07 Mar Walk For Horses: A Community Comes Together
Nestled in the heart of Surf City, Huntington Beach, California, is the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center. If you drive slow enough down Goldenwest Street just before Ellis, out of the corner of your eye, you may see horses galloping around arenas. Kicking up dust and proudly working with their riders. This is a place where both horse and rider are practicing to become better at something.
If you decide to enter inside the metal gates of the entrance and drive past the arenas, you will discover a whole equestrian community going about their daily rituals and routines. If this wasn’t special enough, I bid you go a bit further. Drive down the road circling around The Red Horse Barn, and farther still, you will enter into a parking lot surrounded by stalls and horses, bales of hay, and riders of all ages keeping their focus and attention on their horses.
Now get out of your car and start to head toward the path, just beyond the parking lot. A dusty trail that winds up and around. On the right-hand side is a grassy hill that fills your eyes with openness and sky. To the left, there is a garden with a tiny red barn that begins the programs of the Free Rein Foundation. It is here that the walkers gather on this day. To bring awareness and raise money for all that goes on inside.
If you stop just at the top of this dusty road and close your eyes, you can hear hawks flying above and rabbits scurrying around in the brush. It is a magical feeling to let go of the hustle and bustle of Orange County life.
Inside the gates at the top of the path are the pastures that house the rescued horses that are brought here through a marvelous partnership between the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center and the Free Rein Foundation.
Four fields are home to horses that desperately need a place to feel safe. Cared for by a whole army of incredible volunteers, these rescued animals all have a story to tell. Some of the horses were forgotten and abandoned, and others have suffered physical abuse. There may be wild mustangs separated from the others waiting for their Gentling Program to begin. Over the years, these pastures have been home to a wide array of horses and burros who needed to be found, but at Free Rein, they are the magic that is part of their Eight-Week Equine Assisted Therapy Programs.
On March 1, 2020, at around 8:15 am over 100 people, wearing numbers on top of “Walk For Horses” T-shirts began to change the future of these rescued horses. Led down the dusty trails through the back areas of the Equestrian Center, walkers viewed places that cannot be seen from the busy Goldenwest Street. Along a small creek is a path over where you can almost see the entire Equestrian Center. The roofs of stalls line up, and a large arena lay silent this early morning as the walkers went up and then turned left back along and around the other of the creek.
Farther up, on the right-hand side, begins the outlines of the Urban Forest, a wonderous place where community volunteers have planted flowers, moved rocks and logs, and created a private retreat along Ellis Street. Today the walkers cut through this place and head toward the direction of Edwards Street, where they make a sharp turn right and head up and up, providing a view that is beyond belief!
Now everyone is up on the grassy rolling hill seen from the dusty trails. It is on this spot that you can see above the Equestrian Center, view the park, the stalls, and the pastures of Free Rein. Around the walkers go being led by a child in a bright pink jacket who is determined to be the first one to finish the walk. Directed down the grassy hillside and up toward a path that will guide everyone inside the pastures of Free Rein. Just before entering, there is a water station carefully attended to by a mother and daughter team who ride and volunteer together. They are asking walkers to use their “inside voices” so as not to startle the horses inside. Standing with the horses are dedicated (and protective) volunteers who are ready to answer questions as the walker’s circle around the fence.
Although we didn’t expect it, it was easy to understand how all the walkers could get held up at the pastures with the horses. With ears us, the horses look cautiously around the gathering of humans who have come to support them in their care. Before you know it, the entire group of walkers is listening to the volunteers and reaching over the fence to say hello to the rescued horses. It was an extraordinary moment in the event to finally be face-to-face with the whole reason they had all come on this early morning to walk: to meet the horses who help humans.
One tiny walker and her mom were enjoying the shared moment of being with the horses when one interested horse nibbled on the little girl’s shoulder. Tears followed as the mother comforted her daughter. “He was just giving you a love nibble,” Mom assured her. As the tale was retold later, the young girl showed the exact spot on her Walk For Horses t-shirt where the horse had nibbled.
“Don’t worry,” assured her mother. “I will wash off that mark, and your shirt will be as good as new!”
“Oh no!” protested the little walker. “I want to keep it there always!”
Once tears, now a badge of pride for the love of a rescued horse. It was one of many priceless moments on our walk!
It took some time for everyone to get their fill of the horses of Free Rein. Eventually, everyone made their way back down the dusty trail for one final climb up and into the parking lot where the end of the walk was met with a Kiss a Horse Booth, goodie bags, and pictures that would be taken home as a reminder of this special event.
By 10:30 am, every walker had left, and all the booths, tables, t-shirts, and volunteers had loaded up their cars and headed home to enjoy their Sunday. This first-ever, Walk For Horses, raised over 3,000 dollars to help in the care of these rescued horses that help humans through an equine-assisted therapy program offered by the Free Rein Foundation. With such success, it almost assured that there would indeed be a “Second Annual Walk For Horses” event–so stay tuned!
In the meantime, we thank all of the walkers who came out to support our programs and learn about the unique beauty that lies inside the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center. We hope that every walker will share their stories and pictures, and come back to us for one of the many events that we jointly offer to bring awareness to horses and their healing power for humans.
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