Congratulations to our volunteer of the month, Sam Etzel! Sam started volunteering on the Sunday AM team in November 2020 and always jumps on the chance to help out. She was instrumental during the snow last December, donating her time off from work to help care care for our horses when others couldn’t make the drive. Earlier this year she became Co Lead and this week starts as a Barn Assist!

I don’t get the chance to work with her regularly, but I know I will see her on weekend events because she always signs up to help. Thank you Sam, for being part of the SAFE community! Learn a little more about Sam:

How and when did you first get involved with horses?

I started taking riding lessons at Windy Ridge Ranch in Woodbury, Minnesota when I was 9 years old and I instantly fell in love. My mom learned about the ranch from another parent whose daughters rode there; we went to the ranch, met some of the horses, signed up for lessons, and the rest is history. I absolutely love horseback riding! It’s one of my passions and my absolute favorite thing to do!

Over the years I’ve learned a variety of riding styles (mainly English and Western) on a wide range of horses, from Quarter Horses to Thoroughbreds (which in my very biased opinion, are the best!). I love their personalities and the energy they bring to a ride. The closest I’ve come to a horse of my own is a Thoroughbred named Smokey. He was a retired race horse with a heart of gold an amazingly gentle demeanor. I rode him for almost a decade and the connection we had was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. When we rode together we were completely in sync, like we could read each other’s mind and nothing could stop us. I never knew someone could connect with a horse that way!

I moved to Washington in August 2020 and was lucky enough to find SAFE as well as a stable to take riding lessons at. I started volunteering at SAFE in November 2020 on the Sunday AM Chore shift and couldn’t be happier! Eventually I became a co-lead on my shift and I’m currently transitioning to barn assist. My crew is amazing and they are such a fun, hardworking group of people. I also take horseback riding lessons at Fire Run Farm in Snohomish, Washington. I’ve been able to further my equestrian skills riding in a new discipline, Hunt Seat, on Morgans, which is a breed I’m much less familiar with. It’s been a great learning opportunity for me. Between volunteering and riding I make sure to get lots of quality horse time each week!

Do you have one now you want to tell us about?

Sadly, I do not have a horse of my own. Someday I would love to adopt a horse from SAFE!

What do you like most about volunteering with SAFE?

My favorite part about volunteering at SAFE is being around the horses. Even though I don’t always interact with them directly, it brings me such joy and comfort just to see them each week. The care and love all the horses receive at SAFE is amazing! I love how the horses interact with each other and how their personalities come out once they become more comfortable with everyone. I love to see how they grow and develop in their training over time. It’s such a unique opportunity to see horses at this stage of their life; finding their confidence and learning to trust people. I’ve learned so much during my time at SAFE and I’m so grateful to be a part of such a great organization!

Do you have a favorite SAFE horse? If so, why?

During my time at SAFE I’ve had several favorite horses including Jasper, Kayla, and Aubrey, but none compare to Cameron.

From the first time I saw Cameron I knew he was something special! I had never seen a horse so emaciated before, I got teary eyed just seeing him move about his paddock. It was hard to watch! Despite his bony physique, I was instantly drawn to him. Looking past the gorgeous silver streaks in his forelock I saw a strength in his eyes. A strength from all he’d experienced in life, and I knew if he could talk he’d have quite the story to tell.

I’m fortunate enough to be part of the SAFE Handwalking Program with Cameron. It’s the best part of my day to walk out to Cameron’s paddock for our weekly walks together. He always sees me coming and greets me with a sweet nicker as he prances to the gate. Cameron has improved so much since we’ve been walking together. When we first started our walks he was so eager to explore, wanting to rush past me to see everything he could around the property. Our route usually includes walking around the outdoor arena, giving a quick hello to the minis, going around the barn, and back past the paddock where Cameron always checks for his next food delivery. I enjoy taking him over the pallet bridge in the outdoor arena the most. It took him some time to get used to it, but once we did it a few times he started to walk over it without me even having to ask. Over time, he’s become such a nice walking companion. He keeps my pace and is very cautious and reactive to my cues. I love our one-on-one time together and I’m so glad to be a part of making Cameron the strong, handsome horse he is!

I had the chance to observe Cameron receive one of his Masterson massage treatments. It was remarkable to see the subtle changes in Cameron throughout the session. I can tell that the sessions have helped improve his mobility and release some of the tension that has built up in his body. I’m so glad that SAFE has the ability to give horses like Cameron these treatments to help improve their health and well-being!

Cameron is such a sweet, kind, and gentle soul. His focus and curiosity to explore the world makes our walks together all the more fun. He has definitely won me over as my favorite SAFE horse!

What do you do when you are not horsing around with us?

When I’m not filling my days with the horses at SAFE, I’m horseback riding through my riding lessons, and more recently helping exercise my friend’s horses. I also spend my time with my friends and family, walking my dog, kickboxing, organizing, and watching shows/movies.

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?

My mom, Sara, who has always supported my love for horses. I’ve made it a tradition to call her every week on my way to SAFE and she’s always up to date on all the horses at the rescue. She even came to volunteer once!