"Last time we spoke, you mentioned that Joey had been a champion jumper. Can you tell me any more about that?" Kim asked, eager to learn as much as possible about her soon-to-be resident.
Joey took several steps forward to another patch of grass while Tom told Kim and Barb everything he knew about Joey's backstory. A friend had seen Joey compete years ago as a skilled jumper and well-decorated competitor in show hunting and dressage, and he knew Joey and his rider were on their way to qualifying for the Olympics. But then the horse suffered an injury that ended his competitive career. Eventually, Joey was sold to a mother and daughter who boarded him at the friend's stable.
Tom reached into his pocket and pulled out a carrot chunk. He clucked his tongue. Joey lifted his large head and gingerly took the offered treat.
"Anyway, I guess after a couple years, the woman got divorced and they had to sell Joey. Sometime after that he ended up with the horse hoarder. That's pretty much all I know."
Kim could have listened to Tom talk about Joey all day, but they still had a three-hour drive ahead of them and she wanted to unload the new horses before dark.
Kim wished she had more time to ask Tom about Joey's day-to-day care. He had given her several helpful tips on the phone; suggestions like pairing Joey with a companion horse as soon as possible, moving hay boxes and water troughs next to the fence so he wouldn't walk into them, and walking him along the perimeter of his pasture. But was it enough?
Kim took a deep breath. "You have no idea how grateful we are for all you have done. Please come visit us at Hope Reins sometime."
"I'd like that," Tom said, handing Joey's lead rope to Kim and giving Joey a final scratch between his ears. "He's all yours."
A moment of fear gripped Kim. A chant of what-ifs in her mind almost loosened her hand on the rope. As if sensing Kim's panic, Barb put her arm around her friend. Yes, Kim thought, I can do this.
As they approached the horse trailer, the sound of stomping hooves and a loud, agitated whinny from inside made them abruptly stop. Joey's ears flew forward as if to say, What's that?
"That's Speckles," Kim offered. "He's an Appaloosa, too, but a rather unhappy one at the moment, it seems. I'm sure he'll settle down once we get on our way." At least I hope so. The truth was that Speckles had been nothing but difficult since she and Barb picked him up. She hoped she wasn't wrong about that one.
Once Joey was secured in the trailer, while he and Speckles assessed one another, Tom patted Joey's rump.
"Go do lots of good, Joey."
Yes, Kim thought as the farm disappeared behind them, Joey has quite a story.
Thankfully, it hadn't ended too soon.
Three hours later, the Tahoe pulling the horse trailer turned onto the gravel road leading into Hope Reins—twenty acres of sprawling oak trees, wide-open pastures, white horse fencing, and meandering woods, nestled off Highway 50 in North Raleigh. Tall pines, standing as sentinels, cast long shadows along the winding drive.
"Welcome home, boys," Kim said, stealing a glance at their two travel companions in the rearview mirror. "You're going to love it here."
Just to the right of the drive was Hope Reins' largest pasture, where the bigger geldings, Deetz and Cody, were kept. The six-acre pasture contained a run-in shelter, several deep-water troughs, and a wooded area that offered welcome shade. Kim's favorite feature? A twelve-foot-tall white wooden cross, a visual reminder that Hope Reins was—quite literally—a gift from God.
The idea for Hope Reins had been inspired by the book Hope Rising, Kim Meeder's story of the organization she started in Oregon that paired emotionally wounded children with rescued horses. Kim read the book twice in one week, fascinated by the concept. Page after page painted pictures of children forming relationships with horses—horses who acted like mirrors for them. Not only would wounded children see parts of their own stories in a wounded horse, but because horses tend to reflect what they are seeing, children learned things about themselves as they cared for their horses.
It was a dynamic Kim understood all too well. While growing up with an emotionally distant, alcoholic father and a mother who enabled his behavior, Kim found the unconditional love she longed for in her beloved Saddlebred horse, Country. Kim's father continually pushed her into competitions, always wanting her to perform, to stand out—to make himself look good. But all Kim wanted was to hide away with her horse, spending hours riding, brushing, and talking with her equine friend. In an environment that often felt unsafe and uncertain, Country gave Kim the stability and acceptance she craved. Or at least he did until her father sold him when she went away to college.