The other week I was reading the local paper, The Morning Call and I saw a story that stopped me in my tracks. Last Chance Ranch in Quakertown, PA had made it to the final two in a national search done by Rachel Ray for a major donation to animal shelters for her holiday show. I confess I don't watch Rachel Ray's show. But I do know Last Chance Ranch, and was thrilled for them to hear the news.
When I first heard of Last Chance Ranch, I wanted to check it out just because it sounded like a great name for a romance novel. Little did I know I would experience an "epic" romance there myself. The ranch is a no-kill animal shelter that specializes in rescuing horses from slaughter auctions (where they're auctioned to be slaughtered for pet food, mostly). When I stopped by for a visit one day, I noticed that Lori McCutcheon-Benetz, the founder, taught something called Natural Horsemanship. Being a natural kind of woman, I thought that sounded interesting. So I signed up.
In our first lesson together, with a rescue horse named Epic, she taught me what she called "the join-up." Epic was a horse who had been mistreated and hadn't let anyone ride him since coming to Last Chance Ranch. One of the basic principles of natural horsemanship is that you want to get the horse's permission and trust before you ride it. Horses are pack animals, and if you establish leadership in a gentle and strong way, they will be much more likely to follow your lead.
Lori put me into a round pen with Epic, and showed me how to get him running around in one direction then make him switch directions. I kept doing this back and forth until he started making weird tongue and mouth movements. That, she told me, was a sign that he was starting to see me as the leader. She then told me to turn my back to him. When I did, he willingly walked up to me and snuffled my shoulder. It was, I must say, one of the most emotional, wonderful, inspiring moments of my life--that this giant, wounded animal would come to me on his own. (Here's a YouTube video on this.)
Epic eventually found a new home, and I found other places closer to home where I could ride and learn about Natural Horsemanship. But I never stopped being grateful to LCR for my first true horse-love experience. In fact, I used my Epic experience to give advice to my daughter on "joining-up" with her then boyfriend, now fiancé!!!! Now it turns out that Last Chance Ranch needs to raise $250,000 to build a new dog rescue kennel to meet the growing demand for rescue dogs--and new zoning regulations. I'm going to make a big donation in honor of Epic, and Maya and Tony! I thought some of you might want to help them out too. Here's how to help Last Chance Ranch.
By the way, and more than ever, I still think Last Chance Ranch would make a great name (and plot) for a romance novel!
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.