AFTON — At Hope’s Legacy Equine Rescue at Castle Rock Farm, a donkey named Donkey caught Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s eye Thursday.
“Donkey smiled at me,” the governor remarked before an award ceremony to recognize the Albemarle-based organization.
After a tour of the farm meeting Donkey and feeding a horse named Red rescued just last week, Youngkin and First Lady Suzanne Youngkin presented Hope’s Legacy with the third Spirit of Virginia Award, which recognizes “unique qualities and standout achievements across the Commonwealth.” Suzanne Youngkin created the award earlier this year.
“We wanted to prioritize all creatures great and small,” the First Lady said. “It is about serving the humans and all of the Virginians that live here, but we also were distinctly proud of the way Virginians serve the animals that they love.”
Hope’s Legacy is a non-profit organization that rescues all breeds of equines from abuse, abandonment, neglect, slaughter and owners who no longer can take care of them.
The rescue was launched in 2008 by founder and executive director Maya Proulx. The group moved seven times until it found a permanent home in 2017. Since then, it’s been located on Castle Rock Farm, where the rescue center currently operates 36 acres of fenced pasture, a hay barn, nine run-in sheds and a 2-stall medical barn. On Friday, Hope’s Legacy will rescue its 500th equine.
The Spirit of Virginia Award winner didn’t always have such an expansive operation.
“It’s been 14 years to get to this point,” Proulx said. “We started very slow. In the first year that we were in operation, we only took in one horse. In the second year, we took in three. This year we’ve taken in 54 so far. So to have reached this point, and then to get the recognition for all of the volunteers and the hard work that all of them have put into creating this, it’s just great.”
The organization has two full-time and two part-time employees along with over 80 volunteers. Those volunteers came out in full force for Thursday’s ceremony, making up about half of the 80 or so people in attendance.
“When you step back and you see what’s happening here, you have a chance to look at a horse that two weeks ago was in the direst circumstances,” said Gov. Youngkin at Thursday’s ceremony. “To see a family come around that horse, not just ‘horse-family’ but ‘family-family.’ It’s amazing.”
Meanwhile, Hope’s Legacy does more than save equines. Kyle Snow, a volunteer who spoke at the ceremony, said that Hope’s Legacy gave him a newfound purpose after serving in the military for 20 years.
“Hope’s legacy essentially saved my life the same way as we have saved so many equines throughout the years,” Snow said. “The emotional roller coaster, the mental distress that you have from walking away from it [previous job] is harder than anyone can ever explain, but each day I come here and I find therapy with these animals that is unmatched.”
Hope’s Legacy joins the ranks of this year’s other Spirit of Virginia Award winners, the National Center for Healthy Veterans and Jill’s House. Every Spirit of Virginia Award winner was given a glass bowl and an invitation to Richmond for an end-of-the-year celebratory engagement. The fourth winner will be announced in August.