By: Barbara S F Davis
Joyce Richman did not set out to become an iconic volunteer. But she is.
A former TV producer, she moved to Knoxville 18 years ago at the invitation of Home & Garden TV during the network’s start-up year.
As a volunteer, Richman responds to pain and distress most people prefer to not see. She speaks in a measured and elegant way that goes to the heart of the matter.
What motivates a media maven to volunteer for wounded animals and dying humans?
“Whew! First of all I stopped working, ’cause when I was working it was 60-70 hours a week. I only had time for errands and laundry on weekends. I’ve always loved animals. I’ve rescued cats my whole life, and my first dog 10 years ago. I could never work for a dog and cat rescue ’cause I’d want to take them all home, so I can’t go in those places.
“I’ve loved and been around horses all my life. As a kid we got to ride my dad’s horse, Murphy. I took riding lessons at 13.”
What do you think is the hardest breed to ride?
“I find them all challenging because it’s an effort, it’s isometric, and you have to be soft in the seat and strong in the legs. And with a straight back! People make it look effortless. Horses are herd animals and they follow the leader, so they follow you or you follow them.”
How many horses have been rescued at Horse Haven of Tennessee?
“It opened in 1999, founded by Nina Margetson –my hero– because she saw a need. So far we’ve rescued 697 horses. All of them would literally have died if not for Horse Haven of Tennessee. Horse Haven is a community hero, in my estimation.
“Horses in desperate need are confiscated by the County and sent to us, animals who absolutely require intervention if they’re to stay alive. They have been abused or starved to death. I never knew owners could abuse their animals so horribly, and it’s an indication of a person’s character to inflict such harm on an animal.
“People think that if you can put a horse in your backyard, that’s enough food. But it’s not. Horses require grain, hay, water; teeth and feet need care, they must be wormed. You just can’t put a horse in your back yard and expect it to live. It needs care. If you can’t care for it you shouldn’t have one.”
What happens to the horses that are too far gone?
“Some have to be euthanized, or they just die. If a horse is not adoptable, it will be euthanized because after we rehabilitate them, they are placed with people who can be depended on to give them good lives.”
It is intriguing, and admirable, that you also volunteer for Hospice. You seem to have quite a capacity for staying strong in the face of others’ pain.
“I don’t know exactly why I’m drawn to Hospice. I was reading through the Volunteers Needed section one day, and there was an ad for UT Hospice. They were offering a training and the idea resonated with me. I applied and went through training and became a ‘companion.’
What does a companion do?
“I don’t provide any medical services. I go and spend time with the dying person and provide much-needed time off for the caregiver.”
Is this volunteerism arduous or draining and depressing?
“You’d think it would be, but it’s not. In fact I’ve learned more through Hospice about human needs than anything I’ve ever done. I have tremendous admiration for caregivers, and admiration for the courage of the dying. When you’re dying, you have some disease that is playing itself out –usually cancer of some kind. You’ve agreed not to get more medical intervention with hopes of a cure, but have opted for palliative care however long the disease takes it course.”
Which is unlike the horses, who are on the verge of death from ill-treatment and have a chance to live. Do you have any specific clients who touched you?
“Yes. A particular woman dying from cancer had good and bad days, toward the end they were all pretty much bad days. It takes tremendous courage to know your days are clicking down. She still liked to play with jewelry and have a glass of wine and laugh. She wanted to unload some feelings about her family, too.
“It’s an honor to witness the person at their most vulnerable, all their defenses are down.
“I was there when an 82 year old man was saying goodbye to his wife as she was actively dying, tears flowing down his face. He wanted me to hold hands with them at that moment. Even their children weren’t part of that. I get to be with people at their most authentic.”
Humans can and frequently do wear masks, but your equine friends are their true selves all the time.
“That’s what I love about animals.”
How often do you go to Horse Haven? Do you get to ride horses?
“I go every Tuesday morning and for special events. I don’t ride the horses. The only volunteers who ride are the ones qualified to test the riding skills of the horse itself. I feed, administer medications, turn them out to pasture, bring them in, give them water, clean their stalls, groom them, hug them and kiss them.
“We make them well. We teach them to trust people again. We fall in love, and cry with sadness and happiness when they’re adopted out, because they’re all our pets until they’re adopted out.”
Have you had a favorite horse?
“There are many horses there I’ve fallen in love with. I can tell you the story of Winston. Big, tall, skinny black horse, so emaciated it wasn’t possible to tell if he was a gelding or a stud. He could barely carry his weight from barn to paddock. I didn’t think he’d make it—Nina did. He was still young, not yet a teenager.
“Over the course of seven or eight months, Winston grew into the most gorgeous stallion, 17 hands. He had to be put in a one-horse paddock as he got so full of himself in front of the mares and geldings, prancing, tossing his head. He knew he was beautiful big and strong.
“He was eventually adopted out as a pet and trail horse, and he’s happy and healthy.”
If it’s not prying, is Horse Haven in your will?
“Yes, in fact! They don’t know that, I guess they will now! Among other charities. I believe in Horse Haven of Tennessee’s work. As Nina says, 85-87% of all funds go directly to animal care and there are only three employees. Unlike some “charities,” the money goes into the horses mouths.”
Executive Director Nina Margetson graciously provided this profile of Horse Haven of Tennessee:
With only three paid staff, 85-87% of the $226,000 annual budget goes directly to horses and program. Hundreds of supporters keep our mission going, including 75-95 volunteers.
We average 125 horses per year and have been holding about 40-50 lately.
County officials confiscate and we transport. We provide medical and regular care at no cost to counties, maintaining them as evidence for the courts. We have a regular vet but if a horse requires more care than Dr. Gretchen Laws can provide, it goes to UT.
The number of euthanizations differs each year depending on calls and severity. In 2012 we had to euthanize three; this year seven.
Potential adopters read Adoption Policies and fill out applications online. We do a facility check before allowing adoptions.
We don’t have a set limit to spend per horse. Every case is assessed individually.
Nina Margetson stated, “The horses in Tennessee need someone to be their voice and try to help end their suffering which is why Horse Haven of Tennessee exists. We are making a difference, even though we have much further to go. As far as the future, we will go in what ever direction The Lord sends us and try to do the best job we can to help the horses in Tennessee.”
© Barbara S F Davis, 2013.