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Feb 6th, 2006 - 14:17:15 


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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Saga of Big Oak Stables

"Who is this beautiful blond? I must meet him."

By Lois Barton

Posted on Jan 5, 2006

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"Becky and Tika the Horse," photo by Susan Thomas. Tika, now 19 years old, was Becky's first rescue horse.

A short distance from Molalla in Clackamas County, Oregon, is a unique non-profit horse facility that offers an arena for 4H equestrian clubs, riding lessons for needy children, healing and a new life for horses otherwise headed to slaughter for dog food or foreign consumption, pasture rent to neighborhood mounts and much more.

All this started with Becky Goodwater. "I've loved horses all my life," she says. " My baby-sitter put me on a horse to get me to take a nap when I was two or three years old. She'd throw me up on a horse and I'd fall asleep. She said at first she was kind of worried, but after while she'd go about her business and come back in a couple of hours. I was still on the horse just sleeping away."

As a child Becky became aware that some horses were not well cared for. She learned of one that needed help when she was about eight and would walk miles to give it a break from crowded pasture by riding it in open places and occasionally bringing one home to graze in their pasture during the spring and summer months. Something in her gradually helped her understand that she had a "special way" with horses."

Grown-up Becky (with a job earning money) began to go to slaughter auctions to buy one of the horses headed for dog food. She'd feed and care for the one horse until it was in prime shape and then sell it to a good home and use the money from the sale to buy another one.

Becky had access to pasture near the Clackamas County Community College in Oregon City. The 25th horse she'd purchased from the auction was a large palomino named Big Joe Blaze who was kept in that pasture. He was thin and looked like he needed a lot of recovery care, but he had a winning personality which attracted the attention (and treats!) from passers-by on the walking path around the community college.

Sha talking to Lois Barton, photo by Susan Thomas
One such passer-by was a horseless woman named Sha. When she first spotted Big Joe Blaze she left a note on the pasture gate for the horse's owner asking, "Who is this beautiful blond? I must meet him." The upshot of that communication was that Sha bought Big Joe and had a barn built and pasture fenced for him at her home in Oregon City.

Meanwhile, Becky's job became very stressful and she finally lost it. A few days later she was driving a country road near Molalla to visit her girlfriend and spotted an abandoned farm with a "For Sale" sign in front. It looked promising with a big barn and outbuildings. She wandered around the property realizing she and her husband could never afford it, but dreaming about it was fun. But the idea grew in her mind. When Becky's husband came to look he was pleased with the layout saying the place felt like home. Becky then told Sha about the place, not thinking anything would come of it, but remembering how Sha had again told her it was time for her to take up her real vocation working with children and horses instead of hiding out with some meaningless employment.

Sha went out about dark on a Sunday night and picked up Becky. Together they looked over the place by flashlight. Sha, who was deeply into environmental concerns, was impressed that the wiring and water systems were all underground and the 16 acres was cross fenced. The best part of it was that big oak tree out front still had an old swing hanging from one of its branches. The next day Sha took her business manager Mike to look, asking him to talk her out of buying the place.

Instead of talking her out of it, as soon as they were back in the car Michael was on the phone to his realtor, was showing her comparable acreage, pointing out urban growth questions, talking to the bank in whose hands the property had been placed after a bankruptcy proceeding.

That night Sha told Becky that she'd made an offer on the sixteen-acre horse farm and they'd know in three days if it was accepted and there would be a lot of work to do. The place was all overgrown and ratty looking. It was really run down. The stalls were deep in manure and the pasture was waist high in weeds from being overgrazed and not cared for properly. The house needed a new roof. There were no stall fronts in the big barn. All the gates were missing. The house had no heat source and the gutters needed major repair and were "growing hay." They were at the point of establishing Becky's real work. Sha explained to Becky, "You have made a real impact on my life with that big palomino. I know your best work is with horses and I want you to be able to reach out to other people and to give you the vehicle to do it."

Becky, Sha and Bill Barton, a contractor, now had this new enterprise to deal with. Since Sha, Michael and her friend Bill had just completed building a barn for Big Joe Blaze she knew that between them they could easily make all the repairs necessary to bring the stables back to life.

Becky could and would do horses. Sha, with a keen interest in environmental issues, sought the right way to proceed involving area officials in the work. Sha had observed that Bill could do and build any thing and counted on him to bring the buildings up to standard. Bill moved into the farmhouse on the place and began the work of rehabilitation. Bill was at work cleaning the barn and repairing things and was making progress but slowly. Sha decided to give a party to get things moving. They invited neighbors, relatives, newspapers, politicians, government officials, mayors of area cities and everyone else they could think of. Two newspaper articles have appeared in local papers describing their goal of working with rescue horses, disadvantaged children and the environmental issues involved. The Valentines Day opening of Big Oak Stables was a huge success.

Rick Gruen with the Clackamas County Soil and Conservation district helped visualize necessary steps for success. He described the tripod elements of a sustainable business: 1. an economic base, 2. environmentally sustainable living base, and 3. community outreach. Jeffrey Kee from the Soil and Conservation District talked about environmental problems with horse manure. It is rich in nitrogen which leaches into the soil when exposed to rain, polluting both the soil and groundwater for some distance around. He said there are 9000 horses in Clackamas County, dropping 32,000 tons of manure annually. Big Oak Stables has developed plans to compost the manure under cover when the covered area is completed.

They applied for and received a $9000 cost-sharing grant to help build a mud-abatement, winter time "loafing" area where the horses could be outside without creating mud underfoot. With Rick Gruen's help, a special footing was developed for the area using concrete honeycomb blocks filled with gravel and topped by a layer of sand. Later Sha received a blue ribbon award as a "cooperator of the year" from the Conservation Partners of Merit Program of the Clackamas County Soil and Conservation Department

The interest in possibilities here prompted the Clackamas County Government Channel to make a video of Big Oak Stables. The Story of Big Oak Stables became a "hit" on the Government Channel. The video tells the story of how Becky, Sha and Bill met because of Big Joe Blaze. The video tells of Becky's work with rescue horses and disadvantaged children and Bill's commitment to providing a safe and functional place for kids to "be", and Sha's commitment to employing environmentally sustainable practices. It also depicted pasture management techniques that prevent winter damage from mud. There are many scenes of children enjoying the horses This video is available from Clackamas County Government Channel, or Becky Jo Goodwater, 11261 Toliver Rd., Molalla, OR 97403.

Sha sees this as an investment where she has been able to work with county officials to create an environmental demonstration of value. In a year and a half Becky, Sha and Bill had a program going, and non-profit status established. There is now a local Board of Directors to oversee the work

When the building repairs and creation of the mud-abatement area were completed, Bill the contractor moved on to other work. Becky and her husband moved into the farmhouse where she could be on-site to supervise her work and look after the horses. Becky is now the manager of Big Oak Stables and leases it from Sha.

So far Becky has rescued 50 horses. She boards horses, and trains horses. There is a horse camp for youngsters. The 4H equestrian club uses the arena for their meetings. A middle-aged couple who recently became horse enthusiasts, established an anonymous fund to pay for riding lessons for a deserving child. Under the non-profit arrangement, low income children are invited to learn to care for and ride horses, a valuable bonding experience.

Becky tells of a seriously depressed boy who wouldn't talk. His head hung. He had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). His parents moved to the country and promised to get him a horse. (He'd had a pony earlier that he didn't know how to handle. It threw him every time he got on.) Lessons with Becky enabled him to come out of himself. He joined the equestrian club at school and won awards and even made it to the state Oregon High School Equestrian Teams (OHSET) competitions. "He is making the change from a very low self-esteem to a comfortable leader. He has learned to make decisions with confidence," Becky said.

She has another story about a girl whose family was into drugs. She had a half-brother in foster care. It was the brother's foster father who brought the girl to Becky, saying she needs something more than that home life. She connected right away with a newly rescued horse named Troni. Their lives paralleled greatly. She is learning many valuable life lessons, helping Troni help her. They are growing and healing together.

An eight year old girl, hiding behind her mother, is given a riding sponsorship. At school, all the kids picked on her because of her low self esteem. Now, 1 year later, she rides Danni, the biggest horse at Big Oak, and giggles as she tells all, "I'm the fastest girl on the playground! This boy thought he could beat me, so I ran and just won!" Her mother reports she is doing very well in school, and enjoys telling about her riding and horse camp experiences.

A six year old girl, living in an ever-changing single parent home, received the first sponsorship when she was 4. Her great love of horses is helping her to stay afloat in the rough waters she lives in. Her aunts make sure she gets to her lesson weekly, and report she "lives" for her horse time. She is learning to love and care for another living being, and is gaining confidence, leadership and quiet yet firm ways to set boundaries. Her favorite mount is a 24 year old BLM mustang named Rosie. What a team!!

The many stories are heartwarming.

A final note enriches the role of the Big Oak Stables area as a learning center for much of the past century. One day an older man drove in and talked to Bill. He had with him a piece of an old newspaper showing the new Bear Creek School house built about 1906 that stood next to that big oak tree. Gale Schultz said his father and he both attended that school. He had actually broken his arm while he was a student there by falling out of the swing that hung from that tree.

From a one room school house of the 19th century to a community organization demonstrating viable alternatives in horse care, Big Oak Stables is a shining example of what can be accomplished when folks put their minds to it.

Copyright ©2006 by Lois Barton

Writer and historian
Lois Barton

Lois Barton is an 86 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.

Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

Follow the links of the Voices of Spencer Creek for the most recent articles by Lois Barton, including:

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Fishy Story

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Different Peace

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Hal and the Mountain

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Rogue River Adventure

Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Obituary for a Country Cat

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Cortesia Sanctuary

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Tree and Me and Lady Slippers

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Cranberries

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Endurance Riding

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Butterflies and Community Development

and The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Last Gift.

See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By online magazine's archives:

Visit the Heron Rookery

Sauerkraut and All That

Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?

The Midwife–The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.

The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.

Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

© Copyright 2000-2004 by West By

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