Mariah and Teddi, Photo by Sundee Rickey

How and when did you first get involved with horses? Do you have one now you want to tell us about? I was raised mostly by my grandparents, in Oklahoma, for the beginning part of my childhood. My Grandpa loved horses, and imparted this love of them onto me. One of the ways he did this was taking me to a local Clydesdale barn to greet and feed the Clydesdales. I remember cupping mints in my tiny hands, reaching up as FAR as I could to meet the Clydesdales. They’d reach their big, gentle heads down to accept the mint with big, soft muzzles that were completely oversized for my little child hands. As a result, draft horses hold a particularly special place in my heart. On that note, I would like to give a special shout out to Mr. Slim Pickens, a Belgian gelding who no longer resides on-site at SAFE but is currently in SAFE’s foster program. I hadn’t seen draft horses in a long time, so Mr. Slim was truly a refreshing sight; and had me feeling a kid again as he reminded me of the lovable, gentle giants draft horses are.

What do you like most about volunteering with SAFE? It’s so difficult to answer that question! I’d definitely say the horses first and foremost, I’ll always consider them the first and primary loves of my life. Just as well: I have several mental health problems, some of them crippling, but none of them unable to be quelled by even a short time spent at SAFE. But this isn’t just due to the horses; I also enjoy the camaraderie, the community and mission our rescue is built upon. I also love my PM Chore shift team (Not to brag but Sam is the best chore lead ever) we have our duties down to a science, practically. But amidst our work, amidst the mud, physical exhaustion and manure, we have so many laughs and delightful conversation. We aren’t just team mates, we’re also friends. Also a special shoutout to my fellow chore shift volunteer Vicki, who often carpools me after our shifts.

Do you have a favorite SAFE horse? If so, why? Oh dear, I love them all.  But if I had to pick out one horse: It would be Ms. Teddi, or “Teddi Bear” as I call her. I was relatively recently given the honor of grooming most of SAFE’s companion horses. Ms. Teddi is a charm to work with, and while she has a few spooky bones in her body; you will never find a mean one. I often think to myself that she would make a sublime therapy horse, as her achy leg prevents her from being ridden, but she has a heart that is pure as a lamb and has an almost motherly bearing and patience. Not to mention she is AMAZING at picking up her feet! I recall when I first volunteered to groom, I was worried my vertigo problems would render me incapable of picking horses’ feet. This was mostly due to my many experiences in the past of horses practically cementing their feet to the ground when I attempt to pick them. Not so with Ms. Teddi: Sometimes, she already readies her leg to be lifted, and will actually meet your hand to get her feet picked. Noted, sometimes on days her leg is particularly achy: She’s unwilling to allow her front feet to be picked. Not wanting to bear weight on her leg. Every time I groom her, I take pictures of her before and after grooming. Then post them on Facebook with the hashtag #TuesdayTeddi or #ThursdayTeddi.

What do you do when you are not horsing around with us? I’m an artist by hobby, I’ve been drawing almost continuously for 15 years. I sometimes take commissions, though I’ve yet to make any real profit from that. I do sometimes do gift art—examples being the chibi versions of our adopted horses, that I make for their new humans. My more advanced pieces are generally fan art–lately, Misha Collins and Castiel fanart—that take weeks and sometimes up to months to complete. Longer still to make are my cards, that I make every year for my beloved boyfriend of nearly 10 years: Nick. Honing my skill as an artist is a challenge I relish, but hope never to complete, as I love finding new and inventive ways to improve in my craft. I’m also a published journalist; as writing is another creative hobby I enjoy. Outside of this, I also take GED courses and Highschool 21+ at Hopelink, hoping to gain the diploma I was unable to when my mental health took a turn for the worse, several years ago.

Do you have family or special people in your life who support your volunteer work that you would want us to mention in your write up? Of course! This would barely be possible without the love and support of my dad and stepmom: Christopher and Susan Lester. In fact it was Susan who informed me that SAFE, who I’d been following for years prior, had moved to an area accessible to me. I’d also like to give a shout out to my boyfriend, mentioned above, who, despite his fear of horses, has supported me and encouraged me as any proper significant other would—even complimenting the photos of freshly groomed “clients” of mine. There’s also a fellow volunteer, Sarah, who has never failed to step up to the plate both as a comrade and a friend to help me in my work. There’s also my therapist, Virginia, who always asks about and enjoys my stories about SAFE in our sessions. I daresay SAFE has made her job easier!

Mariah’s horse-loving Grandpa, Jack, passed away this month, just before we shot her VOM photos.  She shared with us, “…my Grandpa died knowing his granddaughter was top volunteer at a rescue of the creatures he held so dearly. With a lock of Ms. Teddi’s tail as testament to the mission I carry on in his absence.” Mariah, you do your Grandpa proud. Thank you for all you do.

Photo by Sundee Rickey