(T-G Photo by Mary Reeves) [Order this photo]
What it is -- is Lazy Acres Farm Equine Rescue -- the life mission of one woman alone.
For five years now, Nancy Stevenson has been rescuing older horses, often damaged horses who might otherwise be on their way to a meat packing plant or some other ugly end. Instead, the six old pensioners (and one young one) find themselves on 54 rolling acres, with all the grass they can eat, an ever running clear creek to drink from, and nothing to do but swat flies, rub noses, and crowd the gate happily when "Mom" comes down to visit. Every day.
"I never miss a day if I can help it," she said. "I'm always out here with them."
It isn't easy for her for several reasons. Nancy has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and some days are harder than others. Having the horses, working with them, grooming them, just being with them, is the best sort of therapy, she said.
Her schedule can keep her away from the field for a while, too. She's also a busy woman, despite her disability. Nancy volunteers with the Bedford County EMA as the supervisor for church shelters, overseeing 13 churches and 65 people.
She also teaches "Celebrate Recovery" at the International House of Prayer.
"It's a Christ-centered study group," she said. "It's not just for alcoholics or addicts -- it's for anybody who just wants to feel better."
But tending to her rescued horses is becoming a little more difficult for another reason -- money. Nancy has no income other than her Social Security check. But in the five years she has been rescuing horses, she has never had to ask for help -- until now.
"I rent the trailer myself when I have to get one," she said. "I use my own truck, buy my own gas. I feel like this is something the Lord wants me to do."
In fact, faced with the rising cost of hay -- the horses need about 6 round bales a month at $35 a bale -- she even considered selling the three horses that could be sold -- an Arab-quarter horse cross, a young, unbroken spotted mare (the daughter of a now-deceased rescued mare) and a Haflinger mare she rescued from a farm that was "breeding her to death."
Ironically, this decision came at a time when she had the opportunity to help more horses than before. Nancy shares the farm with four other family members. At 50 she is the youngest, and the only one capable of any hard physical labor, even with her MS. Her uncle recently sold his cattle and the pastures now stand empty, open, and ready for more horses.
"I was thinking about selling the three," she said. "And I heard the Lord tell me, 'No. Winter's coming on and you need to help more horses."
She said if she could get some hay donated, she'll be able to do just that.
She knows her seven well -- and they know her. It's hard to believe, looking at the seven, their hides glossy with health and their flanks rounded and plump, that most of these horses were at one time abused, neglected or both.
There's Harley, thrown in on a trade for another horse because the previous owner just wanted to get rid of him. The big black walking horse, now 22, is Nancy's shadow, and never strays more than a yard away from her when she's in the pasture with him.
There's Marvel and Gypsy Rose, adopted through a Kentucky rescue organization.
Marvel, a massive leopard Appaloosa, is about 90 percent blind and has learned the pasture, but moves slowly around its perimeter, never joining the herd.
Gypsy Rose, an Arabian, was shot in the head in a fit of rage by her previous owner when he couldn't catch her for a ride. Luckily, the physical damage was not as severe as it could have been -- although you can still see the bullet hole pierced one ear. But the psychological damage was lasting.
"She was here two years before she'd let me get close to her," said Nancy.
There's Rouge, the once-champion quarter horse who suffers from navicular syndrome and can't be ridden; Flinger, the 20-year-old Haflinger mare who was being overbred, and Red, the Arab-quarter horse cross that Nancy bought for $100 when his owner was forced to move and could not take him and no one wanted to buy him.
Most of these horses are in their late teens and early 20s. Beauty, the spotted 5-year-old, is by far the youngest of the bunch. Nancy rescued her mother brought her here, where she delivered the black and white filly. Later, the mare died, but the filly's been here ever since, the tolerated and amusing "niece" of the golden oldies who share her field.
"I noticed the need -- that horses were being neglected everywhere," said Nancy. "No one was taking care of them and I have all this acreage and I love horses. I've always loved horses and I hate to see them suffer."
Nancy hopes to be able to host more retirees on her farm soon, but is worried about being overloaded with animals she can't afford to feed.
"I prefer the older horses, the ones that can't be ridden, to save them from slaughter. I want to put them out there, love on them and take care of them."
When she lived in Florida, far away from family and friends, Nancy's MS was diagnosed and it was one of the most traumatic times of her life.
"They were lonely," she said of her horses, petting one here, scratching one there. "I knew what it felt like to be alone. "
Anyone interested in helping Nancy Stevenson with hay costs or for more information about her rescue operation can call her at (931) 224-0489.