Princess Patience built the Grand Valley Horse Rescue website, http://www.GVHR.org. She finished and published it a week before her eleventh birthday.
While most all children were out of town on a weekend adventure, the winds shifted and the smoke from the Pine Gulch fire poured into the valley. Upon arriving home from camping, Maxi’s Princess called the stables in tears, “it’s dark! It’s hot! Everything smells like smoke and its raining ash! I am hiding in my bedroom in the basement where its safe! Is Maxi okay?”
For the next couple of weeks, the temperatures soared to over 100 degrees and smoked filled the air. There was no riding at the stables in these conditions but with the beginning of school the children could come lay on their horses while they grazed. The first couple of days of school the horses heard how horrible the new rules were and how they are not allowed to fellowship with other classes.
After a couple of days of venting to their horses, school became more tolerable. Their afternoon conversations centered around their rescue which was now a firm reality in the minds. They discussed the need to include a bike jump course for those brothers that do not like horses. They discussed the need for a cross country course if anyone wanted to attempt to ride in the Olympics because the closest course was over 200 miles and a few high mountain passes, away. They started drawing picture of the layout of the rescue.
They determined that they would need more than 60 acres but more realistically they would need about 80 acres. They started pricing land which was at least 60 acres in the Grand Valley and determined they would need about a million dollars. One afternoon, one of the children suggested that she get her father’s gun and shoot someone because a guy on the news did that and people gave him almost a million dollars. This idea was quickly squashed by the other students by they did decide to build a GoFundMe account at some point.
While still brainstorming fundraising ideas to launch their rescue, they learned that a horse, Simon of Rio, that they all knew and loved was being offered for sale. They also learned that the child injured in the ATV accident and had just successfully undergone five surgeries to save her hand was prescribed equine therapy. They decided to raise the money to purchase Simon then they invited Princess Leia to use him for her therapy.
Once the group decision was made to purchase Simon, Princess Buttercup approached her Daddy and asked him to please build them a GoFundMe account. https://www.gofundme.com/f/simon-of-rio When their GoFundMe account did not get very many donations, they once again revised the idea of shooting someone. Again, it was met with resounding no!
They had their first official meeting in the fall where they elected officers and decided on their first fundraiser. They also set down some rules, school comes first and if you do not agree with the group you are not allowed to pout. From this point, they each went to their parents and asked for their support. Then they went to the President of the Mesa County Sheriff Posse and asked if they could hold their fundraiser during the Halloween gymkhana.
In preparation for their big launch and fundraiser, they recorded and produced a video on why they are creating the Grand Valley Horse Rescue. It is interesting to watch how Maxi’s Princess dances around the true reason that other children with emotional damage will have access to the horses especially knowing the real reason they included this in their rescue.
Additionally, they wrote their first mission statement.
The Grand Valley Horse Rescue’s mission is to create a green space, centrally located between Palisade and Mack, Colorado, for a horse rescue so the children of the community will have more affordable access to horses. Research has shown that interaction with horses improves children academically, assists with emotional issues and helps with physical limitations. The horses with the highest likelihood to be trained to be children’s horses will have priority.
Prior to their big launch, with the help of parents, their riding instructor, and their teachers, they crafted a press release and sent it out to the local newspaper and television stations. They were so excited when the newspaper and a couple of local television stations ran their story. But they were elated when they found out they had raised enough money to file the paperwork with the State of Colorado, the IRS and they had paid off Simon!
Bad things happen on Friday the 13th! On Friday, November 13th, the children were informed that they were to find a new location for their horses by January 1st and that only one household could be at the stable with the horse at a time. For the past several months, the rescue was being formed through a synergy of ideas when they were together with their horses. This was now gone!
It was Princess Patience that pulled the group together by saying “okay, we are in a lurch. How to we fix it?” She rallied the children from hopelessness to what is our next step forward. Princess Warrior came up with the idea of having a virtual gingerbread contest to raise enough money to lease a location for 2021. While formulating the gingerbread contest, it was determined that even though the children have a ton of support from those around them, those around them do not have the skill set of successfully building a corporation whether for profit or in this case a non-profit.
This really became apparent when their press release for the virtual gingerbread contest was not well received regionally but again the local press gave them limited coverage. Once again, they were met with another huge obstacles so being separated they all started working individually. Currently, there are eight letters at the North Pole addressed to Santa asking for the virus to go away, property for their rescue and someone to guide them. There is also a letter to Dolly Parton asking her to be Princess Warrior’s fairy god-mother mentor.
There are eight children forming this rescue between the ages of seven and eleven. Not all of them ride at the same stable, some of them learned of the rescue from the others and asked to join the project. They all use Princess or Princess names for anonymity on social media since they are children.
They have coped with the horrors of 2020 by taking their daydreams and turning them into reality. They coped with learning of the loss of their location by producing a video inviting everyone to join their gingerbread contests.
They are coping with the knowledge that they need assistance by writing to the only person they know might help them, Santa. Even with all of Santa’s connections, it is doubtful he can find eight individuals with the skills of creating a successful corporation, that enjoying working with elementary children, that understand they have the attention span of 20 minutes or that of a gnat, and fully understand that they would be volunteering for a working board position.
It will be incredible interesting, when Santa does not instantly get rid of the virus, does not deliver them a place for their horses and do not bring forth mentors to help them take the next step forward with their rescue. Based on an article entitled How Equine Assisted Activities Affect the Prosocial Behavior on Adolescents published on April 24, 2020 by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, those children with a strong relationship with a horse have fewer behavior issues and stronger prosocial skills. The article continues by saying that the human-horse interactions promotes behavior development, improves self-awareness and social skills in children.
Based on their previous patterns, when Santa does not deliver, they will have a long conversation with their horse, then formulate another plan forward. Fortunately, they do not have to encounter another Friday the 13th until August of 2021.