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Horses in jeopardy find new lease on life, thanks to ex-media executive

July 23, 2008

CAVE CREEK – There was a time when the first thing Jim Gath did when he got to work every day 6:30 a.m. was look at the prior day’s revenue figures.

VentureNow, the first thing he does every morning is walk around Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary and make sure the 29 horses living there have spent a comfortable, quiet night. He tosses a little hay to a few of them – his day beginning at 3 a.m., 365 days a year.

Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary in Cave Creek is one of hundreds of sanctuaries and rescue ranches that have sprung up in recent years to accommodate the thousands of American horses who have nowhere else to live. For many more unfortunate horses, the alternative has been a horrible ride to certain death at a meat-packing plant. Since the last U.S. horsemeat-packing plant has been closed, this often means being shipped to Mexico or Canada to face the terrible death seen in the recent HBO special on horse slaughter.

“I decided a few years ago I wasn’t really happy in the corporate world. There was no fulfillment,” says Gath. “I grew up around horses and remembered those as the best times in my life. So I went back to the beginning and started over. I figured horses made me happy as a kid. Maybe I could make them happy as an adult.”

The result is Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary – a ‘forever home’ to nearly thirty previously unwanted, neglected, injured or abused horses. Ex-racehorses, ex-show horses, ex-rodeo horses, ex-ranch horses, ex-trail horses – horses of all sizes and breeds have found their way to Tierra Madre. The one thing they all have in common is that they had nowhere else to go and are now living out their lives in a happy, healthy, loving home.

“We have a lot of ex-racehorses here”, says Gath. “Once they’ve been injured too badly to race anymore, their lives are in real jeopardy. The killer-buyers pay by the pound and Thoroughbreds are big. And, with nearly 40,000 born every year, there are far more horses than there are homes for them all. Eleven of them have found their way here. They’ve found their way home.”

Take M’Stor, for example. M’Stor suffered a broken kneecap, called a “slab fracture,” during a race at Phoenix’ Turf Paradise. The choices were to find him a home where he could receive the medical care and rehabilitation he needed or be sent to slaughter. With a single phone call, he was welcomed to Tierra Madre with open arms.

“M’Stor was only three years old, with his entire life ahead of him,” says Gath. “When he limped off the trailer I said, ‘Dude, you’re home for good.’” Eighteen months and several thousand dollars later, M’Stor is fully recovered and the picture of good health. “Every evening, I go in to see him and we stand there, him resting his head on my shoulder, my arms around his neck, both thanking the universe for bringing us together.”

Gath was in the media business for nearly two decades and was one of the founders of USA Today. “A tremendously exciting time in my life,” he says. “I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.” Does he read the newspaper now? “Sometimes. It’s still a part of me. But it’s not the same.”

He spent a stint at Turner Broadcasting, where he developed the marketing platform for the 1998 Goodwill Games. He’s produced college football bowl games, major festivals and concerts. He’s published magazines and newspapers.

“None of that compares to bringing a horse all the way back from a devastating injury or watching a field full of horses romping around like a bunch of school kids or just standing quietly, sharing secrets only the two of us know,” says Gath.

His biggest challenge? “That’s easy,” he says quickly. “Keeping enough money coming in to pay for hay and veterinarian bills and a hundred other odds and ends that crop up daily.”

Tierra Madre is a non-profit organization – it has a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS – and must depend on donations and contributions to raise funds.

“I’m confident, though,” says Gath. “Horses hold a special place in the collective soul of America. Just look at the hundreds of thousands of people who are fighting for an absolute end to horse slaughter. It’s only logical that those same people – and more – will find it in their hearts to ensure that the horses are treated with care and love and dignity. People will come through for the horses.”

And then Gath is off to wrap another leg, dole out some more medicine, throw out some more hay, scratch another neck. “I wouldn’t trade this for the world,” he says.

For more information on Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary visit their website at

Courtesy Photo: Venture and Jericho at Tierra Madre