Mini-donkeys and donuts. What more could a girl ask for?
If that combo is the butter to your toast, you’re in luck. “Cowboy Heaven: A Miniature Horse Safe Haven,” a Belgrade animal rescue nonprofit specializing in miniature equines is holding a fundraiser Saturday Aug. 6 at Belgrade’s Rocky Mountain Supply from 9 a.m. to noon.
They’re bringing along a couple of the “Stars of the Show”, Miss Donk, a mini-donkey and Little Man, a dwarf mini-horse.
“We’re bringing the ones that love attention,” said Brenda York, executive director, “who like having their picture taken.”
And yes, kids — and adults — can have their photos taken Saturday with these Cowboy Heaven stars.
“Just wear the right kinds of shoes,” she suggested. “Not sandals. These guys like to crawl all over you.”
The current 2022 Mrs. Montana Katelyn Knebel, who is NOT a mini-horse, but who does have a few of her own, will also be at Rocky Mountain Saturday.
“Cowboy Heaven” started out as a mini-horse safe haven, York explained. “Yes, we’re a rescue. We are primarily there to rescue, not to adopt (out). We like to use the term ‘safe haven’ to emphasize that this is a quiet, safe place.”
As anyone in the animal rescue business knows, it’s a need that never goes away, with rescue operations taking on a life of their own.
“We have nine mini-horses, and two mini-donkeys,” York said. “And we just got two potbellied pigs from Helena, just because they needed a home.
“And 11 Nigerian Dwarf Goats, most of them from a woman in Hamilton who wants to make sure they have a good home. We call them ‘The Goat Mafia’ because they travel in a pack. And they bounce all over the place. And the stallion.”
You can see that the heart of the executive director of this mini-equine rescue is flexible regarding the term “mini-equine,” when it comes to giving needy animals a home.
How does one find one’s self running a mini-horse and donkey rescue?
“I’ve always had horses,” explained York, who retired in 2017 as the Director of MSU’s Disability and Veterans’ Services. “And I’ve been on the board of the Montana Horse Sanctuary for years. And a lady called from Billings and she knew of a mini that needed help ...”
York is a Gallatin Gateway native who has bounced between Gateway and Belgrade her whole life.
Equines plus need usually equals a non profit. York just finished the paperwork to make Cowboy Heaven an official 501 ©3, “because we just kept getting calls for help.”
Many of the minis came to them severely abused. York recounts one rescue covered with whip scars, another one who had been used as a roping dummy before she was rescued.
“The story was she had been run over,” York said. “And she had horrible feet; she’d even been used as a roping dummy, by her previous owner. She’s the sweetest; we call her Miss Donk. She waits for someone to get up in the morning and starts braying to be fed.”
Most of the animals they’ve ended up with have been owner surrenders, she added.
“When you are doing rescues, you tend not to be contentious. We’re here for the animals. To make them safe,” said York. “Even when people think they mean well, “They forget that minis are really horses. They overfeed them, give them sugar.”
Minis have their own breed standards, with a mini horse being no more than 36” tall; a mini-donkey, 38” tall.
This started a few years ago with a call “from a woman in Billings. She wanted to know if I could take care of a couple of minis. So Mini and Whiney were the first two minis I got. We joke that Mini is Whiney’s ‘service animal.’ They are inseparable. Whiney has a vet appointment; they both go.”
Then there’s Olaf the donkey, a BLM wild burro. Little Man, “who’s an ankle biter,” Zippy the mini horse.
“We’ve had her for six years. Milo and Alvin and a third goat, currently nameless. Maybe we need a contest to name that goat,” York said.
“This is a second job,” York added. “We all work so we can put our own money back into this.’”
When Rocky Mountain Supply heard what she was trying to do, “they called, and came out and did a video of us. They’ve been awesome. They’re doing a big fund raiser for us. You can donate in the store; you can donate electronically.’
Where did the name come from? York said there was a sign in Big Sky that said “Cowboy heaven” that she and her brother would pass all the time. He eventually ended up with the sign, gave it to her, at the same time that a mini named Cowboy died.
“It was meant to be. Cowboy Heaven. This is a safe haven,” said York.
Many of these animals have been severely abused, and it’s too stressful for them to deal with strangers. It’s possible to visit Cowboy Heaven., but only by appointment, York maintained.
York is managing all this on her own two acres.
“If we had 40 to 100 acres we could do more,” she said. “But, we make do. We’re making it work. We’re looking for more land, and we’d like to find something out here.
“Last night I was sitting outside watching them and they’re so happy. ‘Helping the wee ones.’ That’s what we’re doing.”