A Second Chance

In Features, Non-fiction, Uncategorized on December 8, 2014 at 10:21 pm

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Katie Murwick, shown here with her friend, an 11-year-old thoroughbred ex-race horse named Casanova.

Written by Alex Ashley

Katie Murwick was ankle-deep in a muddy field on the second of December, scattering bails of hay with an old red tractor, when we met.

A harras of horses encircles her, eagerly awaiting their next meal, some eating right out of the tractor’s loader bucket.

“You can walk up to any of these guys,” she said proudly. “None of them will bite, none of them will kick. They’re all a bunch of sweethearts.”

Murwick, 51, who has lived in Stanwood for a little over a year since moving from Yelm, is the owner of Second Chance Ranch, an independent, non-profit rescue organization that has its sights set on the rehabilitation, transition training and adoption of thoroughbred race horses that, for one reason or another – perhaps due to injury – have had to retire from their career on the racetrack.

“I’ve been doing this for 33 years,” she says, looking out over the field at a herd of now 38. “I used to have 50 horses.”

But it wasn’t long ago that Murwick decided, despite her fiery passion for equestrian rescue and rehabilitation, that it was time to follow suit.

“I’m retiring,” she said, “and Second Hand Ranch is closing.”

Founded in 1985, Second Chance became the Northwest’s only 501c3 rehabilitation and transitional facility devoted to thoroughbreds.

Murwick, who has spearheaded the organization’s work from the beginning, has received recognition for her work in many different forms, including an American Red Cross “Hero of the Year” Award in 2000, and a Special Achievement Award from the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association in 2008.

In 2011, she received the first Charlynn Taketa award from the Thoroughbred Exhibitor’s Association.

“I don’t know how she has done it,” said Amy Schilder, Murwick’s friend and colleague. Schilder, who holds several certifications related to her work in equine facilitated therapy – using her knowledge of horses to help troubled people learn new coping skills, make healthier life choices and overcome the effects of mental and emotional trauma.

“That many horses are a lot of work to take on all by yourself,” she said.

That’s why both Murwick and Schilder are excited to merge their efforts – Murwick’s goal to rehabilitate horses with Schilder’s efforts to use horses to rehabilitate people.

In the past, Second Chance Ranch has been more financially set, even operating a special fund of between $6,000 and $20,000 for horse owners in need of food and supplies. But now, donations are sparse and adoptions are few and far between.

As of late, both women share the concern that the current environment the horses are in – some muddy acreage just east of town – is stifling their ability to reach out to the community in a truly impactful way, even inhibiting prospective adopters from spending quality time with the horses, riding and getting to know them.

“If we can get a better property,” said Schilder, “we could offer so much more. Right now, for Katie, it’s all about just maintaining, and she doesn’t have a whole lot of time or energy left over to pursue her passion of taking this to the next level.”

Hopefully, that is about to change.

With the right circumstances, specifically a better piece of property, Murwick and Schilder will be using the horses to make a difference in the lives of people who could use a second chance themselves – individuals who are, in Schilder’s words “at risk of failing at life,” and need to learn how to self-adjust, or even those who are struggling to recover from a traumatic life event.

Murwick uses the horses’ innate feel for human emotion and behavior to teach people, young and old, skills they can take home with them through different activities. Then, using counseling-based processing, Schilder will often call in a certified third-party to facilitate growth and personal development through a counseling session.

“They’re the most social and loving creatures,” Murwick explains as she introduced me to a horse standing in the middle of the muddy field, patiently grazing.

As I turned my back to talk to Murwick, he rested his gigantic head on my left shoulder, and the more I scratched his muzzle, the more he buried his face into me, like a golden retriever that falls asleep as you pet him.

“His name is No Giveaway,” Murwick said, pointing out with a giant grin that I’d made a friend.

No Giveaway was owned by Herman Sarkowsky, the original owner and founder of the Seattle Seahawks, as well as owner of the Trailblazers and co-owner of the Sonics.

“A lot of people won a lot of money because of him,” she said, referencing No Giveaway’s career as a racehorse, having famously won the Long Acre Mile in 2005 from 20 lengths behind.

His odds were 60 to 1.

But then again, the odds were – are, actually – stacked against most of the horses who have, for one reason or another, found there way into the care Second Chance Ranch, much like many of the people Murwick hopes to help.

“There’s something that happens when you’re standing out in this field with them,” she said, “that becomes part of who you are.”

(This story appeared as a feature in the Stanwood-Camano News on December 9, 2014.)
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