Into the Wilderness: The HNH Story by Kait Cruz
Hi there, Zebras! My name is Kait, aka Frugal.Filly, and I am the owner of The HNH Sanctuary, a 501(c)3 nonprofit animal rescue that is dedicated to sharing the stories of high-risk and misunderstood animals in order to influence us all to play a role in creating a more empathetic society. By making animals “more human” we can not only better their lives, but also our own and all people’s. The more empathetic we become, the more compassionate and cared for all of society becomes.
How we react to difficult circumstances says more about our character than any thing else does. The HNH Sanctuary is proof of the kind of person I didn’t even think I was. In 2016, I lost a pillar of strength in my life and the loss of his foundational presence made my life crumble, until a little filly made me pick up the broken pieces.
After the devastating loss of my grandfather, Jay, in September 2016, I began to notice that I felt, no longer myself. Jay had been a steadfast friend, rather than a grandpa, and the sudden loss of his presence left me wandering in the great unknown without my confidant and wise cowboy. Cancer had claimed him too soon for my liking and being present in his unexpected passing had been traumatic, though I didn’t realize the severity of it. Sleeping in until three PM became normal. Not leaving the house alone became a safety net. Hysterical crying three times a day was apart of my daily routine. Crippling anxiety, sweats, shaking, panicking, those were apart of the “new me.” And as much as I felt plagued, I knew that I needed to do something. So, I decided to buy my future Grand Prix horse. Logical distraction, right?
I had already found the perfect, halter broke eight month old, Canadian-bred, Hanoverian colt. He was the one and I was set on him coming home to California. Now was the time! A few days later, I found myself two hours away, in a dirt pen with an emaciated, worm bloated Andalusian/Thoroughbred filly that wanted nothing to do with people. My family had tried to talk some sense into me “randomly” dropping so much money on a horse I didn’t know. So, I wound up reluctantly looking at this horse with a boarding debt and a sad story, hoping I wouldn’t like her and I could go back to the horse I wanted. Yet, the barn owner saying, “you would be rescuing her” kept playing over and over in my head as I mentally pouted the whole way home. A week later, I was the owner of a terribly sick filly and I named her Autumn.
I paid off her owner’s debt and stoped Autumn from being the sixth horse on a five horse trailer, including a stallion, to Idaho. She showed up to the barn, terrified and very ill back in October of 2016. Thus, I entered into a new kind of wilderness alone. I was a green horse owner with the greenest horse possible. But that wouldn’t deter me. I spent hours just watching Autumn and caring for her, trying to show that I loved her in hopes that she would learn to love me back. I was met with bites, kicks, being dragged across the dirt, nerves damaged in my arm, halters broken, clothing ripped, and lots of tears on my end. She had to be sedated for the farrier and vet to simply touch her. The worst part was, I didn’t even know they thought she was going to die from pneumonia and that she would never heal from her infested intestines. Yet, here we are nearly three years later with a beautiful four year old mare, a partner that I never could have dreamed of.
Autumn, from the moment I brought her home, gave me something I had never had at my young age of 19, purpose. I had been emotionally spiraling and hiding myself away from the world because I was afraid and ashamed of my “weaknesses”. Yet, my struggle with PTSD, anxiety, and clinical depression transformed into assets every time I handled that spitfire of a filly. As I learned to let down my guard, she peeled back a layer of her protection. As she became more confident, I learned the subtle cues of her fear and encouraged her bravery. As I came to know my new strengths, she became strong and learned to love me.
Less than a year later, we added two more additions to the herd, Norman, then Lila. Less than a year after, The HNH Sanctuary became an official 501c3. After bringing Autumn
home, having her change my way of thinking in training and addressing my depression through purpose, I had an epiphany: if there are people like me and horses like her, someone needs to talk about it. So often in life, we write off people struggling with mental health as “crazy” just like we write off horses with behavioral issues as “crazy.” But what if someone’s perspective could change that stereotyping? HNH is that dialogue for me.
Autumn helped me change the way I handled horses because she hadn’t been forced to communicate in any other way than “this is how I feel” and it set me up for the horses in the future. Norman came from a serious background of abuse and forced me to first accept and then aid him in the process of dealing with his own PTSD. Lila was a fearful and aggressive little pony that was reactive to every type of pressure, so I had to learn how to neutralize her anxiety. The tools I have in my arsenal to identify my own triggers and struggles have allowed me to see and address the same type of reactions in abused, wild, and neglected animals because, at the end of the day, they are very much just like us. The HNH Sanctuary is a safe place where animals can tell me what they are feeling with unlimited compassion, time, and care through the process of recovery. I just share their stories with who will read them in hopes that we can normalize struggle, develop the tools to over come them, and encourage a new perspective of compassion for both people and animals. No one has to walk through the wilderness, you can bring a horse along and make it a trail ride instead.