A Gallatin County ranch dedicated to helping female veterans and abused or neglected horses is among those hit hard by the coronavirus.
Serenity Ranch’s mission has been the same for years: help women veterans and other women who have faced abuse of their own and help these horses.
But thanks to COVID-19, they may be shutting their gates for good.
“Our program has the ability to really help so many more people,” says Lisa Ledoux, chief operating manager at Serenity Ranch near Belgrade.
That’s the thought on Ledoux’s mind, working alongside the horses of Serenity Ranch.
But the pandemic has found another nonprofit to not be kind to.
“Really our focus of our mission is on our horse rescue and taking care of the horses we have,” Ledoux says. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a drop-off on funding and donations.
Which means the worst - Serenity Ranch’s days might be numbered.
“Ultimately, we are just trying to make end’s meet here,” Ledoux says. “We’ve lost our income stream coming in and so we already have our property on the market and we are looking at downsizing smaller options.”
Ledoux and her mother, Susanne Carter, have held the reins of the nonprofit since 2017, the ranch itself for even longer: 15 years.
The sanctuary is not only for abused and neglected horses but women, both veterans and beyond.
“A lot of them have mentioned that as they’ve kind of come down our driveway, they just feel a sense of peace and serenity and we strive for that,” Ledoux says.
COVID-19 makes this year two for Serenity Ranch to go without summer programming.
We were there at the start, when record snow flattened the ranch’s show arena.
They never could rebuild.
“That happened over a year ago and as a result of that, because of that loss, we didn’t really do any female veteran programs last summer and then due to COVID, we are in the same boat this year,” Ledoux says.
Ledoux broke down some of the expenses, including large hay bales and other services.
“One of our bales of hay is between 700 and 800 pounds and that feeds our 41 horses for a day and a half, hence the cost of $120,” Ledoux says. “We would love to save this place and be able to stay but the other side of it is a lot of work. It’s a lot of upkeep and we can still manage to do everything we do on 30 acres.”
As for who has always operated the ranch, that comes down to just Ledoux and Carter.
“This is my mom and me,” Ledoux says. “My mom is 24-7 and she works her butt off for these horses and she works tirelessly and very hard at trying to keep them all healthy and well.”
But the horses aren’t going anywhere, something Ledoux wants to make clear.
“We are keeping all of our horses. We are afloat enough that our horses will remain fed,” Ledoux says. “All donations go to the horses. We do not get paid and we haven’t gotten paid since the start. This is selfless work that we do and it’s all of our time.”
And that is what the ranch needs.
Ledoux says the ranch normally saw around $10,000 in donations annually before - but now, help to women who served our country looks elsewhere.
A reality Ledoux hopes to continue, ranch or not.
“We are going to continue this wherever we go,” Ledoux says. “This isn’t going to stop. We are going to make sure that we help as many people as we possibly can and that’s forever.”
Ledoux says many of the veterans they helped were from across the country, another concern for possible virus spread.
“The mandatory quarantine, the 14-day quarantine is getting lifted June 1 but typically we fly veterans from all over the country and we are not going to expose ourselves or anybody else to other places currently,” Ledoux says. “We’ve just kind of succumbed to the fact that we are going to try to fundraise where we can and just take care of the horses and do local programs.”
She adds the best way to help is through donations, whether it be by hay bale, trimming hooves, fencing or monetary.
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