Just as humans experience events and circumstances that have shaped their lives into who they are today, each individual animal has a past that brought them to the Ranch.
Some are retired from previous careers like Western Pleasure, endurance riding, reining and cutting, roping, and professional racing. Others are owner-surrenders who simply ran into a circumstance in their lives where they could no longer give their horse a quality of life that it deserved. Some are Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild Mustangs. Some have come from extreme neglect and abusive situations where we have partnered with Maricopa County Sheriff’s department to ensure that the animal has a place of refuge. Lastly, Reigning Grace Ranch is home to several horses that were rescued from Kill Pens (a holding pen where unwanted, discarded and abandoned horsed await slaughter) throughout the Southwest.
Beginning the journey
Generally, when a horse joins the Reigning Grace Ranch family, we allow them one week to settle in. A horse is placed in a quarantine stall, separate from the herd, to be observed and monitored for any illness, behavioral or lameness issues that may be occurring. Because Reigning Grace Ranch’s herd is so large, it is extremely important to keep our herd healthy and safe from unanticipated risks that introducing new animals may bring. Once deemed healthy, medical, physical and emotional rehabilitation begins. The new horse now begins its journey of learning the social hierarchy of the large herd.
Finding acceptance, safety and security in the herd
We are always fascinated by which micro-herd, within the larger herd, a new rescued horse will be accepted into. Often times, this will tell us a lot about the new horse just by the herd that chose to befriend them. It will also tell us where they fall in the hierarchy of the herd and micro-herds. Horses that fit into the middle of the “food chain” tend to be much more agreeable and easy going to work with. And with every herd, there are the “alphas,” (first to eat, more dominant) and there are the “omegas,” (last to eat, bottom of the food chain). As the herd as a whole adjusts to the new family member at the Ranch, the’ll quickly settle into the daily routine, knowing that they are in a safe refuge that they now call home — where survival is not the main concern anymore — and they can begin to heal.
Every horse has a special purpose
Not every horse will stay permanently. We have 3 types of horses at the ranch — Therapy Horses, Sanctuary Horses, and Adoptable Horses.
Therapy horses have been proven to work well with many different handlers, they love lots of people and don’t mind the constant stimulation.
Our therapy horses work about 4 hours a week. These horses are used in the capacity of riding and groundwork exercises. (basic training routines done with a horse on the ground or in a pen).
Our sanctuary horses are our senior horses, typically 25 years old plus. They have been given to the ranch and they are now “retired.” We don’t typically adopt them out because many of them have ongoing medical or physical demands that need continual professional oversight and care. These sanctuary horses are able to be used for groundwork only — no riding
Lastly, horses that we adopt out are simply horses that don’t do well in our busy environment. They tend to be horses that desire to bond with one human only.
Our job at RGR is to ensure that each horse is utilized in such a way that provides the horse with the optimum environment where they can most successfully flourish. Here are some of the horses that have made Reigning Grace Ranch their home:
Adopted: January 31, 2015
The excitement grew as we learned that the story of Reigning Grace Ranch was chosen as the cover feature in a local magazine. The article would talk about what programs and facilities we offer to the community — and the opportunity to share the heart behind our rescued horses to inspire hope and healing in their human counterparts. We never knew what reach a single magazine article would have until we received a phone call from an elderly man, we’ll call him Joe, in Utah.
On the other end of the line, Joe explained that he had read the article about the ranch — and it was an answer to his prayer! (Oddly enough, he hadn’t even read the article until 3 months after it was published). Joe’s voice began to shake and he was trying to hold back his tears as he explained that he had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer, had no children and he had lost his job at a local university because of his illness.
Joe explained how he owned two draft mares, half sisters, that he had raised since birth. These two horses were one of the last things left for Joe to “get in order” — and probably the hardest thing, because he had to say goodbye. Joe explained that these two horses, Bright Angel and Kaibab (named after the famous trails in the Grand Canyon), were his pride and joy. They slowed his world down and anchored him when he needed a respite from the chaotic whirlwind of doctors, therapies and treatments and the reality of his world with cancer.
He explained that he needed to find a place that would ensure “his girls” a forever-home, where they would receive lots of attention and continue to be loved on as much as he loved them. He had poured the last years of his life into these 6-year-old Gypsy Vanner Spotted Draft mares and the time had come for him to let them go. His only request…that they stay together for the remainder of their lives.
After a moment of discussion and consideration, we decided to welcome these two girls into the Reigning Grace Ranch herd. We promised to keep our word, that they would never be separated. These two magnificent creatures have been a staple at the Ranch since 2015.
Kaibab and Bright Angel’s mothers were sisters (Gypsy Vanners), bred to the same stallion, a spotted draft horse. We chuckle when we tell their story because they are half sisters — and full cousins.
Kaibab’s mother gave birth a day before Bright Angel’s. Of the two sisters, Kaibab is the most confident and largest of the two. She continually looks after her little half sister, Bright Angel. Bright Angel is shy and tends to hide behind her big sis! These two mares are so incredibly powerful and athletic — and possibly the most photographed horses at Reigning Grace Ranch because of their striking, vivid blue eyes, their distinctive markings and their sheer size!
Reigning Grace Ranch is about helping animals and humans through difficult times. Ideally, we should all be about that. And, like the Cowboy Code we teach at the Ranch, we are true to our word and when we make a promise we keep it. We’re sure that when Joe, the sister’s previous owner looks down over them, he’ll be grinning from ear to ear to watch the important work that “his girls” are doing together at Reigning Grace Ranch.
Adopted: April 14, 2020
When Legacy arrived at the ranch all of the resident equine therapists ran to the fence line to catch a peek of the new guy on the block.
A Belgian draft horse, Legacy stood about 22 hands tall, about 500 pounds underweight, and his red coat was dull and long. His body told the story of malnourishment from the muscle loss in his neck, withers, and hip area. His top line stood out and his spine could be felt just by looking at it.
Legacy came to the Ranch as a voiceless, forgotten animal. He would come to realize his new destiny — to help children and adults realize their own voice and learn to no longer be imprisoned by a world that left them behind.
Legacy continues to grow stronger and stronger. He has gained a quiet confidence about him. He is loved and his countenance telegraphs that he is grateful. There is something incredibly powerful standing beside a 2,200-pound animal who is quietly waiting to take direction from you. It is humbling to the human soul.
Legacy’s mission at the ranch includes working with people big and small. He is a gentle reminder that the past doesn’t define what we can become — and that all things are possible.
Adopted: November 1, 2020
Here, in Amanda Moore’s words, is another powerful story about the Reigning Grace Ranch herd:
One afternoon, while a team of RGR volunteers were meeting over coffee to review ranch goals, the telephone rang. An anxious man needed help. He and his wife had spent the last ten years rescuing hurt and broken racehorses from the tracks in California. His financial resources had been depleted. He was losing his home, and thus the safe haven for his beloved Thoroughbreds. With 25 horses on his property, a home in foreclosure, and nowhere to turn, he called for aid.
When Christopher and I arrived at his property we were given a quick assessment of each horse and their condition. We decided to help find homes for the healthier, readily adoptable ones, and to provide aid for food and shoeing for those remaining.
One horse in particular struck my interest: a big black horse, weighing in at about 1000 lbs (underweight) and 17 hands tall. He was penned at the backside of the property, in a 10’x10’ stall, barred from ceiling to floor. This dark figure had very little access to sunlight and was forbidden to move in his containment. His head was hung low. His eyes spoke of abandonment and pain. He did not acknowledge my presence.
I learned that this once magnificent animal — son of Johannesburg and great grandson of Secretariat — had sustained a severe leg injury. While this could have been remedied or even avoided, because of repeated, forced, driven damage, it was now irreversible. At the peak of his career, this sleek creature had a six-figure income and was a quite talented racehorse. He now stood invisible in the shadows of a dark stall. My heart instantly ached with heaviness and pain for the horse they called Joshua’s Dream. He was only six years old.
Over the next several weeks, I could not get Joshua off of my mind or out of my heart. Why was I so impacted by this horse? Furthermore, what good was a lame horse at a children’s ranch? The longer I questioned, the stronger the promptings became and the answer became clear. Just do, and don’t ask why.
I called the owner and requested that we bring Joshua home permanently to Reigning Grace Ranch.
Once we had Joshua at Reigning Grace, we scheduled our vet for x-rays and a lameness exam. His injuries were significant to say the least. With an atrophied hoof and the risk of founder, the initial plan was a physical therapy regime for six months. Dr. Tavel believed that within months we would know if the therapy was effective. Little by little, Joshua began to gain more range of motion in his leg and for the first time, I saw hope in his eyes. Joshua revealed just how big his willing heart was; he simply needed someone to believe in him.
Today Joshua frolics and plays and teases and loves. He is a favorite of the children who visit the ranch. It is laughable now to look back at my initial struggles and doubts about taking in an invisible, abandoned, broken horse, wondering if I could do any good for him, while it is the very foundation of what Reigning Grace does with the children that visit the ranch each day!
God works in mysterious ways. In my endeavors with the ranch I have clearly seen the evidence of His Hand. Many times I don’t understand the plan, but when I begin to see it unfold, I am reminded of God’s brilliance and wisdom as I see his beautiful masterpiece come together to touch many lives. He wastes nothing. Oftentimes He uses something that our “material” world deems as unworthy, and He does so to make a powerful statement in His name. A dear friend of mine calls these “God winks.” It’s when He sends the message, “step aside and watch me work.”
When I see this, I look up to the sky and wink back at God, thanking Him for using the broken and invisible to restore peace in the lives of His precious children. It was by no accident that Joshua was meant to be a walking miracle at Reigning Grace Ranch. The official registered Jockey Club name given to him at birth is “Joshua’s Dream.” Appropriately, Joshua in the bible means GOD RESCUES. Indeed, He does.
Adopted: January 12, 2014
As is often the case at Reigning Grace Ranch, Christopher and Amanda got an unexpected call early one morning from a rancher who had discovered an abandoned mare in his barn. They agreed to take her. On the way back to the ranch they decided to name her Reign.
Per Amanda: “When we began our assessments to see what she knew we discovered that Reign really was not a horse that was super interested in a lot of interaction with people. Definitely a one-owner horse. We started a search to adopt her into a loving home.”
Before a new home was found, Amanda connected Reign for a session with an 11-year old girl — Linda — who had been adopted out of foster care. Early in the session Linda stopped and began crying and then sobbing. She explained to Amanda that she could not understand how anyone could abandon such a beautiful horse. Linda let herself go and said she believed she was abandoned as a youngster because she was not beautiful.
Per Amanda: “Reign got to help Linda grow. Through Reign Linda recognized her self and that her negative thoughts about herself just weren’t true.”
Amanda says Reign’s story is typical of horse who come to the ranch in a “grim state…unwanted and unloved. The cool thing is there’s still life there and a destiny to change lives. In Reign’s case she made a significant impact in Linda’s life and then she made a significant and continues to make a significant impact in the family that adopted her.”
Adopted: July 18, 2018
Mr. Big’s story explains why horses want to be at Reigning Grace Ranch.
In late 2019 he became seriously ill. In other settings even a compassionate owner likely would have concluded that his time was up.
On one trip to a veterinarian he collapsed coming out of the trailer because his throat had closed up. An emergency tracheotomy was performed in the parking lot.
For the next two months ranch hand Krisan Milostan worked around the clock to keep his trach clean. She recalls one night in her relentless effort:
“It was 3 o’clock one morning. I was trying to give him a shot of antibiotics. I went to poke him and he bumped me on the ground and bent the needle. I fell to my knees, burst into tears and I cried out to the Lord, ‘Why me, I can’t do this on my own. I need help’. As clear as day He spoke to me and said, ‘All you need is me, lean into me. In me you are strong!’ Then Mr. Big came over and laid his head on mine and let out a big sigh.”
Mr. Big recovered. He’s back in the herd. While he was too kind and gentle to be a cowboy’s ranch horse, he’s a crowd favorite with his kind eyes, his sheer size, and his beautiful grulla coloring. In Krisan’s words: “What a comeback story! God is amazing and works miracles. Our story is living proof. Happy trails!”