Save the Horses: Cumming group helps equines one rescue at a time

By J.K. Devine
Photos courtesy Save The Horses
After her “most special horse,” Colors, died more than four years, Mellisa Cotton needed a way to handle the loss. So the Cumming woman considered volunteering at the rescue facility, Save The Horses, in Forsyth County.
“I needed a place to volunteer and be around horses,” Cotton said. “I love taking care of the older ones and the sick ones. My true love is helping blind horses.”
Cotton originally signed up for an equine massage class at the facility’s main campus at 1840 Antioch Road in Cumming. The experience transformed her.
“I fell in love with it,” Cotton said, admitting she returned for the organization’s next orientation. “I was hooked. And since then, I’ve adopted three horses who have been blind.”
Cotton’s story is not unique for Save the Horses, which is a horse rescue, relief and retirement facility. Many people who visit the facility for fundraisers, events, open houses or pony parties tend to be touched by the experience. They then return to offer a voluntary hand to the nonprofit.
Those experiences are key, because Save the Horses is run by more than 100 volunteers. Its philosophy of maintaining the facility with only volunteers works in its favor.
“It’s all done out of the goodness of their hearts,” Cotton said. “You know you have good volunteers when they’ll repair fencing, muck out stalls and build barns. It’s hard physical labor.”
Other physical tasks include releasing the horses into the pasture or bringing them in from the field. These tasks are not done alone or in an all-day scenario. Cotton explained about three to five people work a single shift, which is divided into mornings or afternoons. An average shift lasts about three hours.
“But not everybody can spend the same amount of time,” Cotton said, adding the volunteers work at their own pace. “If you have an hour a week, we want you to fall in love with the animals. It’s what keeps people coming back.”
Of course, not all volunteers spend time with the animals. Cotton explained some work behind the scenes organizing fundraisers, assisting with birthday parties, adopting horses and helping with other vital operations of Save The Horses. For example, Cella Nelson conducts the marketing for the organization and oversees the website design.
Whether it is a friend or special niche, volunteers find reasons to return. Cotton’s reason was two fold. She found her best friend and a love of treating ailing, injured and blind horses.
“I hit the jackpot,” she said. “I couldn’t be any luckier.”
Her soon-to-be best friend conducted her volunteer orientation, which is the second Saturday of the month. But the organization’s standout star, a blind horse named Trudy, caught Cotton’s attention.
According to the Save The Horses website, Trudy came to the rescue in 1996. She developed squamous cell cancer in her left eye, which had to be removed and left her partially blind. She then developed tumors in her right eye. It pushed her pupil down, leaving her totally blind and causing her to be stall-bound and dependent on humans.
Trudy was taken for walks during the day by special, dedicated volunteers, but knew the safety of her stall. However, she loved visitors, especially children.
“Trudy would get very nervous and walk in circles around the stall, but she loved children,” Cotton said. “One day I had a troop of Girl Scouts, who were just a bunch of excited girls. Trudy heard them, stopped circling and walked over to them.”
This single incident had an impact.
“One of girls came back a year or two later and donated her birthday to the rescue,” Cotton said. “And that’s the kind of seed we like to plant.”
Unfortunately, Trudy died March 7, 2018. But she has left a legacy. The organization started a fund for blind horses and those with eye trauma.”
Raising money for this single cause and Save The Horses is how the organization operates as a nonprofit. Cheryl Flanagan, who founded the organization in 1998, does not take a salary, Cotton said.
“Her mission is to rescue abused and abandoned horses,” Cotton said. “She is the one who has the heart for the animals. It is her love and passion and drive that started the rescue and keeps it going. There would be no Save the Horses without Cheryl.”
Flanagan, a 4H and US Pony Club leader in the 1980s, first started taking horses from the Tampa Bay Downs Racetrack. People then started calling her to donate horses that they were unable to care for.
“I worked with local law enforcement with abandoned and neglected horses and it just kept on growing,” she said in a statement on her website. “It has continued to grow into an amazing organization thanks to all of our supporters and volunteers who are dedicated to the efforts of saving horses and other animals in need.”
Rescued animals include off-track thoroughbreds, blind horses, horses from animal control, those who the owners can no longer care for, and horses at death’s door.
“We are lucky to have great veterinarians in our area who really care about horses and work with us, advise us, and even recommend us to take horses from clients for various reasons,” she said.
Save The Horses funds its operations by relying on volunteers and donations. The organization also hosts fundraisers throughout the year, such as its Charity Horse Show in June and annual Hay Day in October.
Save The Horse’s second annual Charity Horse Show will begin at 9 a.m. June 10 at Wills Park Equestrian Center in Alpharetta. It is open to all riders of different ages, levels and experience.
“Last year was our first one, and we got a big response from the community,” Cotton said. “Every service we needed from horse trailering to our printing was donated to us, allowing up to keep all profits for the rescue.”
Riders will show from the English and Western classes for a small fee. Spectators may watch for free.
In October, the rescue will host its biggest fundraiser, Hay Day. Money raised pays for hay in the fall and winter.
And in December, Save The Horses has a “Deck the Stalls.” Santa even stops by to visit the horses.

Save the Horses
What: A 110-acre farm dedicated to providing rehabilitation and adoption services for abused, neglected, abandoned and unwanted horses. The nonprofit is volunteer run that serves 130 horses and other animals.
Mailing address: P.O. Box 1123, Ball Ground, Ga., 30107
Main farm physical address: 1768 Newt Green Road, Cumming, Ga., 30028
Antioch farm address: 1840 Antioch Road, Cumming, Ga., 30040
Phone: 770-886-5419
Email: info@savethehorses.org or antioch@savethehorses.org
Website: SaveTheHorses.org ​​

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