Dan and Gloria Timmons were living in suburban splendor with their two daughters and two dogs when Mariposa and Montez joined the family and drastically changed the next chapter of their lives.
“We had begun searching for horses to buy for our daughters and the cost of horses was staggering. Through my research, I happened upon a horse rescue organization. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me there would be organizations seeking homes for horses just as there are for dogs and cats,” says Gloria.
Gloria is a career human resources professional who worked at CU Boulder for over 20 years before retiring in 2014. The process of spending time with and then adopting horses for their daughters was highly educational and awakened Gloria’s passion for rescuing these amazing animals. “Our experiences finding Montez and Mariposa opened our eyes to the world of horse rescue and the many horses in need of safe and loving homes. It also led us to the knowledge that hundreds and thousands of horses are being sent to slaughter every year. Many people don’t realize this. We certainly had no idea,” says Gloria.
Mariposa was found abandoned in a field, in the middle of nowhere, tied to a tree with multiple ropes. Thankfully someone discovered Mariposa and brought her to Colorado Horse Rescue where the Timmons happily found her. “Despite having trust issues, unsurprisingly given the way she was left, she is a sassy, strong and loving horse,” says Dan.
Another rescue organization purchased Montez at auction. Considered an old man at 16, Montez is believed to have been a ranch horse and was showing signs of wear with popping joints and creaking bones. “Gorgeous boy that he is, he could easily have found himself on a truck bound for slaughter. Instead, we happened to walk into the rescue looking for a horse just a couple of days after the rescue had purchased him. Montez is a gentle giant who loves to go fast but will take it slow for our daughter. We are so grateful that rescue organizations saved our horses and, as a result, we were able to bring them into our lives,” says Dan.
Dan is a Navy veteran whose career has been in information technology with an emphasis on supporting scientific research communities. He currently serves as the IT Director for BioFrontiers Institute at CU Boulder. Dan is a fierce advocate for veterans, on a mission to find a way to better help this community. In early 2016, the Timmons’ daughters approached them with the idea of trading in the suburban dream for a horse property. They longed for daily interactions with their horses and sought an opportunity to relieve the stress and anxiety of a busy, suburban life.
Allegiance Ranch and Equine Rescue was born out of love for rescue horses and a desire to honor our country's veterans. “Our mission is to help horses and heroes by offering a safe place for healing, developing a sense of purpose, and establishing meaningful connections between horses and humans,” says Gloria.
The mission of the organization allows Dan, Gloria and their daughters to fulfill their passions for horses and veterans through this beautifully overlapping project. On the one hand, they can help animals in need. “Our goal is to rescue horses before they end up in the slaughter pipeline. We want to help horse owners who may need short-term assistance and those who can no longer care for their horses. We want to bring in horses in need and provide training, rehabilitation and find new homes or use them as therapy horses. If we don’t reach horse owners in need early enough, we’ll intercept horses at auction before they end up in the slaughter pipeline,” says Gloria.
On the other hand, they have the opportunity to support veterans and their families. “Horses and heroes need a safe place for healing, a sense of purpose and meaningful connections. Equine-assisted learning and therapy is an effective and impactful tool for veterans and first responders struggling with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries,” says Dan.
The Timmons’ ranch is open to local veterans and their families who are invited to spend time with the horses. Anusha Roy from 9News recently visited Allegiance Ranch and aired a news story about their “first veteran visitor”, Cory Hixson, before they even moved onto the property. Cory’s journey with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury led to several changes in medication that resulted in his disappearing from his family and eventually seeking refuge inside the Timmons’ barn. This coincidence ultimately served as the validation the Timmons family needed to solidify their plans to offer services for veterans struggling after having served in the Armed Forces. It was clear to them that the country’s veterans needed a safe landing upon returning from service now more than ever.
Currently, four veterans regularly visit and spend time at the ranch, and their families find solace at the ranch as well. In the near future, Allegiance Ranch and Equine Rescue’s facility will partner with equine-assisted therapy practitioners using models such as Eagala and Path International. The goal is to have two groups of veterans participating in 5-week sessions with equine-assisted learning instructors and/or therapists. For now, the regular visitors are finding purpose and comfort in the relationships they are building with the horses.
As one veteran said, “the sense of trust you have to have with a horse...it allows me to prioritize things and clear my mind.” Another veteran says of her veteran spouse, “I haven't seen my husband so happy in such a long time - he loves being able to go out and connect with the horses. There's just something about spending time with them that lights up my city slicker!”
The relationships between the veterans and horses have been so impactful that Dan wondered what biological factors might be changing as a result of equine therapy. He recently approached his colleague at the BioFrontiers Institute, Associate Professor Robin Dowell, about the idea of looking at how equine therapy affects veterans at a molecular level. The overarching goals of the project are to understand better the genetic-level markers that change in response to equine or other veteran therapy models and to use this new information to inform more targeted therapies for veterans.
“We know there is some overlap in the markers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and asthma as well as Alzheimer’s. Inflammation and the stress response also plays a role. We have the tools to look more deeply at the physiological responses veterans have to these therapies,” says Robin. “We can look at veterans who are responding well to therapy, by equine therapists’ evaluations as well as self-evaluations, and identify the markers that correspond with that change.”
Dan hopes that in the future, the knowledge gained from this project could help us better understand the physiological impacts of equine therapy, to be able to compare equine therapy to other therapy models, and to one day have the tools to better match veterans with the best possible therapy model for their profile. “It would be great to use this information to say that an individual veteran is a good candidate for a specific therapy - be it psychotherapy, art therapy, DE-CRUIT, or equine therapy,” says Dan. BioFrontiers colleagues Robin and Dan are currently writing a grant proposal to fund this exciting research project.
“At the end of the day, I want to apply pressure on the public to pay attention to the fact that many of our veterans are struggling. We need to do more to keep these veteran families together and to build better support systems,” says Dan. The Timmons’ goal is to provide a safe place for veterans, their families, and health professionals to participate in equine therapy while simultaneously raising awareness and garnering more support for veterans and their families.
Montez and Mariposa inspired this exciting and meaningful new chapter in the Timmons’ lives. The once suburban family of four with two dogs now calls this almost 5-acre ranch home. The family has grown considerably and now includes the 2 original dogs, 9 rescue horses, 2 miniature donkeys, 12 chickens, 4 goats, and a stray cat who showed up on a cold winter’s night.
If you are interested in learning more about Allegiance Ranch and Equine Rescue, they will be hosting an Open House and Family Fun Day on June 10th from 12:00 to 4:00 pm. Guests can tour the ranch, meet the rescue horses, and learn about the Timmons' vision for helping horses and heroes. There will be food, games, pony rides, opportunities to pet goats and donkeys, live music with members of The Sweet Lillies and a silent auction. Free tickets are available through Eventbrite. All proceeds will be used for the direct care of horses and development of veteran programs and services.
You can also help support Allegiance Ranch and Equine Rescue by visiting here.