When Summer arrived at the West Virginia Horse Network’s (WVHN) rehab facility, she was emaciated and hobbled by split front hooves, a clear case of long-standing mistreatment and neglect. Yet with medical attention, a proper diet and plenty of love, it wasn’t long before the resilient mare was ready to move to a foster farm.
Abigail Rhodes, a then 16-year-old volunteer, become her foster – and it was on the Rhodes family farm where Summer showed the extent of the abuse she had endured. “She would lash out, kick and bite, whenever I tried to work with her,” Abigail recalls, but with patience and tenacity, Summer grew to trust and respect the young trainer. It turns out, all that hard work wasn’t just for Summer’s benefit.
“With Summer in my life, my laundry list of mental health issues and suicidal tendencies were reduced to almost nothing,” Abigail explains. “Summer saved me just as much as I helped save her.” Given their special connection, it’s no surprise that the teen went on to adopt Summer. “No matter how hard things get, I know she’ll always be there for me,” Abigail emphasizes.
Since its inception in 2014, West Virginia Horse Network has helped rehabilitate and find homes for more than 50 horses. While rehabilitating rescued horses is the organization’s primary mission, they also engage in community outreach, offering beginner horse camps, “Read to a Rescue” day and a Barn Buddies Leadership program, which teaches youth about confidence and leadership by working with rescued horses.
People of all ages and backgrounds are drawn to West Virginia Horse Network. “Whether they have a wealth of equine experience or are just learning about horses, our volunteers benefit as much as the horses they’re helping,” contends Nicky Walter, one of the founding members of the non-profit group. “We’ve witnessed volunteers overcome anxiety, depression – even addiction – as they give their heart to rescue horses and to our mission of saving them.”
Overseeing the organization’s operations often means long nights, but Nicky knows she’s making a difference. “Seeing the horses transformed during the rehabilitation process, then connecting them with caring, adoptive families is the greatest gift,” she explains. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”