My friend is suffering. She has been suffering for several months, as she watched her horse slowly deteriorate, with no way to reverse the process. She suffered in silence because she hoped it wasn’t true, and to put the words out there, to tell the story of what she was witnessing would make it more real. 

This horse was not just any horse. No horse is. And this horse started a new chapter in her life. He was found, half starved and abandoned six years ago in Castro Valley, CA, wandering, searching for sustenance, licking the ground until there were holes in his tongue. My friend saw through the emaciated frame and into him, seeing his potential and her own. She began a horse rescue, one that would blend saving horses and giving those horses the opportunity to serve people in a new way, through Equine Guided Education. 

For six years, my friend learned everything she could about the rehabilitation, care and maintenance, and the arduous process of rehoming horses. She learned how to run a non-profit organization, how to train volunteers, how to put on fundraising events, speak to audiences, and put on her own programs for individuals and groups in the community who were eager to develop new awareness and new life skills by working with horses.

Through it all, she continued to search for the best possible life for her first rescued horse. She had discovered that he was a former racehorse, in fact a great great grandson of Secretariat. Though she was able to track down the people formerly associated with his racing career, they were not interested in helping him or donating to his cause. This pained her deeply, yet drove her to learn more, offer more.

You see my friend is motivated by humanity, by a love and reverence for horses, and a commitment to raising the bar for the treatment of and appreciation for these gracious creatures who have more to offer humans than many people realize. 

She had experienced trainers work with the horse and help in his rehabilitation. She tried entering him in a separate rehoming program that promised the best possible chance for him to find a “forever home” with someone. Through it all, the horse remained her inspiration, her guide in navigating this incredibly challenging journey. Eventually, or perhaps inevitably, she brought him back to her organization, realizing that his best chance for a happy and healthy life was going to be with her, helping humans learn new ways of seeing and new ways of being in the face of all of life’s challenges.

This horse had sustained physical damage during his racing career and in the aftermath of neglect that was unfortunately going to continue to get worse instead of better. The best thing she could do for him was to keep him comfortable, well fed, and engaged in connecting with others for as long as possible.

Yesterday turned out to be as long as possible. When she saw him crumple to the ground while trying to stand, she knew his quality of life was no longer good enough. She had learned, though the most difficult of repeated experiences, that sometimes the best gift we can give a horse is the freedom from suffering. So yesterday, she loaded him into the trailer and took him to the hospital. She did this alone. She did not want to ruin anyone’s Independence Day celebration. 

She wrapped her arms around his beautiful body as he gently departed. 

He is no longer suffering. But she is. The grief is monumental. If we, as a community with humanity, could do anything to alleviate such suffering, I believe we would. I’d like to acknowledge the tremendous courage, strength and determination my friend has shown these past six years, and especially yesterday. I know she drove an empty trailer home, feeling an emptiness in her heart. I know she is questioning whether she can go on, whether she can continue this enormous undertaking of her organization, her mission to facilitate how horses heal hearts.

My friend is Melissa Austin, and the horse she said good bye to yesterday was Spirit. Anyone who had the pleasure of interacting with him can attest to the fact that he had a huge heart and will be sorely missed. Anyone who has the great pleasure of knowing Melissa – I am sure can attest to the fact that her heart is as big as they come. Her passion is contagious, her impact on horses and human beings tremendous. I only wish there was a way to heal her heart right now. 


To find out more about Melissa’s organization, Horses Healing Hearts, please visit



  1. Oh Ashley,

    This is heart wrenching. I’m sending positive vibes to your friend. Also, I would love to chat with you more about all of this. I am feeling an equine tug and would love to learn more as I feel like there is a synergy with horses and veterans with PTSD. Is there a good # to call you?

    Hope you are well otherwise. All is good with us.

    xx TDE


  2. My heart feels swollen reading this. The ache of the human heart filled with love, filled with grief. You wrote beautifully of this.

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