By Polly Keary and Deanna Hobbs
A statewide youth horse association that nearly petered out a few years ago has been brought back to vigorous life by two Monroe moms, and this year the group of young equestrians is giving back by helping a local charity that looks after rescued equines.
Three years ago, The Washington State Youth Quarter Horse Association was floundering along without direction, and membership was dropping.
But when the leader stepped down, someone asked Monroe riding instructor and horse trainer Paige Stroud if she’d take over.
“I said, ‘okay,’ and I was clueless,” said Stroud. “I was fumbling along.”
But her friend Tami Jennings, co-owner of Cascade Meadows Equestrian Center in the Tualco Valley, where Stroud instructs, was a former teacher and “super organized,” said Stroud. So she tapped Jennings to help out, and the two managed to turn the club around.
“It’s a huge job,” said Jennings.
But it’s worth it, she said.
The organization has grown to include about 40 kids statewide, and Stroud’s daughter, Greysen, 16, is president this year.
The kids enter events year-round, earning points toward year-end awards and prizes ranging from certificates to saddles.
Some of the kids even qualify for the youth world show held in Oklahoma every year, and four kids, including two from the Monroe area, are going to a youth leadership program in Amarillo, Texas this year.
To make all that happen, the youth members held small fundraisers such as split-the-pot wheelbarrow races and bake sales.
As the club regained strength, it turned to fundraising for other causes, too.
When two women close to the club both were diagnosed with breast cancer, the club had a benefit for them.
“We put on a show and all the proceeds from a food stand we did went to them,” said Greysen Stroud. “We made $600 selling food, and we gave that money to them.”
And at the annual conference in December, the organization decided to increase their charitable work by supporting HEART, a Snoqualmie rescue farm that rehabilitates and shelters animals rescued from bad, sometimes horrifying, situations.
HEART was founded by WSYQHA mom Tina Laguna.
I’ve been rescuing horses my entire life,” said Laguna. In 2006 she opened her doors to the public. “I wanted to just fill in where there was a need. Every now and then someone would call about a neglected animal.” In 2012 HEART became a 501 c 3 non-profit.
When Laguna bought a ranch near Snoqualmie Falls in 2000, she boarded horses.
She had one boarder that “just never came back. That person never really cared about her horse. It’s unbelievable to me that someone would buy a beautiful creature just for show and not love and care for it,” said Laguna.
Today, one of those abandoned horses is a therapy horse named Truman. Laguna tries to adopt out as many as animals possible but some become permanent fixtures at Rancho Laguna’s HEART, becoming therapy horses.
Some of the horses arrive in terrible condition.
“The rescues are usually emaciated and in bad shape,” said Laguna. “Sometimes they are so weak they cannot get up.”
But it usually doesn’t take too long to get them back on their feet.
“Typically, after the initial two week period, they are gaining weight and on the road to recovery,” said Laguna.
The horses at HEART often, once healed, help heal humans through a process Laguna calls “Emotional Therapy.”
The growing program helps many individuals suffering from grief, PTSD or addictions.
The WSYQHA decided to donate $500 to the operation and then spend time volunteering there throughout the year.
Last month, they organized a work party, and, fortified by pizza, popcorn and cupcakes from Laguna, spent a cold and rainy day organizing tack, cleaning stales and grooming horses and donkeys.
They loved the experience, and they were captivated by one small donkey that lives at the farm, who is also a favorite of Isabella, 9, Laguna’s daughter.
“Isabella trained the donkey to be ridable and now she jumps it,” said Jessica Grodzins, 15, a member of the club.
It was a very satisfying endeavor, said Greysen.
Now she hopes that more horse-loving kids will learn about the club and join.
It’s an opportunity to be a part of something that is growing and successful, said Jennings.
“They lost momentum, and now the momentum is really strong,” she said.
To learn more, visit www.wsqha.com/youth09.html.