Off-Ramp contributor R.H. Greene has been spending a lot of time in the High Desert recently, where he became obsessed by a story of unsung kindness lurking behind one of last summer's grimmest tabloid headlines: The murder of Marine wife Erin Corwin.
(A photo of Erin Corwin released by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.)
White Rock Ranch Horse Rescue is a charity for horses, still surviving, but changed forever by a brush with evil. It’s a non-profit orphanage for unwanted horses near Yucca Valley, at the end of a long dirt road so pocked by the wind it threatens to shake a car to pieces at speeds above 10 miles per hour.
It's feeding time for the 53 horses who live here. Isabella Megli, co-founder and currently White Rock's sole proprietor, tosses armloads of hay from a golf cart, as unfettered horses canter by. Carol Davison is a weathered retiree who has worked and lived on the ranch for over six years. She hovers by Isabella's side, protectively.
On the other side of a picket fence, a trim, middle-aged "people doctor" who won’t give her name is bandaging a horse's leg wound with practiced hands. Inside the big corral, some two dozen horses frolic and snort, attended by a pair of young-looking military wives, in for the day from the Marine base at Twentynine Palms.
Davison says most of the animals have been through some combination of abuse and loss.
There's Gemeni, a pharmaceutical industry castoff, nameless when she arrived except for the large inventory number "605" branded onto her side. There's Mystic, a quarterhorse, with a raw and permanent knee injury on her right hind-leg, and a rigid leg muscle that dangles in the wrong place. She was lamed by "horse-tripping," an antique roping practice still popular at rodeos and Mexican charreadas.
And then there's Cassy, the horse I came to see. Lexie Marks, one of the visiting Marine wives, is "sponsoring" Cassy, a big step on the road to adopting her. But there are complications, "because her owner recently died." Cassy is skittish and has trust issues. And no wonder — the horse’s story is almost entirely about loss.
Isabella told me Cassy came to the ranch from an abusive household, run by a hoarder. For months, she was too skittish to make a friend. Then a shy 19-year-old newlywed named Erin Corwin relocated to Twentynine Palms with her Marine corporal husband and visited the White Rock ranch. The bond between Erin Corwin and Cassy was instant and profound.
Isabel said, "Erin picked her out of 30 (horses). I don't know why or how, and she says, 'I want this one.' But she walked in and caught her. She rode her bareback without a bit, and those two were just one."
Later, when the microphone has been turned off, Isabella broke down talking about Erin, and blamed herself for all the signs of trouble she did and didn't see. But as we spoke of Erin and stared at the horse she once loved, the 19 year old girl seems present… maybe like the wind in the distance.
With the negative publicity surrounding Erin Corwin's murder, White Rock ranch, a 501(c)(3) relying heavily on charitable contributions, has taken a major financial hit. Volunteers have been harder to come by, and donations are down.
Right now, she says they're trying to raise money to dig a well, because every one of the dozens of horses there needs to drink 62 gallons of water a day. Then, she turns briskly to attend to the myriad chores she has left to do — and as magnets go to pull us through our days, it's enough.