NEW YORK — Tinia Creamer never wanted to start a nonprofit organization, but had she known her idea would grow into one of the primary equine rescue operations in the country over the next decade, it would have made that decision significantly less intimidating.

“I really didn’t want to start a nonprofit because it sounded like a lot of work and a long, hard road,” the Shoals, West Virginia, native said. “There was nothing like this in our area, and at face value it seemed like it would be difficult to get to a point where we could make a community and state care about horses.”

In 2011, Creamer founded Heart of Phoenix (HOP), which operates in four states as one of the largest equine rescues in Appalachia. In eight years, the organization has saved the lives of more than 500 horses throughout the region.

Her efforts earned recognition from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and Creamer was the recipient of the 2019 Equine Welfare Award at the annual Humane Awards Luncheon in New York City on Thursday.

Focusing on rescue, rehabilitation and equine law enforcement training, HOP has developed innovative methods to increase equine adoption and improve the welfare of at-risk equines in an otherwise severely under-resourced area.

“For courageously committing herself to the needs of vulnerable and victimized equines in under-served communities, Tinia Creamer is recipient of the 2019 ASPCA Equine Welfare Award,” the organization stated in a release.

When an equine enters the care of HOP, it’s moved to Mulligan Farm in Cabell County, where each animal is given necessary care and rehab. Once they are stabilized, they are moved to foster homes.

“That’s a space where we can hold up to 35-40 horses at a time,” said Creamer. “At any given time there can be as many as 80 horses under our care, and we rely on foster homes for those once they are stabilized and until they are adopted.”

But how great of a need is an equine rescue operation in Appalachia? Bigger than one might think.

“We serve not only this entire area, but the entire state and can hold up to 80 horses. It’s a huge need for this region, and ideally we’d be able to care for 300 or 400 horses instead of 80,” Creamer said. “It’s an overwhelming need that we’ve been able to fill as much as one organization can.”

But HOP hasn’t just succeeded. In many ways they are setting the standard of equine care and rehabilitation across the country.

“Now we’re one of the leading advocates in the nation. We set the precedent and protocol that other organizations throughout the United States abide by,” Creamer said.

Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue has blossomed into something greater than what her wildest imagination could have created, and it’s not hard for Creamer to find inspiration to keep the organization moving forward.

“For my entire life, I’ve been a horse lover, and that’s obviously a big part of it, but the secondary reason I started this journey was to give back,” she said. “I lost my sister and two brothers in the Emmons Apartment fire (in Huntington in 2007). Being able to do something of value and give back to any kind of being, be it animal or human, has meant a lot to me.”

Luke Creasy is a reporter for HD Media. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook @HDcreasy or reach him by phone at 304-526-2800.

Luke Creasy is a reporter for HD Media. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook @HDcreasy or reach him by phone at 304-526-2800.

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