Leaving the city below and winding up Decker Canyon to a veritable eagle’s nest at the top overlooking the Santa Monica Mountains and the ocean in the distance, sits the refuge – Helping Thru Horses – a nonprofit dedicated to saving the lives of both horses and people.
HTH is a labor of love for founder Troy Freeman, better known around the ranch as “Cowboy Troy,” He started the organization five years ago as an extension of the volunteer work he began at age 17 working with runaways in Hollywood, in a home for unwed mothers, and with people on the streets.
Freeman combines his desire to help people with his passion for horses at HTH. For him, horses are a “stress-reliever, a gift from God,” says Freeman. “I found that they helped me as much as I helped them,” so he wanted to use horses to help others as well.
That’s when he started the ranch “to rescue, rehabilitate, and restore” horses and people, starring Sissy and Buddy, two Skipper “W” quarter horses bred for their solid stature and sweet dispositions. Five-year-old Sissy, a beautiful palomino, who Freeman affectionately dubbed “Miracle Baby,” was his first rescue horse, literally saving her life nine times, from a traumatic birth to several other major traumas. You’d never know it by her spunky, playful nibbling on Troy’s shoulder and knocking at his hat.
Buddy, also dubbed “Mr. Big Boy,” is a strong, 1,370-pound, champagne grey gelding that looks a bit intimidating but is “a lover” and a favorite of newcomers at the ranch. One gal, who had been in and out of drug rehab centers since she was a teenager, came to them at age 22, where she learned the basics of horse care and bonded with Buddy. “She turned from the dark side,” said Freeman, “got clean, got a job at a pet store and grooming horses, and was able to get an apartment. It was incredible, life-saving for her.”
Many people who come to them haven’t had any experience with horses or have had bad experiences. That’s where Freeman gets excited. “I love to get people over that,” he says. “I meet them where their fear is and teach them the basics – to be attentive and aware of their environment.” Freeman continues, “If they’re having problems and anxieties, I tell them to leave them at the gate; they can always pick them up when they go.”
Along with teaching basic horsemanship, he talks to them about finding God’s purpose for their lives. “That they have a purpose – a Godly purpose. It might be animals, or horses, or not, that’s okay,” says Freeman. And it means “giving back, helping others,” which he claims blesses you many-fold. “Even if you’re going through stress, depression, financial difficulties, etc. – no matter what storm you’re in – you can do a little bit. Don’t focus all your energy on yourself. You can get out and help a neighbor.”
Freeman’s son Luke, a former linebacker and graduate of USC, also works at HTH. He finds peace up at the mountain. “All the fears and anxieties of daily life just go away up here,” he says. “And the horses bring me so much joy; they’re goofy sometimes, and you get a connection with them that’s hard to find elsewhere.”
“It’s also rewarding working with the people who come up to the ranch,” Luke explained, teaching them how to be around horses, care for and groom them. He notes that many people that have never been around horses or are out of their comfort zone might appear “standoffish.” But after an hour or so, they become “more comfortable and able to understand the power of the horse,” which he claims “builds self-confidence that translates to other areas of life as well.”
Besides teaching basic horsemanship, Freeman’s primary goal is teaching the cowboy code first publicized by cowboy actor, singer, and entertainer Gene Autry in the heyday of the western films of the 1930s to 1950s.
1- Loves God.
2- Loves his family.
3- His word is his bond.
4- He shows up when you need him.
5- He stands up tall for his convictions.
“It’s hard to fill,” says Freeman, “but try to succeed the best you can, never give up, and teach it to your children.”
“We need to stand for the truth,” Freeman contends. “God is the pillar and foundation of this country and our Constitution. We will never allow tyranny to take hold,” he continues. “We will always protect our family and encourage others to do so also.”
Freeman thrills to see people grow and thrive as much as the horses at the ranch. He gets volunteers who “don’t know a hammer from a pencil” building fences and doing other work and who are proud of themselves. And HTH needs volunteers. He has been self-funding it since the beginning, and COVD shutdowns hit them hard. Their outreach programs stopped, and they had to move and rebuild. “Only Buddy and Sissy are happy,” Freeman says. “They think they’re on vacation right now.” But they perk up when visitors come by, eager to show off and interact.
Another direction Freeman plans to take links up connections at their new Heritage Ranch location (the former site of a western town with old wagon wheels and other relics still around) with owner Mary Dee Rickards’ husband, a retired police officer, and others in the field, including mounted divisions from the surrounding counties, to do a program introducing young people to opportunities in law enforcement. “It’s especially needed these days,” says Freeman, “with all the anarchy, lawlessness, and disrespect for anyone in authority.”
Hoping to resume their program in May because “people really need this now more than ever,” Freeman explains that “they need a place to decompress, away from the cities, technology, and culture to a natural place.” Helping Thru Horses – the idyllic mountaintop haven – nurtures horses and people as well.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Contact them at Helpingthruhorses.org. Volunteers and donations are welcome.