Horses and mules find new homes and hope through Reasons Ranch

If you love animals, particularly horses, Reasons Rescue Ranch north of Sparta, Mo., in Christian County is a good place to get your “critter fix.” It’s not a fancy place but one filled with children’s laughter, animal snorts and barks and clucks where time slows down.

A drive down a shaded lane leads to an old wooden barn and corral, a cabin in a grove of trees and outbuildings filled with feed, hay and gear. A porch welcomes visitors to sit a while in its rocking chairs. A magnificent red and gold rooster struts by with a harem of hens passively tagging along.

Then there are the horses and mules: mustangs, walkers, paints, gaited and not, 57 all told, some boarded, some in training, some retired, others for riding lessons and trail rides.

And finally the ranch hands. Not what you might think but a team of eager and capable girls from 10 to 14 who make it possible for the ranch to exist. They muck out stalls, clean tack, feed and water and perform all the myriad tasks of a working stable. Amazingly, some of these girls now teach riding lessons and even train horses.

At the center of the ranch is a woman with a big, big heart.

“I love horses and always have. And I love children. At the ranch I bring them together,” Rita Reasons said. Her story begins when as a child growing up in the city, her dad regularly drove her and a cousin to a stable where they could ride.

That love of horses continued, and 33 years ago, she and her husband, T.J., bought the 60-acre property that is now the ranch.

After T.J. died five years ago, Rita was determined to keep the place but needed more income.

“I fretted about not having the money to build trails and do lessons,” she recalled. She scraped the money together to build a corral for lessons and also began hosting birthday parties. By word of mouth, “it kept getting bigger and bigger every year.” she said.

Still, it was hand to mouth, with mounting feed, hay, veterinarian and farrier expenses. A friend urged her to set up Reasons Rescue Ranch as a nonprofit. Another friend did just that, as well as getting an animal rescue license from the state. The nonprofit status allows supporters to make donations and get a tax benefit. It has created an entirely new network of supporters and fans and garnered more exposure. Recently a Hollister High School class spent a day mucking out stalls and stacking firewood. Church groups volunteer their time as well.

Other fans include parents, among them Jeanie Gipson, whose two daughters are among the ranch hands.  She has become Rita’s right hand, helping plan, orchestrate and create the magic of the ranch. Judy Oliver, another volunteer, funds and manages spay neutering for the dogs and cats. Cynthia Andre volunteers to write grant applications.

Today the ranch keeps afloat through foundation donations and fees for boarding, trail rides, lessons, horse training and parties.

The “rescue” part of the ranch provides a sanctuary for animals abused and neglected. For years, Rita and T.J. rehabbed adopted horses where possible or simply gave them a forever home with no demands put on them. That continues today as space permits. A visit to the ranch’s Facebook pages shows pictures of rail-thin horses on the verge of death that have turned the corner in just a week, thanks to around-the-clock love and care by the ranch hands. Some rescues have been transformed into riding horses.

“When you see an animal neglected and starving, we just have to take them,” Jeanie said.

The ranch hands work hands-on with the rescues. On a Monday afternoon at the ranch, one young ranch hand leads a pony she trained herself with a child onboard. The boy’s anxiety and high energy visibly tamp down as he rides. “These girls make everybody feel special,” Jeanie said. “They talk to the riders, answer their questions and make it easy to open up and relax.”

Only a few years ago, none of the girls had been on a horse. Now, all say horses will be part of their lives forever. One wants to be a veterinarian, another an equine therapist and another a riding instructor. One has taken a mustang, Lakota Sioux, and turned it into a safe horse to ride. Another girl has “graduated” to riding one of Rita’s mules. Another speaks of her own anxiety and shyness and how the horses and ranch hands have calmed and socialized her.

“They give the best hugs,” she said, speaking of the other ranch hands.

“We’ll cheer each other up when we’re having a bad day” added another.

Rita smiles and gazes fondly at these girls and their horses.“It’s hard to express what I feel in my heart. I feel like I’ve done a lot of good for kids and animals, and I’m overwhelmed with what has happened here. It’s amazing. … I have had the best life.” she said.


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