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  • Colton Woods

My Time with and a Thank You to Safe Haven Equine Rescue and Retirement


In 2011, January 15th to be exact, I had the opportunity to begin volunteering with Safe Haven Equine Rescue and Retirement. Leading up until this opportunity my equine experiences had been three summers primarily focused on show horses whether they are hunters, jumpers, western pleasure, country or English. Joining this rescue gave my first, first hand experience to witness what comes with the territory of caring for horses that have been abused and neglected. Let me first introduce you to Safe Haven Equine Rescue and Retirement or SHERR (pronounced like ‘share’) as they are commonly known.

Safe Haven Equine Rescue and Retirement (SHERR) is a 501 © 3 non-profit located in High Point, North Carolina dedicated to rehabilitating, reeducating and finding homes for equine partners. Additionally, SHERR goes the extra mile and provides a forever home for those horses that are unable to be adopted whether it is due to age or other circumstance that deem them ‘unadoptable’. As an organization, that is exactly what they do, but why and how they do it are what make this group second to none. The volunteers at SHERR span from young kids to retirees, all of which have unique experiences with horses whether it be very little or taking horses to the highest level in their discipline of choice. It has been a true blessing to have the opportunity to work along side the folks that make this organization what it is.

(Brandon Owen and I unloading a trailer at the old Trinity facility)

As I began to actively volunteer with SHERR, I set out with the simple goal to help however possible so that the rescue could continue helping more and more horses while of course also wanting to learn as much as I could. Initially I did a lot of assisting in the manual labor tasks such as stacking hay, stripping stalls and helping build fence. All this was quite fitting as I was the newest and youngest member of the volunteering team, and I enjoyed every minute of being able to work beside such selfless giving people. Over the next several weeks and months I was able to help with the rehabilitation of several horses that came from neglect cases. Working right along with veterinarians and farriers getting these animals back to health was nothing short of hard work and a lot of money but quickly became to feel like clock work. As these horses returned to being healthy animals, a need within the organization became very apparent to me and I wanted to be a part of the solution. Horses were rehabbed back to good health but lacked an education, primarily under-saddle, aside from basic ground manners. This lack of education made it ever more difficult to find people that would be willing to adopt these horses.

(Blaze, one of the first horses to be brought to the High Point facility)

Right here at Safe Haven Equine Rescue and Retirement was where I recognized I wanted to further my knowledge of horsemanship. In the beginning my sites were set on increasing my knowledge, skills and ‘toolbox’ to help each horse that came through SHERR but little did I know it would ultimately be the newfound passion that I would later pursue as a career and lifestyle. As I began actively seeking out new educational avenues the founder of SHERR, Gin Wiltsey, was extremely supportive of my desire to learn more about the horse. She encouraged me to jump right into the round pen and start working with the horses. Now of course we did head straight for starting colts, but wanted to establish a strong educational foundation on the ground so they would be trust worthy with any volunteer at the other end of a lead rope and then read to be started under saddle when the time came. What better way to learn than to just do it? At this point, there was minimal influence on my ‘style’ because I simply did not know who to seek out within the industry to learn from. However, just as I started furthering my horsemanship, the film Buck was being debuted in a local theatre. With the SHERR volunteer team I had the opportunity to first be introduced to the style Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt dedicated their lives to sharing. Leaving the theatre hooked and yearning to learn more, I was fortunate enough to find that Buck Brannaman would be teaching a clinic in just a few weeks at a local farm. Auditing this clinic was like throwing gasoline on a well burning fire. I was ready to soak in as much knowledge from anyone and everyone that I could.

(Buck Clinic at Flintrock Farm in Reidsville, NC)

Over the next several weeks and months I was blessed with incredible opportunities courtesy of SHERR. During the summer of 2011 the operation expanded to a second location just 5 minutes from my home and I was blessed to have had the opportunity to fill the barn manager position for this facility. Being at the farm twice a day, everyday my knowledge of rehabilitating, caring for, managing and working to educate horses of various ages and breeds grew rapidly. Amidst caring for the horses, I was working on a school project focused on pasture-raised livestock. Yet again, SHERR fostered my desire to learn and became the host for this project. Chickens were the livestock of focus and I selected to study their effects on fly control, pasture sanitation as well as enhancing pasture fertilization. All of the funds made from selling the eggs to local customers were donated back to SHERR because without them none of this would have been possible.

(Here is my cousin Railee with one of the hens in the flock)

As my time to volunteer with SHERR came to an end as college was just around the corner, I could not have been more thankful for every opportunity, story and friendship that was made. The number of stories from removing pigs from a cookie cutter neighborhood to capturing cattle off a golf course, they all have a special place in my heart and will never be forgotten. Even after leaving to continue my academic education SHERR was still willing to let me come back and continue learning with them. Returning home the following December from the University of Kentucky after completing my first semester in the Equine Science and Management program, I was excited to have the opportunity to host my first clinic at SHERR. Now like I mentioned before, I had initially begun furthering my horsemanship to help the horses at the rescue. Little did I know that I would enjoy helping other people further their horsemanship skills as much as I enjoyed educating the horses themselves. Consisting of Ground Control, Desensitizing and Colt Starting segments, I was blessed to get this first clinic experience and learn how much I enjoyed teaching in that setting. SHERR was where I found my passion for the horse that has grown into a career and lifestyle. I hope to be able to give back to this incredible organization as much as they gave to me one of these days.

(Beautiful sunset as we finished up a day at the farm)

These were just my own personal experiences that I was blessed to have courtesy of Safe Haven Equine Rescue and Retirement. There have been many folks of all ages who have walked through the gates with the desire to try something new and thanks for SHERR they have been able to do just that. I am thankful for the friendships I have with those that still volunteer on a regular basis and am super excited to see how SHERR has positively impacted those young aspiring horsemen and women like myself. Thank you to all those that have been a part of this incredible chapter in my life and I hope our trails meet soon!

Here’s to making a difference in the lives of those who depend on us!

Colton Woods

P.S.------>Be sure to check out the links below to stay in touch with Safe Haven Equine Rescue and Retirement and Colton Woods Horsemanship!

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