Since she was a little girl, Rachel McAuley has always loved horses. Having grown up in Hendersonville, she has vivid memories of when the city had many acres of beautiful pasture land holding stables filled with beautiful horses.
She began pleading with her parents to buy her a horse. For years, she always received the same answer: “No, they are just too expensive.” Her best friend Nicole was asking her parents the same question and receiving the same answer.
However, around her 13th birthday, Rachel's situation changed. Unbeknown to her and Nicole, their parents had gotten together and worked out an arrangement to jointly purchase a horse and then share the ongoing care expenses. Since their birthdays were close together, they found out about their upcoming gift at the same time.
"On our birthdays, we opened our presents and discovered that we each had been given an apple and some hay. At that time, we realized that we were finally going to get a horse," Rachel says. "Shortly thereafter, our parents took us to an auction to pick out our horse, Jake, a quarter-walker gelding.”
Over the years, the sharing arrangement worked out well for both the girls and the horse.
"We found out that having two owners was good for Jake in that we were able to give him twice the love, care and attention," Rachel says.
Despite many good years, Rachel and Nicole eventually sold their horse to new owners as they prepared to head off to college.
"Although it saddened us to give up Jake, we knew that it was the right thing to do," Rachel says. "We would not have had the time to take care of him the way that he deserved.”
Many years, a husband and three kids later, Rachel felt the calling for another horse. She finally got a new horse, Doc, in part to serve as a companion for her then 2-year-old special needs daughter, Mary.
“I wanted Mary to enjoy the company of a horse. Even though she couldn’t ride Doc, he could still be her friend. Eventually, we purchased carts so that Doc could pull Mary around in her wheelchair."
As Rachel's love of horses grew, she became aware of the growing problem of animal abandonment and mistreatment across Middle Tennessee. One of her friends, Peg Petreli, was actively involved with several groups that worked to rescue and find new homes for animals in distress.
“I knew that she was involved with rescuing lots of animals, and I felt the calling to help," she says. "I told her to please call me when she needed help on a rescue and I would come."
About seven years ago, Rachel finally received a call from Peg asking her to volunteer for some rescues.
“First, it was a dog rescue in Gallatin. Then, we did a bird rescue in Portland. Although I had never been around birds, the sad condition of the birds really got to me. I now have compassion for all kinds of animals," Rachel says.
Over time, Rachel realized that while she would help with all kinds of rescues, she was drawn to situations involving larger animals, particularly horses.
“I always try to connect to horses emotionally, with heart, with love, with care, with snuggles and with treats," she says.
Five years ago, Rachel became involved with a Gallatin-based rescue nonprofit agency called Volunteer Equine Advocates. This organization is made up of volunteers who have rescued hundreds of abandoned or abused horses during its 15-year existence. Recently rebranded as “A New Day,” the agency’s tagline is “Reclaim, Redeem, Rehome.” Shortly after beginning to work with the group, Rachel decided to commit herself to combatting horse abandonment and abuse.
Through the agency, Rachel soon discovered that she was drawn to one particular horse, an abandoned Arabian.
“At first, he wouldn’t come to me, and he was very feisty. However, somehow we connected. He would follow me and come to me. All of my interactions with him were fun and games," she says.
Eventually, she adopted the horse and named him White Beauty.
As her relationship with White Beauty grew, Rachel learned a powerful lesson. She discovered that even though she couldn’t ride White Beauty, she didn’t miss it at all.
“To me, horses are companions. I am perfectly fine loving a horse, caring for a horse and being on the ground while doing it."
Today, Rachel has three rescue horses: Saint, Country and Liza. Saint and Liza are both quarter horses while Country is a paint/quarter mix. Rachel nursed all three of them back to health, and they happily reside on a farm in Hendersonville.
As time has gone on, Rachel has realized that horse rescue work is never-ending. From freeing distressed horses and caring for them, to finding them new homes, the need for rescue services far outweighs the available volunteer and financial resources. Despite the obstacles, Rachel and her fellow volunteers are determined to keep on waging the war against equine abuse.
"Rescue is very rewarding in the end," she says. "When someone comes to pick out and take a recovered horse home, you know that your job is done.”