My youngest sister, Tami, is full of surprises. A former Miss Oklahoma, she has had a long career in broadcast journalism. Polished, professional and talented in a variety of ways, I must admit, I had some concerns about whether or not she’d be happy living out in the country, because I, too, was once drawn to the solitary peace and quiet of country life, and learned the hard way–it was not as easy and peaceful as I’d expected.
But Tami seems to have found a new passion, and it came about serendipitously. I’m happy to let her share her story in the following interview. (Note: I originally suggested Tami pick five of her favorite questions to keep this post short, but as with all little sisters, she doesn’t always follow directions. 🙂 Actually, she didn’t see my note. As I tried to edit down, I decided it was all too interesting, so I’m posting the entire interview.)
Jan: If you could describe your professional life over the last twenty years in six word sentence, what would you say?
Tami: Follow the path of Forrest Gump.
Jan: How long have you lived in the country?
Tami: Danny enthusiastically purchased the ranch in November of 2015, but it took me a while to warm to the idea. He gently but persistently pushed, going as far as to move all of our furniture and housewares from storage starting in May. He set a firm “move-in” date in August, but I kept coming up with reasons to push for a later date. We finally spent our first night on the ranch on September 11, 2016.
Jan: What did you expect when you moved to the country, and how is reality different from that expectation?
Tami: I expected my back to hurt a lot. I expected long commutes, annoying traffic, not being able to shop for the things I need and enjoy. My reality is that I love our little country grocery store and shopping at Atwood’s Ranch and Home. I love being able to pick up homemade canned peaches and other foods like Grandma used to make.
I also expected peace and quiet, which I got in spades! There’s nothing in the world like walking out the front door and watching the blood red sun set across the wide-open sky. I can’t describe the feeling when my horses hear me walking out to the pasture and come galloping to meet me at the gate.
Jan: What ignited your passion to save horses from slaughter?
I believe God puts us where He needs us, with whatever skills He’s given us, to do His work. That may sound corny to some, but that was what I meant when I said, “Follow the path of Forrest Gump.” Like Forrest, I’ve found myself in the right place at the right time for each step in my personal and professional development. From the day I happened upon college cheerleader tryouts as I aimlessly toured campus with a college-bound friend (I made cheerleader and got a scholarship!) to the day I was “discovered” and became a TV news entertainment reporter, to the time I was “re-discovered” and recruited to run a newsroom for a local TV news affiliate, I see God’s hand in every place I’ve ever landed.
The same is true with rescuing horses.
As an investigative reporter, I see potential stories everywhere. A post popped up on my Facebook page from a group called Save a Slaughter Bound Horse. I assume Facebook has algorithms that recognize when you have an interest, and your newsfeed fills with posts and topics related to your interests. Danny and I bought each other horses for Christmas, so many of my posts revolved around horses. The Facebook gods decided I would appreciate the post about Jake – a big, beautiful gelding that looked remarkably like my new mare, Aubrey. Jake was set for slaughter, said the post, unless someone paid his “bail.” I watched the post throughout the day as concerned Facebookers desperately pleaded for donations.
A skeptic to the core, I posted question after question: “Who’s making money off of this?” “How do I know where my money is going?” “How do I even know Jake exists?” “What’s wrong with the horse?”
As Jake’s (literal) deadline inched closer, I struggled with the probability I was about to throw hundreds of dollars at a fake horse. I Googled. I watched YouTube videos about horse slaughter. I was literally sick to my stomach over all that I learned about these horses – many of which are perfectly healthy but just no longer useful to their owners. Little Suzy outgrew the pony that helped raise her. Windmare the race horse wasn’t fast enough to win big money. Bub the workhorse had arthritis after years of working the fields. Often well-intentioned owners give their companions away on Craigslist or sell them at auction, having no idea a kill buyer intends to sell their faithful servant for slaughter.
I learned that American slaughter horses are crammed in to trailers and holding pens in the most inhumane, undignified conditions. These precious beasts that once grazed verdant pastures and gave their hearts to their masters, now defecated all over themselves and the horses packed up against them. Pregnant mares, seriously injured horses, aggressive stallions, all jammed in with little Suzy’s once-prized pony.
I paid Jake’s remaining bail knowing I could be throwing my money away. I just couldn’t let this beautiful creature die like that.
Jan: Tell us about your challenges and your joys in saving these horses.
Tami: We just brought in our second horse (originally Landers but renamed Elvis by my daughter) last week. Where Jake was immediately and obviously deeply grateful and affectionate, Elvis is very spooky and afraid of anything that moves. It’s a challenge helping a horse that, so far, doesn’t want to be helped. Jake is already adopted to a good home. Elvis may take longer. I have faith that we will make a connection and he’ll come around.
Jan: In the past, you have suffered from severe back pain. Now, you are able to ride horses. What do you attribute that to?
Tami: We actually don’t ride as much as I’d like because of my back. I spend time with them every day, but mostly just to feed, groom and talk to them. Mucking the barn, cleaning out the troughs, and hauling feed and hay also strain my back, but I just made a decision to do it. It’s almost like being a parent. You don’t get to pick the days you feed and nurture kids and animals. They need it every day, so you just decide what’s important and do it.
Jan: You’re in the process of establishing a 501(c)(3) for your horse rescue. Can you tell us about that? What are your long-term goals?
Tami: Yes, I’m in the process of making Swingin’ D Enterprises a 501c3. We’re currently an Oklahoma registered nonprofit corporation. Our goal is to save healthy horses bound for slaughter so they can be nurtured back to health and placed with families that want and need them. Part of our work is the actual rescue of horses from kill lots, which make money off of horses based upon what slaughter houses will pay for meat in other countries; the other part of our work is public awareness. Regular citizens can press their members of Congress to vote for HR113 – The Safe Act, which makes it illegal to transport horses to slaughter in other countries, and keeps it illegal to slaughter horses for human consumption.
Jan: How has this new chapter changed your life?
Tami: I’ve always been the animal rescuer, much to the dismay of anyone who lives with me. But working with horses has given me a whole new appreciation for the power humans have to help or destroy other living creatures, and the duty we have to give them happy, healthy lives. When I look into the eyes of these horses, I imagine how hard they worked to please their masters and how, at some point, they were a gift to someone. Someone likely bought these horses and gave them as an unforgettable gift that lit up someone’s heart for a time. Now they’re forgotten, starving and severely abused. That really resonates with me at this point in my life. I don’t want any creature to feel the emptiness of leaving this world feeling so betrayed.
Jan: Do you have any advice for someone trying to find their passion?
Tami: My first piece of advice would be to find what’s really important in life. For me, it’s not social stature or celebrity or money or material things.
Jan: What’s your greatest life lesson? (So far?)
Tami: My greatest life lesson is that God is never finished with me. He’s always showing me something new, and using me in ways I never imagined.
Jan: Do you have a favorite horse yet, and why, or is that like having a favorite child?
Tami: Bingo! It’s like having a favorite child or favorite dog. Each horse has its own personality, and each brings moments of joy and frustration. Bo is the aloof gelding that thinks he’s a stallion. Aubrey is the pampered princess with attitude. Jake is the precious, grateful old soul. Elvis is the big oaf, afraid of his own shadow.
UPDATE: Earlier this month, Jake was adopted by a teenage girl named Lauren, who had been dreaming of a horse like Jake for years. To see Tami’s Facebook video, click the link below!
If you would like to donate to Swingin’ D Horse Rescue, click HERE.
Swingin’ D Horse Rescue
Check out one of my sister’s talents: