By Britney Grover
Deep in the Wasatch Mountains near Park City, Utah, Barbara Phillips and her husband, Mike, own 4,000 acres that is now known as Blue Sky. Barbara retired from her 20-plus-year career in the fitness industry in 2005 to help start the Lodge at Blue Sky, a premier resort — complete with horses. By 2015, Barbara had started Saving Gracie Equine Healing Foundation to give a home to horses in need, and purchased 17 acres exclusively for the rescue, Gracie’s Farm. Though Saving Gracie is a 501(c)(3) charity, Barbara currently provides most of the funding herself, including giving absolute top-notch care to the 25 rescue horses on the property. Gracie’s Farm is also home to rescued cows, other animals and a small farm, where guests at the Lodge can learn about farming and animal care. Such outreach has resulted in some donations to Saving Gracie, but while Barbara hopes to find more sustainable and expansive funding, she’s totally committed to making a difference — even if it’s just one horse at a time.
How did you first get involved with horses?
When my husband and I bought Blue Sky, I had never ridden before but I wanted to be involved knowing that we were going to have a guest horse program. I learned to ride English, and when we started our horse program, I learned to ride Western.
Do you still ride?
Yes! I ride as much as I can! I prefer riding outdoors but we have an indoor arena so we can ride all winter. We have all of our guest horses that always need exercise. We also have our ranch horses and personal horses. Because we have cattle on the property, we ride to check on the cows most of the summer while they’re on the mountain. There are several rescues that can still be ridden after getting some attention. We even have a few that have become guest horses!
How did you first start rescuing horses? Was Gracie the first?
While I was learning to ride at another facility, I took on a few horses that needed help. I had no plans to start a rescue. I was just learning about horses but always a lover of animals — I had to help them! Gracie wasn’t the first but she was the first I rescued from a horse abuse situation in Utah in 2014. There were over 140 horses left to starve during the winter of 2013. I heard about it on the news and with the help of a few other friends, we took on the task of getting the horses food, water, medical attention and trying to get them out of the horrible conditions.
When you started Saving Gracie, what was your goal? Where are you now in terms of that goal?
My goals were quite different than they are today. When I first started, my plan was to build a veterinary clinic to operate as a business, but have that business help me to care for my horses as well as people who couldn’t afford to help their horses. I realized that horses in need of rescue will most likely have emotional and physical issues. I didn’t want to just remove them from their bad situation, but to also give them what they needed to live a comfortable and peaceful life. My philosophy is the same: one horse at a time, doing everything I can do to give each horse the “gold standard of care.” We now have a full-time veterinarian on the Blue Sky staff who cares for all the horses on property, including all the rescues.
Where do the horses at Gracie’s Farm come from?
The horses I’ve brought to Gracie’s come from many different situations. We have some off-the-track Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses that have been abandoned, ended up at feed lots, abused, starved, from all over the country. We have 65 horses on the property; 25 are rescues. I have been able to re-home about 10 horses but it’s not what I focus on. It’s very difficult to re-home a horse that may not be able to be ridden but requires expensive medical care. I prefer to keep them so I know they’ll get the care they need.
What are your goals for Saving Gracie?
I want to help as many animals as I can. That’s not ever going to be a huge number because I insist on a very high level of care. I hope to be able to expand the amount of living space I have so I can take more animals on. I would like to find a more consistent form of funding so I don’t have to worry about the future of all the animals.
What is the most meaningful thing to you, personally, about being able to run Saving Gracie?
Bringing peace to these horses and cows is the most important thing I do. They do so much for us and they deserve to be treated with kindness. If I were younger, I’d be motivated to take on more. I’d love to work on changing laws to protect the animals. Without that, people will continue to mistreat them and the problems will only get worse. However, at this point I choose to take things a day at a time, one horse at a time. It’s my passion and my dream to make a difference.
For more information, visit savinggraciefoundation.org
Photos courtesy of Barbara Phillips, unless noted otherwise