By day, NVA Marketing Manager (and former veterinary technician) Cindy Hoffman works in the support center, helping practices with training and workflow. But in her off-hours, Cindy is a wife and mother, as well as the pet parent to a cat, two dogs and a bay American Saddlebred named Laser. Laser came into Cindy’s life at a time when she and her family needed him most. Within two years, Cindy’s husband had lost both parents to cancer. Their daughter was just four years old, and their family was so grief-stricken they wanted to find a way to brighten up their lives. Cindy believed that the healing power of a horse could help. Enter Laser.
“Laser lifted our spirits and brought smiles back to our family,” Cindy says. “He was goofy: always sticking his tongue out at people or nodding when eating an extra yummy treat. But he also gave me purpose at a time I needed a distraction.”
Despite his good humor, Laser was skittish — regularly spooked by the wind or a shadow — so Cindy was determined to help build his confidence. She rode him four days each week, working on making his environment more familiar.
And then, last fall, a fire roared through the Simi Valley hills, threatening the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, several nearby ranches — and the barn where Laser was boarded. Cindy dropped everything, jumped into her truck and rushed to the barn. As Cindy got closer, the road was blocked. An officer told her only trailers were allowed through, but she pleaded with him to let her through, not knowing if her horse would survive. The officer reluctantly agreed.
Cindy could barely see the hood of her truck as she drove slowly through the dense smoke. Flames hugged both sides of the road. Cindy pulled over, panicked, and called a friend with a horse in the same barn. Cindy’s friend guided her over the phone. Cindy inched in her truck along as if blind, listening to her friend’s directions, until she heard goats and knew she’d made it.
When Cindy got out of her truck, she saw chaos all around. The wind howled as embers flew. The hills nearby were ablaze. Terrified animals ran in every direction as people everywhere rushed to corral them. Mask on, Cindy headed to the arena, where about 30 horses were running loose.
“I grew concerned when I didn’t see Laser,” Cindy recalls. “I began asking others if they’d seen him, just as his barn mate walked by. The handler directed me toward a trailer where other horses had been taken and assured me he was on board. I wanted to see him, but time was running out, and the fire burned even closer. I helped load the remaining horses into trailers until we could find no more. I got in my truck, wiped the ash from my face, and we began our caravan back to safety.”
Cindy spent the next two hours tracking down Laser’s whereabouts. When she finally found him, he was surprisingly relaxed. Their training and confidence-building exercises seemed to have paid off. Cindy put down fresh hay and lavished him with hugs and kisses, relieved he was okay.
Sadly, two other horses did not survive that day.
“I was devastated for their owners,” Cindy says. “This close call made me realize how much Laser means to my family, and what all animals mean to those who love them. So many people put their lives in danger—and some may look at us and wonder why. For me, the answer is simple: He isn’t just our horse; he is a part of our family. And heading into a brush fire to save the one you love is what anyone would do for their family.”
At NVA, we often talk about our “why”: our reason for doing what we do. In Cindy’s case, she says her “why” is protecting all living things and keeping them safe from harm. As a result of Cindy living her “why,” Laser (and several other horses) escaped harm during that fire, and today Laser is back to work and doing great — and still goofy. The horse that helped heal Cindy’s family continues to put a smile on everyone’s face.
Laser is lucky to be part of a family who loves him and will stick with him, through thick and thin. For more stories, like Rocko’s, a patient who left a lasting impression on his caregiving team, check out NVA News.