SAN ANTONIO - A Smiley, Texas woman has let her disease diagnosis fuel her passion and drive to rehabilitating horses in full force in her lifetime.
Darla Cherry, president and CEO of Meadow Haven Horse Rescue, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000.
Before then, she was a very active woman, which all started with horses at the age of 3.
“Some people would remember Marvin Mustang, and mom bought me that horse when I was 3 years old,” Cherry said. “She shouldn’t have done it because that started the fire. My mom had to take me for pony rides on weekends. Then they had to move me to the country to get my first horse. See, I cost them a lot of money now that I think about it and I kind of feel bad,” she laughed.
Cherry went on to showing, training, breeding, roping and barrel racing horses throughout her early lifetime.
“After my diagnosis, I had to slow it down,” Cherry said. “It made a lot of things harder. I was a very active person and this kind of kicked me in the gut. People who are diagnosed, and I did for about 30 days, I thought ‘Why do you go on? What is next in your life?’”
Cherry said it was a blind horse that changed her life forever.
“I knew of Meadow Haven Horse Rescue and there was this blind horse,” Cherry said. “Nobody wants a blind horse, but I thought, this is how I will spend my life serving the very thing I love.”
Ten years ago, Cherry took over the nonprofit organization.
“In 30 days, I had 30 horses,” Cherry said. “In one year, I had 200 horses. Since, we have adopted out over a thousand horses so I would say we have done a great job. I am not prejudiced against my horses. They are all my family. I take the lame. I take the old. I take the nutty ones. Somebody called me a hoarder one time,” Cherry laughed “I don’t like that name!”
Cherry works with sheriff’s departments from counties all over the country rescuing horses that have been neglected, abandoned, abused or surrendered.
“It widens your eyes,” Cherry said. “You see things were people have no clue what is going on. There is a lot to owning a horse and people don’t really think about that until they get one and they are like ‘OMG’ and that is when we come in. Sometimes, they are so far gone that we can’t save them and I cry for every one of those horses. I cry for every one of those horses that have to be euthanized because of abuse.”
She said she is overwhelmed with joy when that doesn’t have to happen.
“It can take weeks, months and more to get these horses back healthy,” Cherry said. “We have had cases where we have had to lift them up by a tractor to now they are in happy homes. It takes about two seconds. I don’t even know that long to fall in love with them. When they get a happy home that is the best thing we can ask for.”
Now, at the age of 54, Cherry has no feeling in her hands and feet and she even has lesions on her brain. She said though it has been a struggle at times, she is not giving up on her mission.
“I have help with a couple of volunteers and for sure God,” Cherry said. “If it weren’t for him, we would be trouble a long time ago. And yes, I have thought about quitting a couple of times but I can’t let them down. Somebody has got to help them. The saying is, I have MS. MS doesn’t have me. I do take treatment for my MS. I will never be over it but I’ll fight it. I will give it a good fight.”
Cherry said per month, they spend about $8,000 on feed, spend thousands of dollars on medical treatments for the horses and more. She said per day, they go through a ton of feed and about 30 800-lb round bales of hay per week. She said donations are always a dire need.
“During the summer months, there’s a drought with donations,” Cherry said. “We always can use money donations to pay for the needs of these horses, but I would say the biggest need is feed and hay.”
If you would like to make a donation to the Meadow Haven Horse Rescue, you can visit their Facebook page for more information. In the meantime, Cherry said she hopes to host a community event for people diagnosed with MS so they can interact with the horses at the rescue.
“I want them to be able to touch them and be with them,” Cherry said. “I just know for me, it is very therapeutic. I think it will help a lot.”
If you know anyone with a story like Cherry’s who is changing the community in their own way, send us your tips. You can email me at email@example.com to be featured on What’s Up South Texas.
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