Heaven on Earth

Nalani Horse Rescue

Story and photos by Lindsay Hogeboom

“I was always obsessed with horses,” says Cherry Tapley, founder of Nalani Horse Rescue in Broad Run, Virginia. “My whole life, I was always that person that would drive by a field and be like, ‘horse!’” Despite her great affection for horses, Tapley rarely had the opportunity to interact with these animals until the age of 42 when she received a gift certificate for riding lessons. “I was like, ‘oh, aren’t I too old for this?’,” she says, “but I started taking lessons and was hooked.”

From that moment on, when Tapley wasn’t riding she was spending her time researching all things horse related. “That’s when I came across the Equine Rescue League in Leesburg,” she says. “I just had no idea that [horse rescues were] even a thing. I thought that horses were luxury [and] well taken care of. I was shocked and just haunted by it, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I just knew that I had to do something.” 

Tapley dreamed of having her own rescue, but having relatively little experience with horses, she didn’t imagine that was a possibility. “So, I thought of all these [other] ideas,” she says, “like, maybe I could convince a vineyard to bottle a wine and the profits could go to the Equine Rescue League so that they can help the horses, because it’s not something that I could ever do….[But] I just kept hitting walls.”

Meanwhile, Tapley continued to ride, research and learn. “[I was] volunteering my time, at least five days a week, to care for horses all day long,” she says. “It was [about] 14 horses that I was bringing in every day, blanketing, feeding, doing the stalls…just to get that experience.”

After some time and with some experience under her belt, the pieces began to fall into place and Tapley decided she was ready to try running her own rescue. “And that’s when I went and rescued Teddy,” she says.

Tapley describes Teddy as a kind and curious horse with a friendly disposition. “He gets along with everyone,” she says, whether human or horse. Being the first rescue horse at Nalani, Teddy set the standard for the types of horses Tapley intended on taking in — those that were generally healthy, both physically and mentally, and just needed a bit of love and care before finding a permanent home. “The original plan was that [I wasn’t going to] rescue starved and abused horses, but horses like Teddy that we [could] adopt out quickly,” she says.

Then Tapley’s accident happened.

One fall day, as Tapley was riding with her trainer, the wind picked up a plastic bag and shot it into the air, spooking both of their horses who proceeded to throw Tapley and her trainer to the ground. “In the split second that I lay there, her horse spun around and ran across me, stepping right on my sternum,” Tapley explains in an interview with Tales and Ales. This left Tapley with a collapsed lung, multiple broken ribs, fractured vertebrae, and a severe concussion.

Tapley was rushed to the Inova Trauma Center in Fairfax where she was treated and monitored for the following days. After recovering and returning home, Tapley also returned to Nalani where Teddy was waiting. A few months later, she put on a safety vest and went riding with Teddy. “I knew that what had happened then was that horse had actually rescued me,” Tapley says in the Tales and Ales interview. “That changed everything. I didn’t want to avoid the hard things anymore.”

“I went to the auction right after that and rescued Lincoln…and then I felt like, ‘Wow, I’m really doing real rescue now,’” says Tapley. Lincoln was not an “easy” rescue, as Tapley had originally planned to take in, but rather was in severe condition. Having been beaten and starved, Lincoln suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and struggled with anxiety, making it difficult to earn his trust. After spending some time with Lincoln, Tapley decided, “the last thing this horse needs is to work at all, period. He just needs to retire….He’s just had a horrible life, so we decided to [create] a sanctuary piece [of the nonprofit], and he was the first horse we’ve given sanctuary to.” Today, Lincoln is thriving at Nalani. “His whole personality has come out…and he has a lot of spirit,” says Tapley.

To date, Tapley has rescued 13 horses at Nalani. “During this whole experience I’ve just had to learn every step of the way — every little piece of horse care, including pasture management, fixing fences, mowing,” she says. “I can even give vaccinations now.” After four years of running the rescue, Tapley says she is now feeling confident. “It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she says, “and I’m [finally] at a place where I feel like we’ve kind of settled in.”

When asked about the future of Nalani, Tapley expresses that she would eventually like to expand to offer equine therapy through the rescue. “I’ve thought [about] the way the horses have helped me through [my accident] and I was like, ‘Let’s take this to the next level,’ because I really want to use these horses to help people…whether it’s people with PTSD, depression, [or] anxiety,” she says.

Beyond the rescue, Tapley hopes that people take an even larger lesson from her story: “It is never too late,” she says. “If I could do this — start in my 40s and build this from nothing — then anyone can do anything.”


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