Those that know my daughter Katie’s story know that Katie said her first words when she was two years and eight months. After more than six months of intensive speech therapy, the breakthrough finally came the first time she rode at Hoofprints on the Heart Adaptive Riding Center (HOTHARC) in September 2006. Needless to say, I became a huge fan and happily drove 45 minutes each week up into the hills near the Altamont to reach the ranch where lessons were held. I served as a volunteer side-walker too. It seemed a small price to pay for those precious first words.
Hoofprints on the Heart grew from that initial pilot project into a thriving nonprofit organization. Barbara Soules and the other founders began to search for a new, more permanent home, and eventually they found the perfect spot: historic Hagemann Ranch, located on Olivina Avenue near downtown Livermore. The City wanted to preserve the site from development but needed a partner who would utilize and manage the property. Barb thought HOTHARC was the perfect match.
I helped Barb polish her presentation to the City Council and drafted a script for the companion video. I gave a moving testimonial about Katie’s speech gains, and later, on the glorious fall day in October 2010 when HOTHARC and the City of Livermore held an Open House to celebrate their partnership to preserve the historic ranch, I served as the Master of Ceremonies. I was happy to do it. I wanted everyone to know that Hoofprints on the Heart was a magical place where miracles happened on a regular basis.
Sadly, the magic ended six months later. Two board members conducted what I can only call a hostile takeover and threw Barb off the board of directors. A few days later, they “fired” her as the volunteer Executive Director. Katie was the first client and I was the first volunteer to quit in protest. More would follow. Nothing phased the new board who replaced Barb with family members and friends from Marin County, New Mexico, and even Canada! These individuals had never set foot on the ranch nor did they know anything about adaptive riding. Barb was so dismayed at these changes that she took the extraordinary step of suing the organization she founded to regain her seat on the board and gain access to the property so she could see her horse, Smokey.
For three years, a small group of dedicated volunteers known as Friends of Hagemann Ranch worked to change the story. At first the City didn’t want to listen, but over time staff changed their minds. The trouble was, no one knew how to force the new board out. The veterans program was scrapped along with the community garden. Clients dried up and donations dwindled. The lawsuit dragged on. Barb’s horse died. And still the board hung on. Until last week, when a facebook post announced: Hoofprints is now closed. No details, just one simple sentence.
And just like that, the story ended.
After three years I’m surprised to find myself agitated and anxious over this news. I want to fight to preserve what’s left of Barb’s legacy. I want the horses safe and the buildings protected. But most of all, I want justice served. Two people ran a thriving community nonprofit into the ground and destroyed its magic. I want them to pay.
Part of me is happy this ugly chapter has ended, and part of me is sad to let Hoofprints on the Heart go. I helped tarnish the organization I once loved dearly and this pains me, now as it did then. Someone told me he fears more unpleasantness will be uncovered before this is done, and I suspect he’s correct. Something about the hostile takeover never added up, and I hope the public, at long last, receives some answers. I hope something can be salvaged from this confusing mess. What I hope most of all is that Hoofprints on the Heart Adaptive Riding Center can somehow be reborn so that Katie can once again ride Ahote.
Ahote, which means restless one in Navajo, is the horse that Katie rode last at HOTHARC. Of all the horses and ponies Katie rode over the years, I think he was her favorite, and for three years, she has asked me every week if she can ride Ahote. I cannot tell you how much I want this for my child who works so hard to speak and asks for so little. I want her to ride Ahote again. I, like so many parents and their disabled children, want the magic that was HOTHARC back.
Three years is a long time for anyone, let alone a child, to wait. I hope Katie’s wait is finally over and that the magic returns.
Until next time,