Rescuing Oklahoma’s Horses

posted January 15th, 2008 by
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Tucked into the gently rolling hills of Jones, Oklahoma is a sanctuary. With a modest home at one end, this 10-acre tract is a refuge for unwanted, neglected or abused horses.

It’s a place where good food, a kind hand, and medical care are the order of the day.  This is Blaze’s Tribute Equine Rescue.  

The farm is a labor of love for the founders, Shawn and Natalee Cross, along with their two daughters, Dakota and Kaitlyn.  Their rescue’s story began with one of their own horses, ironically named Blaze.  A horrible wildfire was consuming the area where they lived.  The family was trying to outrun the fire with their precious animals in tow when Blaze was seriously injured.  The wounded mare was written off by several veterinarians, but Natalee refused to give up on her.  She finally found a vet willing to save her beloved horse. That experience lit a fire in Natalee to save other horses in desperate need of help.   Blaze made a full recovery and that was the beginning. 

The Cross family decided they could make a difference, even if it was a small one.  In 2001 they made their farm into a welcoming place for needy horses.  They struck a deal with Oklahoma City authorities to call Blaze’s Rescue when neglected horses were to be seized.  Natalee and Shawn would take possession instead of authorities, thus getting the animals to safety and keeping the city from investing any money they would want to recoup.  Before that deal, these animals would frequently end up going to auction old off to the highest bidder, which for many of them meant being sold by the pound for meat.

Shawn and Natalee would provide a safe place, so as many horses as possible could escape a horrifying death.  Natalee describes that type of trip.   She tells of horses being herded into large trailers.  A petrifying experience. Many are on their way to be slaughtered in Mexico; the horses are wedged in and often trample smaller, weaker ones in their panic. Many are babies. The thought makes Natalee bristle. The best method for dealing with a growing horse overpopulation problem is the subject of much debate in the United States.  Shawn and Natalee Cross have decided to help as many as they can in their way.

What does it take to save a horse?  The cost is high and anyone who has ever owned a horse understands this. Care for these animals is not cheap. Some horses, like Devon, an adorable yearling miniature horse, need surgery.  The Cross family does their best to get it done.  Most of their “guests” have hoof problems, and they take care of that too.  Month after month.  Thousands of dollars can be spent getting the horses back into healthy condition so they can be adopted.  But the fee they charge to take one home is small — the average price:  $300 – $600.


Natalee has become skilled at judging equine behavior and personality.  She assists prospective adopters to find the best match from her rescues.  Enter my 13-year old niece Rebecca.  Like so many young girls, the dream of owning a horse filled her days.  Her mother, who had also been “horse crazy” as a kid, worked to make her daughter’s dream come true. They contacted Blaze’s Tribute and discussed the skills and desires of this 13-year old girl.  Natalee selected three prospects, all horses that had been part of a dramatic 36-horse seizure in September of 2006.  (A third of them are still looking for homes.)  

On a cool spring day, Rebecca’s dream came true.  Standing in the stall at a stable near her house was her very own rescue horse.  Since then, girl and horse have become fast friends. Kitty is the copper-colored horse’s new name and she quickly became a favorite resident at the barn.  Children run to see her and feed her treats:  a skill Kitty had to learn for the first time.  Her condition has continued to improve, so much so, that the last time the farrier was out to shoe her, he insisted “that horse” couldn’t be the rescue.

Not all the placements are fairy-tales, however.  Natalee says she has had horses returned.  But only a handful has come back in six years.  “We are glad to take any horse back at any time for any reason.  If it’s a bad match, we can find another that will be better suited to their new home.” 

Currently, the Cross family is working with a large influx of new rescues.  These came from a 44-horse seizure. Thirty of those have been taken in by foster homes, the remaining horses are now residents at Blaze’s.  Some, including youngsters, are in desperate condition.  The sight of this type of starvation is nothing new to Natalee and Shawn, it’s what keeps them working 12 – 14 hour days with no vacations.  Natalee says she hopes one day to be put out of busi-ness, that one day there won’t be a need for her kind of work.  But she looks around and sighs, “I don’t see that coming anytime soon.”

They have trouble keeping a green, grassy pasture because of the large number of residents, but hay and grain flow freely.  The pain of starvation fades into the past.  Slowly, painful feet will be eased.  Fear is gentled away as horses wait for their chance to start a new life. 

Six short years ago a family thought they could make a difference.  And since then they have, saving more than 200 horses.  

Blaze’s Tribute Equine Rescue is a 501 c-3 non-profit organization. They can always use financial contributions and of course, loving, permanent homes for their rescues.

I hope you’ll pay them a visit at www.blazesequine, where you can see photos of all their wonderful horses including some touching before and after pictures. Read their stories and you too will be touched by the determined kindness of this Oklahoma family.

Story by J.M. Sheldon

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