A Sit-Down with Tinia Creamer of Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue

As Part of the Heroes of Change Podcast

Jeremy Turner, Founder and Managing Director of EPIC Mission:

Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Heroes of Change podcast from EPIC Mission. This is Jeremy Turner, Founder and Managing Director of EPIC Mission and I’ll be your host here on the podcast. We are highlighting the trials, victories, and applied wisdom of our community change agents, unsung heroes, and those who empower them to be the change across Appalachia and beyond. We seek to inspire and equip everyday heroes just like you to take on our greatest challenges because together, we are the change and today I’m super thrilled to welcome Tinia Creamer from Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue and we’re going to get into her story here in a moment. First, let me read just a quick snippet. So living with a purpose in Appalachia. Tinea is originally from Ranger, West Virginia where she caught a little store known as Lucas Grocery Home for her first years. She is a Marshall University graduate and as Founder and Director of Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue, West Virginia’s leading equine advocacy organization. She’s done Grassroots lobby work for animal issues and local farm issues for a decade, as well as having served as Chapter Leader for Western A. Price, a Regional Coordinator. For Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep and as a Casa. So first thank you for taking the time and thank you for being here. Today, everybody’s got a glossy photo, a headshot, and this super slick bio. But there’s real people like you and I behind those. So if you would take a minute and talk about, tell us what we should know about you and the work that you do that doesn’t really appear in a bio.

Tinia Creamer, Founder & Director of Heart of Phoenix 

I think it goes back to being a girl that was born to a man who was almost 60 years old in Lincoln County that approached life very differently than what a lot of people my age would have known growing up. And having an eccentric lifestyle that was all about service and service of people in Appalachia and also a connection to animals very early on because of where I was raised in my dad’s history as an original homesteader in the twenties and thirties, in West Virginia. My mom said my first word before I said, ‘mama’ or ‘daddy,’ she said it was ‘horsey.’ And she was actually talking about that today. She said how profound it was to her, that I was 12 to 15-months-old. I apparently knew my calling because I never stopped talking about horses from that moment on. And so yeah, just coming from a place that was very impoverished and being the daughter of a man who gave his entire life back to his community and even beyond his community kind of just set the stage for me to look at something outside of myself and always want to do something for others. And whether that meant humans or animals, that’s just how I, that was the tone that was set early on.

Jeremy:

Love it. So some people listening to this may know about Ranger, many will not, even those from West Virginia. So talk about Ranger a little bit if you would, and just a county, and maybe how that shaped you and prepared you for what you’re doing now.

Tinia:

I often tell people you can’t imagine Southern West Virginia where Ranger happens to sit, without seeing it. I think of myself as a storyteller though. So it’s a lot of, it’s a lot of windy roads with a lot of pot holes, very few little stores and certainly still no cell service. It’s a lot of very kind people that work really hard that have a very different perspective on life and what’s out there. And my dad opened a little store there, what would be 60 years ago now and it served as a line of credit. It served as a place to get all your hardware and your furniture and your clothing and your food. It served as a way to feed your family when you ran out of money and you needed a helping hand. It served as a way for little farmers to sell their produce.

And so I just grew up with kind of the epicenter of my world being that, where you live is the answer to everybody’s needs. You know, it would be nothing to be sitting there in Ranger when I was five years old in my dad’s little trailer behind his store and somebody knock on the door, you know, at midnight and say, you know, “Tiny,” my dad’s nickname was Tiny, “Tiny, I just need $50 to get me through and I’ll pay you back.” And my dad by that point, you know, was into his sixties when I lived there at that age. And you know, he was always there for people, but it taught me a lot about caring about people from Southern West Virginia. And I use the term “Appalachia” a lot also because in the broad sense, there are a lot of common factors in Appalachia as a region, but there is something very specific and different about Southern West Virginia.

So in Lincoln County, everyone knew everyone and it was impossible to just walk by people and not wonder about what’s going on or did they need some help. And it was also hard to make real polarizing judgments because you knew everybody so intimately or you knew their grandfather or their nephew or something like that. So I think that’s part, that’s hard for people from outside to understand that, that feeling that everyone there matters just like you’re their own brother or sister or parent. And the second part I think is the poverty is so far beyond what people are used to if they are, if they’re not coming through areas of say, Eastern Kentucky, Southern West Virginia. And knowing that level of poverty gave me a realistic view of what can be done in a short term and in the long term. And I think that affects me even now when I set goals and what I consider achievements. Not that they’re smaller, but that I understand where we, where we’re working and allows me to appreciate small, small victories maybe.

Jeremy:

Good. Yeah. You know, there is, there is a difference about Southern West Virginia and you know, we talk about poverty a lot. And you know, there’s poverty all across the country, all across the globe within the United States. You know, and what I’ve seen poverty in Southern West Virginia, in the coal fields region, it’s different, right? It is different. So I’m glad you brought that up. So I think I know this answer, but I want to dig into it a little bit. So inspiration is super critical, right? If you’ve got an idea or a vision or a calling to go do something because you know this work that people like you do, it’s not easy. You, the idea that you’ll just wake up one day and go launch a brand new nonprofit that’s super high impact and all you have to do is get your a 501C3 designation and then money is going to come rain from the clouds that’s not readable. Where did you get your inspiration growing up and where do you find inspiration now? Is it people or a place or what inspires you?

Tinia:

I think, well there are several parts to that answer. Originally as a little girl, the inspiration, it was horses. I loved horses. They were magical. They were unicorns. There are a million little girls that would tell you that story. I read The Black Stallion, everything I thought about involved horses. And you do start to grow up and I’m not super. I turned into a more of a realist as I got older and I wasn’t really, I wouldn’t consider myself a dreamer. So practicality took over and I just remember horses as something that I thought of in childhood. And it was a nice part of childhood. And I had, there was an apartment fire in 2007 where I lost my 17-year-old sister and my 19-year-old brother and my 14-year-old brother and I had been a large part of raising them. And at different points they had lived with me and I was in my early twenties. And the only thing I can think of after that was, you know, kind of the focus of my life to that point was gone. And I think when there’s a big crisis, we kind of go back and you’re looking for something. There’s all this void. And I had been living thinking of all the things my siblings and I would do and how life would be. And with that off the table, I think I just went back to to horses, but it was slow, you know, it took a year or two and I found myself looking at horses for sale. And what I found was that lots of people were giving horses away. And I realized there was, there was a disaster here in West Virginia for the equine industry.

Horses were being turned out on strip mines. They were being given away, they were being taken to auction, just left. They were sold or they didn’t. And I remember saying, “Somebody needs to do something about this. Surely somebody is, let me just find them. Let me look them up. Oh no, there isn’t anyone.” And I said to myself, “You can’t be that person, Tinia, to point your finger somewhere else and say someone needs to fix it.” And what else do you have to do? You feel pretty broken in the empty, really, and so it didn’t start with an intent to ever have a nonprofit that was actually, I very much intended to not have a nonprofit. I just thought you should do what you can with what you have. And that’s because that’s all I’d ever known, you know, to be fair, I looked at my mom and my dad’s lives then, and that was an example.

You couldn’t turn away a need once it was presented to you. And I think that really is something also in West Virginia, West Virginians. And the difference in the people here is I think we, if we are presented a need by a neighbor or community and it’s there, I do think we want to fix it. So I thought, “Well, I want to fix what I can.” And before I knew it, I’d had one horse and two horses and three horses through the barn. And I started posting about it because I’m a storyteller and I’m a writer and people became really interested in one because they had not seen anyone do this. And before I knew it 2009 that started about 2012 here I was filling out the 501C3 paperwork and I did a blog the day I decided to submit paperwork and I said, “I have a feeling life will never be the same, but that’s what we’re going to do.” And if anyone knows me, they know once I pick something up, I’ve got it. I’m going to carry it for as long as I possibly can. So that’s the journey. That’s all started anyway.

Jeremy:

And you know, I’d love to tell you that’s an uncommon story, but it’s, you know, in so many ways that I come across people that they find something that just bothers them. And at first maybe they don’t realize it bothers them, then it sort of gets under their skin and suddenly they are looking back years later and saying, “Daggone. I have a nonprofit here,” you know, or “I’ve started a for-profit, I’m doing something,” you know, so the adage of if you’re looking for someone to do something, you know, realize you are someone, now go do something. Yeah, surely you did that. And I would agree. I think that that is something we do a lot. West Virginia, you know, we recognize there’s an issue and we just go handle it and not necessarily looking for a bunch of press either. Right. We just go do so you know, with that, the name of this podcast is the Heroes of Change. The tagline for my company is “Guiding the Heroes of Change.” You’ve probably heard me say this phrasing once or twice or a dozen times, but when you hear that phrase,Heroes of Change, what does that mean to you and why do you think it’s important for everyday people to step up and go do?

Tinia:

Well one thing that became, I didn’t, when I first started doing this, the connection to people wasn’t real clear to me. And what would end up being what continues to inspire me. So it ties into even continuing that last question and then going into this is what I find I want, want to do most is inspire other people to be the change. And I happened to have a knack for that. So what I have found this work does for me. We save horses, but it allows people that didn’t know they could make an impact to do that. So I feel like I go, you know, month to month finding people and inspiring them to, to decide to get involved and be those heroes and for them to look at themselves that way. And it’s amazing what people will do once they believe their input is important.

And I think that in West Virginia, we have so many people waiting to be made to feel that their value and their input has impact. And that it is heroic. And so I think that whole, that mission statement to me it reminded me of a lot of things that I say anyway. I’ll say things like, “We’re going to go in and we’re going to change everything and it’s never going to be the same.” And I refer back to the people as the helpers, the facilitators of change and West Virginia struggles with realizing the value of the individual and the impact they can make. And horses. I stood up at a CEO panel at Marshall, you know, two weeks ago. I know that people don’t think out of the box and maybe they feel like change in heroic deeds come in different packages, but I have seen value of going into a home where a woman doesn’t have electricity and she’s living on food stamps and she’s 67-years-old and her grandkids have taken all that she has because they are addicts and she’s going without electric to buy a couple of bags of food for horses. And I know what it means to her to go in and take those horses for her because she’s begging for help and you change your life and letting people, letting people be part of that. And in our instance, it started with three people and now it’s 150 to 200 volunteers throughout a year. That gets to feel a little bit of what it’s like to be, you know, a Heroes of Change. To be a facilitator of something good, to be part of an EPIC Mission and EPIC Mission can be all sorts of things and there are so many things to do. And just for me, what continues to inspire me or the people that I’m able to bring into the work and to see it change their life because people that come to animal rescue often need rescued themselves. My story wasn’t so different in the beginning. And so being able to, to see people, be those people as what, what matters to me now. That’s what I, that’s what I live for these days, you know?

Jeremy:

So why is it so important that everyday people like you and I get up and go do when we notice these issues?

Tinia:

I think that the more that everyday people do that the more other everyday people do that we can’t look at somebody. I mean I can, I mean I can do this, I mean I can look at something and say, “Oh, I can do that eventually if I continue on this path.” You know, I don’t, I don’t look and say “It’s going to be easy,” but I can set forth some type of vision and say “If I continue in this amount of years, I believe this is where I’ll go.” And it could be kind of grand. But if you, if you don’t make the everyday people feel like they can change everything, everything will not change. Or the only way things change is the masses, you know? So I think the value of every person and every person feeling like they have the value to do something.

I think one of the reasons Heart of Phoenix has had some really good success in what we do is because I from the beginning have focused on working with people who want to do what they do well. And it may not seem like something spectacular that they do well, but they know we appreciate that they do it all that they’ve got and they do a good job. And so that message of whatever you’re doing, if you do it well, it’s going to make a difference. It just means it’s allowed us to do more with an organization with a tiny budget. I mean, we do as much as organizations with $3 million budgets. That’s the power of the everyday person that the hour or two or 20, they can give doing what seems like sometimes monotonous tasks adds up to revolutionary things for horses within Heart of Phoenix and it’s true of any organization, any nonprofit or any for-profit, if people start to look at it that way. As a collective, a bunch of everyday people in West Virginia within our organization have totally changed the outlook for equines forever here. So I just, I do believe in the power of an everyday person because I’ve seen what they can do if, if they are led to, to believe that they can, you know, I don’t think there’s the, the people perish for a lack of a vision, you know, so I like to give them a vision and it’s amazing what they’ll do with it. They’ll run with it. And I think West Virginia in general, we need a vision about all kinds of things and some people want to box it in and say, “It just needs to be about this one thing here in West Virginia. We need to concentrate on this one thing.” No, that’s not true. And that’s how you lose people. Tell them if you don’t care about this one issue, and this is not where your talent is, you know, you’re just an extra person. We don’t need you. And, you know, I found that if anybody comes to us, I can find something that they have a talent to do, when we will be better for it and the mission will be better for it.

Jeremy:

And I love that. And you know, I’ve talked about that then the need to, you know, empower people and embolden people and give them a place where they feel needed and wanted and valued. And you know, you do that by figuring out, because many times I don’t know about you, but I encounter people that they may not really know what their talents are because they’re broken. You come to them at a time when, you know, they’re struggling themselves instead of, it helped them, you know, be able to pull out what it is that they’re good at and help them be in a place where they’re valued and can apply their giftings and talents is really powerful. So keep doing that. That’s amazing. And it makes a huge difference. So you know, Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue, probably not a bunch of people on the regular thinking about, wow you know, I’m sure there are horses out there in need and maybe I should do something about that. Take a minute and talk about why people should care about it and some of the therapeutic value of horses if you want some of the magic.

Tinia:

I am a history major and I think that our history matters and looking over time, we have spent all of our history with horses. We’ve had dogs as companions and the other domesticated animals historically have been horses. They’ve lived with us in, in the Middle East, East. They actually lived in the tents with people. We’ve had this strong bond and our entire history of man is wrapped up with horses in a way that nothing else, no other being, dogs were companions, but horses were partners. They were companions and partners. And we built civilizations on their back. And you think about the founding of America, totally impossible without horses. But let’s just look at Appalachia. Can you imagine having come here and settled here without a horse? My dad told a story once because to him it was impossible that people would discard horses because he grew up in a time where you couldn’t survive without them.

And his dad had died when he was very young and they had a mule and they were paying for it on credit. His car, his mother was, and the mule got out and got into someone’s garden and was destructive. And the neighbor shot the mule. And I remember my dad and he was in his late eighties. He had tears talking about not having that animal to their family. So the value of the horse, historically, I think we should always keep in the back of our mind, but of course those things aren’t as relevant right now. So I think the survival of the horse now these days does come down to a therapeutic value. Studies have shown that horses better than any other animal and PTSD with veterans, with children, with recovering addicts and with the prisoners. There’ve been so many studies done showing that the success rates long term and short term are better when horses are involved in therapeutic programs.

And I don’t know if that goes back to something that’s biologically in us that changes, you know, changes how we think. And I hate to say that there’s a magical, spiritual quality to horses, but a lot of people believe that and I certainly have been victim of it. But I believe that the way that we were, the way that we respond to horses when we are in crisis and the way that you can take a person that’s never had any interaction with a horse whether it’s a mental crisis or they have a physical disability and if you observe it, you know, there’s something to it. I mean, it’s not rocket science. You don’t need to be a psychologist. You can see it and see a change in people when they interact with horses. And you could compare it to how they interact with all kinds of other animals and there was a notable difference. There’s a scientific notable difference based on research. So when you think about horse rescue, just if you look at the surface, there’s an animal that’s innocent in need that we should help get out of, out of a negligent or a cruel situation. Yes, that is true. But I think in Appalachia we’re presented with a lot of other opportunities for these horses. And for me, I want to see the people helped. I don’t want to see homes for the horses that we have. I believe that you can take horses and you can start to do research and potentially go a long way towards solving the aftermath of the crisis that we are in here. Whether it’s a veterans crisis with PTSD, a foster child crisis, certainly an opioid addiction crisis, even an economic crisis because there’s a huge industry that thrives with equine outside of our area.

So there’s so many opportunities for therapy, for behavioral learning, for job opportunities to be created. And the thing about it is it’s something everybody I think can rally around because when people see horses, it just kind of changes them. Their whole everything changes about their body language. And I really love that we’ve been seeing leadership training. CEOs are going to retreats and learning leadership with horses and I think that should strike something in somebody. You think of billionaires deciding that horses have something to teach us and they think that they should, they should take their staff there to learn how to be leaders by watching horses. It’s something that West Virginia certainly should take note of. We need leaders. We have a really good example of an organization that’s advocating for horses at Heart of Phoenix and within our organization we have a lot of people who want to see that horse-human bond strengthened and expanded because ultimately it’s going to mean horses thrive. And I think it can mean communities can thrive. And I don’t think it’s a big stretch. If you think about the foundations of civilization where horses and man were partnered from, you know, from the beginning as far back as we can, we can really go, that’s what you have. So I really believe in those connections, they can go somewhere.

Jeremy;

I think they can and I specifically wanted to ask you that question so that we get some of that out because I got a feeling where you go with it. And I appreciate that. You know, again, the mission with this podcast is to pull out pieces of story, you know, because I like to tell stories, too so that others might be inspired. So I hope that, you know, those listening and those watching, when the video portion comes out, there’s something in there and they find their next move in the next chapter or they find inspiration that they want to come and support your organization or an organization like yours in some fashion. So, you know, the work that you do in general, work in nonprofit is not easy. It’s grueling and you know, nonprofits are expected to operate with less money going towards overhead and you know, you’ve got to fundraise. There’s all these different things. And then you throw in you know, working with different populations, right. Addiction recovery you know, working with horses in need. I mean, this can be emotionally draining as well. So where do you go and how do you seek refuge? How do you get away and what do you do to get away and recharge and, and you know, get yourself ready for the next, next piece?

Tinia:

I don’t know that I’ve done a lot of that because the whole animal rescue is a little more rewarding, I guess I should say that right off the bat it’s very hard, but unlike human-only recovery situations, there’s a lot of control that we have over the horse. And I think that’s maybe the healing part. I did time as a Casa, and I’ve done different things with humans and we don’t, we can’t control what people do. We can’t just say “This child needs protected.” So I’m going to take away from its parent and make its life perfect and there it’s done. So I don’t, I haven’t felt as much a need to get away from the work because when we go in, what we see is terrible and sometimes the outcomes because the horses are so neglected, aren’t what we wanted. But most of the time we go in, we remove the animals, we retrain the animals, they recover and we find him a great home and we’re able to change it completely. We can say, “I’ve made this better and it’s not ever going to happen to you again.” So we, it’s a continual reward. I think if we were a smaller organization where maybe a reach, our reach grew pretty quick and so we can get lots of happily ever after. So we’re just about the time that I think, I don’t know about this right this minute. This is getting to me. We’ll have some incredible, another one of the horses. We’ll have some incredible adoption. And there were some big, big successes. So it’s really as hard as it is, it has very, very low lows, but it has really high highs and because of the number of animals it’s always something happy.

We will get great news and then bad news and great news and bad news. So it is a roller coaster and it’s at the level of our core team. You really do have to be pretty kind of, I don’t know, pretty even keeled if, if to handle the, the highs and lows. But I don’t really I don’t know that I’ve ever felt like I needed a break. I don’t think I’ve taken a break in the time that I’ve ran the organization that I just haven’t stepped away and said, “I’m not answering or dealing with that side.” I just haven’t done that. But I do know in nonprofit, especially animal nonprofit, a lot of people do. I think it’s more about how you structure the organization and if something is working poorly to where you feel like you can’t cope and that’s not the right direction. So I’ve tried to keep it on a path where we can win, where we have successes enough to keep morale high, you know, not too much doom and gloom if we can help it.

Jeremy:

Yeah. I don’t think we need, need much more of that. So, you know, keeping as much of that out of the organization as possible is crucial. So your organization has been around for a little while and you know, likely there have been some ups and downs. I mean, maybe nothing too critical, but can you talk about any particular struggles you’ve had along the way and how you ever came those or maybe how you’re working to overcome them now with the current?

Tinia:

Well I think a hard thing for me is I’m very comfortable with things that I know I don’t do well. But realizing some of the things I think I do well, I don’t think that’s been hard. When I first started trying to get a couple of grants that were pretty large grants, I’m a storyteller and that’s not what grant writing’s about. Getting these messages back that just ultimately say to everything happening in this is wrong. That was hard for me not to be told I was wrong, but to have assumed it was correct and felt very confident. And I will say, I did have a moment where I thought, “I’m just not going to try to get grant funding. I can’t take it. I can’t take that level of rejection” when I was so sure, I did it way off.

I remember actually sitting at ACE Hardware, Kenny Queens and Lavallette after getting off the phone where I was essentially told everything you did in that was the, it couldn’t have been more wrong. You couldn’t have done one more thing was correct. And I just, I, I can’t, I thought, “Nope. Nope, I’m not going to do that anymore. I can’t take that.” But if I hadn’t, and I did take a few, a few months to just, to just not think about it, and finally reached out to people and said, “Here’s what I’m doing and I need you to tell me exactly what to do because you do this properly apparently because you’re getting grants.” And it wasn’t with any equine rescue because there’s not a lot of funding, in equine rescue. But I reached out to some child advocacy organizations. One had been an adopter of ours and she, everything she told me was revolutionary. It couldn’t have been more different than what I’d been doing, but I was able to go back to it and still it was a big process for about two years, but being willing to just be wrong and, and I felt like I was willing to be wrong, but as, as one of our board members tells me, “No,” to me, you’re only comfortable being wrong when you don’t care if you’re wrong, you care very much to be wrong when you were sure you were right. And so being willing for me to not give up when it was really, really hard for me and I knew I had made every wrong decision to go back and say, “Well, you did it wrong.” All of it, and to keep trying and do it again. So that’s one example.

Because I was hoping somebody else would come along that can do it, but they weren’t. And I wanted to just wait. Then I said, “Well, we’ll just wait to do this when somebody else comes along.” And it was one of those things where nobody else is coming right this minute. “Tinia, you can do this if you just swallow your real big ego about this one thing.” That was hard of being told by people that really, I so much wanted to do it right on a national scale that you know, I had to learn that lesson. You have to do it, fail and fail and fail before you succeed. And we ultimately did end up getting one of the larger grants. I would say that being given to the equine nonprofit in the nation, but it was a long, hard road where I don’t even cry, but I probably cried a time or two over that.

Jeremy:

But you know, failure can be frustrating,and a piece to highlight is that, you know, with those couple of pieces in there, I’m going to highlight one is, you know, when you’re trying something new and when you’re doing something that you’re passionate about, sometimes you have to have the courage to suck at something new, right? But then you’ve got fear and either recognize that you’re not capable of doing this and find someone else who can, you know, so that you stay in your lane or you get outside of your own self and say, “All right how can I learn this?” You know, which you did. So I think that’s cool. So yeah. Would you have, what advice might you give yourself if you’re looking back to maybe when the first inkling of this organization started to percolate, what advice might you give your younger self as you’re thinking about this now you’ve had a number of years to actually work on this organization. What advice would you give to your younger self?

Tinia:

I would actually say the thing in the early years was letting more people get involved earlier on. It took me about four years to believe that other people believed in what I was saying as much as I believed it. So I’ll try that again. It took me four years to believe others really cared as much as I cared. And there would be people reach out to want to hail and I would just assume you won’t care about it like I do. I’ll just, yeah, I wasn’t all about doing it all myself, but I was about letting a handful of people do things and I think we could have grown a little, a little larger or be a little further along had I been willing to, to believe others cared. It took me a little while because I almost was the victim of the thing. I tell people not to be. Horses matter. People can care. It does. It’s a big deal. Believe that other people will. And now I do believe it, but I wish I believed it from the get go. Instead of feeling like I was doing something on the side that was a little fringe almost, that I know you think this is sweet, but you are not really going to give it what I give it but they will and they have and they would’ve been doing it for years sooner if I had been willing to open that door and just let more people get involved instead of just sequestering a couple of people and saying, “Let’s do this as a group and we’re just going to plunge forward.” And once I started saying, “No, I want all the people.” And that’s been my thought for at least six or seven years. No, I want everybody, I want every single person in West Virginia to care about horses. And I believe that now. But I had to believe at first. So I was saying things I didn’t even really believe. So if I could have gotten my head in order and believe my own mission early on because the mission always was to make everybody care, I just didn’t believe they would. And so I should have believed that they would because they absolutely will. 

Jeremy:

That’s good. So I’ve asked you to look back, you know, a decade or so, and now I’m going to ask you to kind of zoom forward a bit. Let’s say that, you know, we’re 30, 40 years out and you’re looking back on what has transpired with your life with Heart of Phoenix specifically. What legacy do you want to leave behind and what kind of change are you really fighting for? Talk about that for a minute. 

Tinia:

I was looking at the numbers and back in the 20s we had over 20 million horses in America and the numbers are down to under, potentially under nine million. I want to make sure that America doesn’t forget horses, that they don’t become part of history. I want to see that horses find new roles so that they stay relevant and they stay part of our lives. I think we are really going to be at a loss if we let them disappear and that is what’s happening unless we change things. So I’d like to see that horses are just a routine part of therapy programs and leadership programs and school programs so that they don’t disappear from agriculture completely. I think that Heart of Phoenix absolutely can impact that and make certain that that takes place. If we stay on the course where we keep reminding people that horses can change your life no matter what you’re doing, you may not even think of yourself as a horse person.

It’s very much wrapped into a pitch here for Huntington. We have the coal field development on the West end and there is some property there and they’re saying, “What can we do for this for the community with this property?” And I said, I went down there and I said, “We can put horses there and we can train people for jobs and we can let foster children come here in an equine assisted learning program while they’re recovering from abuse. And we can let addicts learn a trade here with horses and they can partner with horses as they can’t come in crisis because our horses come in and are traumatized and they need somebody and people relate to those that are going through similar things, especially an animal. And we make partnerships with veterans and addicts and children in foster care and we let them work with the horses in a community program.

And we bring in CEOs and their leadership teams from around the country right in the middle of Huntington to do leadership training with world famous clinicians, which Heart of Phoenix works with all over the country that make their living as horse men and women that are known all over the world that are perfectly willing to be part of something like that and build something innovative where somebody can look at Huntington and say, “Oh my gosh, who can believe that that happened in Huntington?” It’s something that can be replicated in the models of cities. It could be replicated in towns and there’s just not a question in my mind. And history proves that, that that would be, that would be hailing and it will be a natural process for people to bring horses back into the everyday lives of people in a new way in a healing way and in a way that benefits the economy and looks like something innovative and kind. It looks kind. So that’s what I think that for me, the legacy in 30 years is that we’ve done that and it’s replicated. And in some way that means that horses continue to play a role in America and that then the need for rescue is diminished because if you see them all the time and you care about them all of the time and they have a place and a job and they’re relevant to you, the odds of them ending up in the situations they do now are far, far less likely.

Jeremy:

That’s good. You know, I heard I think it was a Ted Talk or something on YouTube. I don’t recall exactly, but forgive me for not, but I heard someone say that there’s a lot of misconceptions about addiction that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection. And so it sounds like what you’re proposing is a way for those struggling with substance use disorder, an opportunity to connect and be part of a community. So I love that.

Tinia:

I watched that Ted talk, too.

Jeremy:

Yeah. That stuck with me. So I don’t want to keep you on here all day, but I have a couple more questions. I think you know, as we move towards wrapping up what do you want people to take away from your story and the story of Heart of Phoenix and, you know, how should that, how would you like to have that inspire them?

Tinia:

I believe that things and callings that we have are, they’re really early on and I have three boys and I think about how much, when I was young, everything I was doing was pushing me this direction. And if you hear a child or a young person talk about something that they are passionate about, I believe it’s there for a reason. So just keeping that in mind. I’d love people to see my story and think, “Wow, she knew that her whole life, she didn’t know exactly where it was going or how it was going to be shaped, but that we all do probably carry some little spark of what we’re going to do when we’re young and maybe people don’t look at it and then we lose it.” But that you can go through horrible things and you can choose to overcome it or you can choose to drown in it.

And just seeing that I lost my grandfather, my father, my two brothers and my sister in three years. And I could have done all kinds of things, especially in an area like this. And I chose to, in my opinion, change everything for a particular group of beings. And that we all can do that. And No matter how a story seems or how bleak a situation is, you can do something good with it. And there’s something on the other side of it, because I remember early on, after all of that had happened, people would say, “It’ll be better.” And I would get so mad. How can it get better? Why would you say that to me? I don’t want it to actually get better. I want to just ground right here in it. And there’s a time and place to say all kinds of things, but the truth is on the other side of it, you can find more strength and more courage and more will power to do good after some type of tragedy. So just stuff. And that applies to West Virginia. We’ve been through it, we’ve been through it. I mean, coming and going and there’s a lot of good that can come out of all the things that West Virginia has gone through. We’ve got a great story and I feel like you know, the story matters. So whether you’re talking about a region or a state or a community or a person you can go through a lot of bad things and still kill it in the end.

Jeremy:

Don’t confuse the status quo with the ending of your story. Good. So any other final words of advice or encouragement for, because you know, some of the people listening to this, maybe they are struggling with their own calling or their own, you know, something tugging at them saying “I need to go do this thing,” but maybe they’re resisting or you know, maybe they’re in a transitional point in their lives or you know, maybe they’ve already launched something and they’re in the early stages of it and realizing that it is difficult. So any final words of wisdom or encouragement for other Heroes of Change out there?

Tinia:

I think we almost have to sometimes be our own inspiration, which sounds a little ridiculous, but I tell people all the time, but maybe it’s easier for me because I’m a writer. I blog and write things and if you go back and you just set certain goals and you go back and read it and you find if you’re really working towards something, you will be accomplishing some of those things. And it’s amazing how when you feel like “I’m making no progress, this is not the right thing, this doesn’t make sense.” And you refer back to something two years ago when you think, “Wow, I wrote this here and I’ve done that. This has to be the right direction. I am making progress.” And it seems now 10 years out or so, 11 years out of what was the initial founding of the rescue. I worked really, really hard for probably seven of those years with very little progress. And then you know, there was kind of a corner turn. So eventually a corner turns. But I think we have to realize, you may feel like you’re beating a dead horse for a long time and very little progress and just keeping on and on and on and being resilient. If you’re not resilient, you won’t go wherever you’re wanting to go. And you absolutely can have a calling and you never go there. Because if you don’t have some level of resiliency, you’re not going to make it. It’s never going to be easy. Everything about life is very, very difficult. So if you are a person that’s going to give up, which I’ve been tempted to do, but if you ultimately do that, then you absolutely could have had a calling and you absolutely will never walk in it. You’ll never have it. That’s my kind of my thought to people. If you feel like you have a calling, then you have one. And if you never get the evidence of the calling, it’s because you gave up. So that could be a long journey though.

Jeremy:

It can be, but that grid, that perseverance is so key. And passion is such a huge component of perseverance is if you’re not passionate about it, any excuse will do. Right?

Tinia:

Yeah. Well, and it’s funny because people refer to me, they’ll say, “You’re so passionate about this” and you almost have to hear what other people say because I think I’m very steady about it, but it is obviously not the case because they’re there, you know, because people were just like your passion for the assists. So enormous. And maybe we don’t always know ourselves really well because I think I feel very, I don’t feel that, I don’t feel that. And they’re like, well, I’m, but you are though. So yeah, there has to be apparently a lot of passion because when you’re, when you’re failing, there’s also a lot of sadness there. Something has to get you, you know, over those humps. You know, I guess it has to be that, that passion that I still, I’m like, “Am I though?” 

Jeremy:

Yeah. Sometimes we lose perspective, you know, we’re so caught up in doing what we do, we don’t realize the impact we have or perhaps how we’re being perceived by others. So, yeah. So let’s say somebody wants to learn more, and I hope they do. If you’re listening and watching this, I hope that you’ll take the time to learn more about Heart of Phoenix. It’s an amazing organization and the people are amazing and such, such good works being done. How can people learn more about you and the work that you’re doing?

Tinia:

We have a pretty big social media presence. So we’re on Instagram as Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue, our website is wvhorserescue.org. We have a pretty popular blog, heartphoenix.org, and we’re obviously, we’re also on Facebook and LinkedIn and a little bit on Twitter. We’re going to start doing a podcast because after you did our strategic plan and we talked, there were lots of things you took away, but I was so glad that you mentioned that because I had been thinking, “Does that make sense? Is that something we should do?” So we’re also going to start doing a podcast. I actually just got the stuff in for the most part today from Amazon, so we’re going to give that a go. That’ll be on also on our YouTube channel, which is wvhorserescue.org and we’ve got a couple of great videos I’ve done lately in the last week or so on there before and afters and kind of who we are and what we’ve done. So we hope folks look into all that. I think it’s really a rewarding thing. We try to tell a lot of really great stories. A lot of people don’t want to follow animal rescue because they see a lot of sadness, but we have a lot of great, great stories. So it’s a lot of happy stuff that they can find there. You know, there’s, you’re not just left with the sad horse. You get the happy adopted horse after and that’s pretty rewarding.

Jeremy:

Yeah, that’s good. And I appreciate that with your social media except notice that it’s not just a bunch of tear-jerker stuff, so thank you for that. Awesome. Well that’s it for today. I want to thank you. I really, really appreciate you taking the time to be here. I know that you’ve got a lot going on and I’m keeping you from getting to the gym, so.

Tinia:

Oh, you’re fine.

Jeremy:

That’s all for this episode of the Heroes of Change podcast from EPIC Mission. We hope that you’ve been inspired by something you’ve heard today because together, we are the change. Tune in next time as we dig into the story of another hero and learn what they do, how they do it, and most importantly, why they do it. Take care, stay encouraged. And we’ll look forward to seeing you next time on the Heroes of Change podcast from EPIC Mission. Thanks so much.