Spoiler alert: It isn’t President Trump! Nope! The person that made me the most angry in 2020 is, believe it or not, the owner of a local horse rescue. Darn do-gooders! No, seriously. Here’s the story.
By day, I’m the Owner and CEO at Raleigh’s #1 Web Design Agency (insert shameless plug). But seriously, we really are #1 (blows on nails). Anyhoo, I spend nearly every minute of my spare time at my second home, Catch Me On The River. I have a 6-year old off-the-track thoroughbred mare named Willa that fills my heart with childlike joy, second only to my family. In fact, I absolutely consider Willa, along with our two rescue pugs (and also a cat and a fish), cherished members of our family. I digress… So I keep Willa at Catch Me On The River, a relatively new hunter/jumper barn in Zebulon, NC owned and operated by Tyler and Christina Denham.
They moved here from out west and opened the business in May of 2020 at the dawn of the Pandemic. I won’t lie: It’s been hard for them. With Christina in her late 20’s and Tyler early 30’s, they are about my age when I started 90 Degree Design. And I have watched them get repeatedly kicked in the teeth so much in this short amount of time. They’ve had to deal with just about everything that can possibly ever go wrong with an equestrian facility; all within this first year in business, and still they get back up at dawn the next day and do their best to provide excellent care and training. I think that is why this particular incident I’m about to share made me so viscerally angry.
Back in the summer of this year, we had a group of four ponies come to the farm for a 30-day trial. The ponies had been sitting in a pasture for years and had very little human interaction, and thus, were all very mistrustful of humans. The end game was that Christina would work with them, earn their trust and get them on the path to being great kids’ ponies. At the end of 30 days, she could choose to buy them or keep them in training with the ultimate goal of selling them as kids’ ponies on “consignment.”
Due to disagreements over money (the root of all evil), the owner decided to take all four ponies back despite the fact that they were coming along very well. They were getting lots of love and attention from the many children at our very kid-friendly barn. Christina and Ty’s children as well as my own had fallen in love with one pony in particular most unfortunately named, “Bug.” We offered to buy Bug but the owner refused and insisted on taking all the ponies back. Our children were heartbroken. We all were. But I took it as an opportunity to open the door to talking to my daughter about money. We delivered the ponies back safely to his farm, our tearful children in tow, and returned them back to their pasture and stopped for Tacos on the way home.
Fast forward to November, 2020. Christina happened to see Bug’s picture on a Facebook post at a local horse rescue. Bug had been surrendered with alleged injuries from neglect and abuse. Christina immediately reached out to the rescue to inquire about adopting her. The rescue asked Christina for any papers she might have on her as well as an up-to-date Coggins, which she provided promptly to the rescue. She was told that Bug was terribly fearful (she was at CMR as well) and needed some time for rehabilitation at their rescue before being available for adoption but was assured in a Facebook Messenger conversation that she would “surely be able to adopt her.”
As would anyone at this point, Christina had every reason to hope she would be able to adopt Bug and bring her back even though rescue adoption terms meant she could never be sold or even bred. For a business, this is a liability. You must accept that you will never be able to use the animal in a breeding program but will still incur the ongoing expense of properly feeding and caring for an equine – which is substantial, in case you’ve never owned a horse. Additionally, the injuries that Bug had allegedly sustained would potentially be quite expensive and ongoing from a medical standpoint.
Despite knowing this was certain to be a colossally poor business decision, the Denham’s still wanted to adopt Bug. So they started a GoFundMe page to begin collecting funds to cover adoption fees and other anticipated medical expenses. They never considered that the rescue that currently had her wouldn’t get any of that money. In fact, I had personally talked with her about different ways we could reach out to them to help and collaborate with them and their operation. I had said I would make a donation, provided it was a 501(c)3 in good standing, which it is. Never once was anyone greedily rubbing their hands together hoping to bilk people out of money in Bug’s name.
Nevertheless, the GoFundMe page was up less than 24 hours and the Rescue posted the most terrible post accusing them of “FRAUD” and telling Christina she will never be approved to adopt Bug. We were all like…Wha? What is happening? (Shaking my head). Then a comment war on both sides ensued in which the rescue now stated Bug “may never be available for adoption.” I commented in their defense along with several others close to the story, the rescue owner called me an idiot and yada, yada, yada… it deteriorated from there into a social media bullying frenzy of armchair activists.
I have worked with a number of rescues over the years and this is actually quite on brand for a rescue. Don’t get me wrong: Rescues do wonderful things and we need them. I 100% support rescues. I volunteer, I foster, I donate, I adopt. But the other side of rescues that many people don’t want to hear is that they are not always as altruistic and selfless as they would have you believe. I realize this will ruffle some feathers and I’m OK with that.
When it comes to equine rescues in particular, it may surprise you to know that not all of them are super motivated to re-home their animals. What they would prefer to do is have you “sponsor” a rescue horse. In fact, if you follow an equine rescue online, you may begin to notice that the ones who are up for adoption are the ones who did not get “sponsored.” The horses that are least likely to garner sponsors or be useful for generating donations and volunteer labor, will be put up for adoption. The horses that would be the most desirable from an adoption perspective – Like Bug, for example – are often not put up for adoption. They are re-homed to large contributors or board members or others close within the rescue’s inner circle. What this means is that the rescue gets to amass a barn full of the more desirable horses that someone else is footing the bill for and and they have to answer to no one. And that’s fine. It may be a non-profit; but it’s still a business and it’s still about what? You guessed it – money! Be that as it may, it’s generally a happy ending for the animal.
Another thing about rescues is that they tend to attract people that are generally themselves very mistreated and damaged souls. So it’s perfectly understandable why the rescue owner reacted the way she did. These types of people tend to expect humans to disappoint them, hurt them or attack them in some way. If you believe in the law of attraction – and I certainly do – you generally get what you expect out of life. When you set up expectations that everyone out there is a fraud or out to beg, borrow and steal from you, that’s exactly what you GET time and time again throughout your life. I haven’t just read it. I’ve lived it.
So when I read that post calling these wonderful people frauds, I found myself out-of-control livid; and for what was thankfully a short time, I felt hate. And I went to the dark places that hate takes you. As it is the giving season and every year we donate to nonprofits anyway, I thought about donating to another horse rescue instead. I looked for ways to undermine their operation. I EVEN let myself threaten to “use my black belt to teach (this person) some manners.”
I am not a violent person! So, I couldn’t believe those words came out of my mouth. It was then that I realized how long it had been since I’d felt hate and what a distant memory that feeling has become. And then I cried. Because that hate instantly turned to gratitude; for the amazing people, boundless abundance and security I have in my life. I’m insulated by the best husband, daughter and parents anyone could ever ask for. We are all healthy. None of us have gotten “The Rona.” We have a beautiful home with great neighbors – an all-around wonderful life. I am buoyed every day by some of the most incredible, strong, insanely talented women I’ve ever known here at 90 Degree and even in the midst of a pandemic, we’ve had an incredible year. Also this year, I’ve added to my cup a wonderful barn family at Catch Me On The River.
This is all to say this: As a society, we are at a precipice. We can choose hate. Or we can choose love. It really is that simple. It’s a frightening but also wonderful time to be alive. So many people are letting their darkest flags fly. I say let them fly – the cracks are how the light gets in! Look down those dark roads. Feel those feelings that frighten you most. But then, choose love. Every day. If I can do it, anyone can. If you’re with me, donate to a new GoFundMe to benefit this rescue that carries the distinction of being the one that made me the most angry I’ve been in 2020!