- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - Healing Horses Ranch occupies the only flat spot on an almost 18-acre spread out in the Hatley countryside. It isn’t too much, a small arena next to a rough barn and a cottage for horse tack, rolls of barbed wire for fencing and other ranch necessities.

But to the horses and people who find healing there, it’s life changing.

“I told my wife I was going to build a house up here,” said Philip Lindsey, the man behind the ranch. “God had other plans.”

Lindsey runs Healing Horses almost single-handedly. He built everything but the arena himself.

Lindsey takes in neglected and abused horses seized by the county and nurses them back to health. Groups also find their way to Healing Horses, which Lindsey sees as a getaway from whatever troubles they might have. For the kids like those at Faith Haven, a United Way emergency shelter, it’s a rare opportunity to escape their traumas for a little while.

“We let them eat whatever they want and do whatever they want with them, whether it’s ride horses, play basketball, or tug of rope,” he said. “We do everything we can to make sure they never forget this place.”

Healing Horses started with a radio program in July of 2004 that featured Kim Meeder, who started a youth ranch, Crystal Peaks, in Oregon, with the mission of helping hurt children and horses. Her story resonated with Lindsey. He and his wife Wanda had tried unsuccessfully to build a house on top of the hill three different times.

“I thought maybe something was telling us that wasn’t what we were supposed to do,” he said. “Then I heard this woman’s story and felt a tug in me. It scared me.”

Every argument he thought of against starting his own ranch was immediately answered by Meeder through the program. When Lindsey thought his space was too small, it turned out Meeder’s ranch was half the size. When he thought how his land would be no good for horses, being cutover land sold on the cheap after trees had been harvested from it, Meeder revealed her ranch land was once a rock quarry. When Lindsey began to fret about finances, it turned out Meeder was even worse off when she started.

“I said, OK, God, I get it. But you’re not getting past my wife.’ She grew up on a farm and hated it,” Lindsey said. “But when I got home (Meeder’s) book was sitting on the counter. Turns out my wife heard the same radio program and thought it was something we ought to try to do.”

Also the pastor of Bartahatchie Baptist Church and owner of a trophy business in Amory, Lindsey presented his idea to his congregation, who rose to the occasion.

He built the barn and cottage himself the following month, and in September, Healing Horses saw its first batch of visitors. Everything else he’s needed from tractors to toilets has shown up just at the right time through donations from individuals and local groups.

“It got to the point where we were willing to give up everything we had to make this happen,” he said. “I’ve seen God do some truly amazing things here.”

Lindsey said he has 16 horses in all, at the moment. Some come to him in such a state that he hopes only to make them comfortable enough to live out the rest of their lives. He says he finds them locked in trailers for days without water, sometimes shot in a failed effort to put them down.

“I don’t have to seek any of them out,” he said. “People call me weekly with tips about horses in need. I think people get enamored with the grace and the beauty of a horse, and have a love affair with the idea of riding. But a horse requires way more than throwing some feed in with it and hoping it’s OK. People get in over their heads, but their pride won’t allow them to admit they can’t handle it.”

Once Lindsey locates a horse, he alerts the owners that people are noticing, and if conditions don’t improve the county will seize the animal. His prize horse is a stallion named Preacher, born on the farm between a blind horse that a veterinarian recommended be put down and an abused Tennessee walking horse.

“Preacher’s a big hit with the kids,” Lindsey said. “I use him to show them that no matter your past, God can do anything with you; that he’s never done with you. Lots of them come in here not trusting anyone. Then they see the bond that Preacher and I have, and they come around to the idea that maybe it’s OK to let some people in.”

Lindsey gets decked out in cowboy hat and chaps for visitors, who are enthralled with seeing a real live cowboy. Preacher even kneels with Lindsey to pray.

Over the summer, he said, the ranch has had visitors almost every weekend, and estimates having touched around 400 kids. He’s had special needs children and gospel groups, tourists from as far away as Japan, who had never seen a horse before. Lindsey said he couldn’t imagine doing anything else with his life.

“It ain’t no 9 to 5. It’s 24-7,” he said. “But when I sit on that porch, my quiet spot, and look out over it all, my only regret is I think, ‘How many years could I have been doing this?’”

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com

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