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Making Things Right, One Horse at a Time

We'll never know what makes some people abuse and neglect horses, but we do know of a place where these animals can find peace and leave fear behind.

For every person who abuses or neglects a horse, we'd all like to think there's another person who will come along and make things right again.

Meet Cheryl Flanagan. She's the calm after the storm for hundreds of horses, each with a story they cannot tell, but can only feel.  

When you set foot on the non-profit, 50-acre farm at Save the Horses in Cumming, Ga., it looks like something out of a storybook, a utopia of sorts where contented horses and a small menagerie of animals freely roam the area paying no mind to anything but the contentment of their own existence.

Since its inception in 1998, the 501(C)3 non-profit organization has operated solely on tax-deductible donations. The facility is entirely volunteer-run, but Save the Horses is a place that also gives back to its volunteers in ways that can only be described as soulful, healing and life-changing. The relationships between the volunteers and horses makes the farm seem peacefully separated from the troubles of the outside world, including congress' recent reinstatement of federal funding on meat inspections, which lifts the five year ban from horse slaughter in the United States.

Some of the creatures at Save the Horses are larger than life, like the mellow Shire horse named "Bravo." Bravo was slated for slaughter years ago, but found refuge at Save the Horses after the slaughter house he was scheduled to enter burned to the ground. Others horses, like the dwarf pony named Gidget don't look quite real except that they are walking toward you with obvious curiosity. Should I pet these animals?, you think to yourself. And then it happens, the moment you meet and greet your first friend at Save the Horses, you realize you're on their time frame, their agenda, and nothing else seems to matter anymore.

After you get acquainted with "Save the Horses," the director comes strolling up a rocky drive with the same calm demeanor exhibited in the horses. Her name is Cheryl Flanagan, and she has been saving horses for more than twenty years. It all began when a frightened and bewildered horse came running through her land. An angry family of six chased the horse that had apparently escaped its home. "When they finally caught him, they beat the horse with their hands, and I tried to explain that it would come willingly if they'd only show the horse some kindness," says Flanagan who eventually bought that horse, worked with it, and found it a loving permanent home.

To date, Save the Horses has rescued nearly a thousand horses. 

Some of Flanagan's stories are difficult to hear–stories of neglect or extreme abuse most of us can't begin to understand. 

Some of the horses on the farm are from Tampa where they were in the racing circuit and later slated for slaughter simply because they got injured or couldn't perform fast enough to make money on the race track.

At Save the Horses, the past is laid to rest and animals are met with open arms no matter how deep their emotional or physical scars may run. "A horse's value is not in what it knows or what it can do," says Flanagan. "Its value is in its life, the simple fact that it exists," adds Flanagan who recently discussed the slaughter ban changes with CBS News in Atlanta.

Flanagan's sentiment is just one of the many reasons people choose to complete their community service requirements with Save the Horses. She remembers one boy who bonded with an old, one-eyed mare while completing his court ordered community service.  

"This macho young man would come by after school and bring his friends to introduce them to 'his' horse. They would laugh at first, but he told them how serious he was and he loved that old mare. He came even after his community service was completed and spent time with her often. He was there the day she died and stood over her grave crying, this 'macho' man. The old mare showed him what was in his heart. He was kind, compassionate and loving. It made him honest and he found out who he really was," says Flanagan.

More than 58 horses live at the farm and 50 more living on additional land outside the farm have a variety of problems ranging from something as minor as being unwanted for no reason, to being abused to the point of irreversible fears when it comes to humans. However, these issues don't stop Flanagan and her volunteers from tapping into every horse's innate ability to bond on some level with humans. The vast majority of horses are adoptable and eventually find a permanent home. Save the Horses typically places an average of thirty horses each year with forever families where life is sweet and love is abundant.

"It's funny, because time and time again, we'll have a person intending to adopt a specific horse they'd seen or read about on our Web site. Then, once they get here, they'll unexpectedly meet a different horse and form an instantaneous bond. I really believe it's the horses choosing the owners," says Flanagan. "Horses just know, and it's a very emotional moment between them and their owners. That's why horses are often bred for therapy, because they reflect the people they are with."

At Save the Horses, people are just as welcome as the animals, you can volunteer any time you'd like and it's obvious Flanagan and her crew have mastered the winning formula for success in their endeavor– love the horses, love the people and they'll take care of each other.

Editor's Note: Cheryl Flanagan will be featured as the Huffington Post's Dec. 7 Greatest Person of the Day. Greatest Person of the Day showcases passionate residents from around the country who are contributing to their communities in creative ways.

Carrie Riffe May 16, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Wow! Is that an over weight mini?
Marian Figley June 08, 2012 at 09:14 PM
That is actually a little dwarf who had been recently rescued by Save the Horses. He has since dropped a little weight, and we're getting his deformed feet trimmed so he can walk better.
Marian Figley June 08, 2012 at 09:22 PM
And the picture up there they have as Bravo is actually, in fact, Roy. Roy is not a Shire, but is a Belgian and was a carriage horse in ATL for a very long time, when he could no longer work, he was not wanted. Cheryl stepped up and rescued him, and has had him for many years. Roy has his good days and bad, but lately he's doing extremely well.
maria mcCarrick June 18, 2012 at 03:14 AM
hi my name is maria , I saw this in a magazine woman world I been reading for years,, I grew up with horses , my 45 year old husband died in 2009 I have been traving every sense then , I have been looking for my calling on what to do sense then. I found it want to take care of horses in need , how can I go to this ranch and help out with them walking feeding just loving them talking to them, I had horses and had to give them to other homes took care of my husband for 4 years before him died. I miss just bing around them so much.. please contract me iam in AL. thank you from maria.
Richard Pettys, Jr November 13, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Save Our Horses is NOT a 501(c)(3). It was NOT a 501(c)(3) when this article was posted. http://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/displayRevocation.do?dispatchMethod=displayRevokeInfo&revocationId=412114&ein=582479748&exemptTypeCode=al&isDescending=false&totalResults=3&postDateTo=&ein1=&state=GA&dispatchMethod=searchRevocation&postDateFrom=&country=US&city=Cumming&searchChoice=revoked&indexOfFirstRow=0&sortColumn=ein&resultsPerPage=25&names=Horse+rescue+relief+retirement+fund&zipCode=&deductibility

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