Susan Denny is a woman with a lot of horsepower keeping her going each day.
She needs it considering that she has recently moved back to Spokane after living in Austin, Texas; has been busy restarting her successful Spokane-based real estate career, is in the process of closing on a new property which will house her non-profit program, and she’s helping plan a wedding for one of her three daughters. So how does she do it all? Horsepower! Not the kind found in endless mugs of strongly caffeinated coffee, but the kind found, literally, in a horse. Susan is an avid horse rider who is sharing her love of horses, by helping provide lessons and horsemanship skills to youth who might not otherwise have the opportunity. All of this is done through a program she started called Horse Happy.
“The desire to create this program comes from my personal experience of feeling blessed to own and ride horses all my life,” she says. “A partnership with a horse teaches responsibility, determination, patience and empathy. These are skills we could all use in our everyday lives.”
For every transaction that Susan closes in her real estate business, she donates $250 of her commission to the Horse Happy program. One hundred percent of this money is used to provide lessons through a qualified trainer who provides a safe and nurturing riding atmosphere.
The children who participate in the program learn the basics of interacting with horses, including how to behave around a horse, how to groom a horse and to care for them. As they become comfortable around the horses, those who express an interest in learning more will be connected with a trainer within the specialty of riding that they find most intriguing, whether it is western, dressage, equitation or hunter/jumpers. For each child that is accepted into the program and is matched with a trainer, Horse Happy will help fund the riding lessons.
“I was in 4H and had sheep, and I always wanted a horse, but it never worked out,” she says. “Every opportunity I had to be on a horse, though, I was. I’ve always had a propensity for animals, and I owned every other kind of animal. On a horse, though, I feel challenged, and am in my happy place for sure. I feel like it is always pushing me and I am living on the edge. Yes, feeling challenged is the best way to describe it. When I leave the barn, I always feel glad that I made the time to go ride.”
For those who think horseback riding is a passive activity, guess again. “It’s a great workout,” says Susan, who participates in CrossFit training, as well. “I recently started wearing a heart rate monitor during horse riding, and I burn as many calories if not more than I do in my CrossFit workouts.”
It is not just the health benefits, that are beneficial to the children who experience horse riding through Horse Happy, but the chance to take on responsibilities. “I want kids to get back outside, and get back to getting dirty and having a good time outdoors,” says Susan, of her inspiration for starting Horse Happy. “There is something positive about kids having a connection with an animal, and it is good for them to have something they are responsible for taking care of.”
Take note: horses are a great deal of responsibility! You have to feed them twice a day, clean their stalls, water them and care for them. They typically need their feet trimmed every six weeks, and their teeth should be checked once a year. “Horses are finicky,” says Susan, “they can get sick if they aren’t fed at the right time, and schedules are very important to them.”
Susan learned these lessons early on, as she has ridden since she was a young girl. “I always begged and borrowed to ride a horse,” she says of her early years in the saddle. When she graduated from college and moved to Spokane, she bought her first horse of her own. “Her name was Scarlet and she was a redheaded thoroughbred mare. You can’t get more ornery than that,” she says. “She was a sweet girl though, and I enjoyed her for 16 years.”
Horses have a longer life span than any other typical pet, so they become even more entrenched in a horse owner’s life and heart, with their footprint lasting forever. In Susan’s case, her interest in riding did not wane when she lost Scarlet; rather, it is a passion that continues to grow the more she rides, as she has experienced different forms of riding.
“I decided I wanted to do dressage, because it is more technical,” she says of her switch from hunter/jumpers to dressage. “I say it is a partnership and a dance routine with your horse. They are your dance partner and you have to effectively communicate with them.”
Susan and her husband are settling into a new property they recently bought, which will also be where Susan is going to board retired horses. This will be known as Happy Horse Farm, the counterpart to Horse Happy.
The retired horses will enjoy living at Happy Horse Farm. “Some people call them pasture ornaments,” she says of horses who are retired and no longer being ridden. “I see them as animals that still need love and attention, and they still deserve to live a good life. They’ve earned that and they deserve a good life.”
Also living a good life are the children who will be impacted by Susan’s heart-inspired decision to start the Happy Horse program. Those who are interested in participating will answer a few questions and write a short essay about why they are interested in working with horses.
This program gives them the opportunity to get started in what will no doubt be a life long love affair with horses. “I will never stop taking lessons,” says Susan. “Think about it. You are communicating with an animal that can’t talk to you, and you have to be able to get the horse to do what you want. You always want to get better at that and to continue pushing yourself and working to be technically great. The whole goal of the rider is to look like you aren’t doing anything.” Now that takes horsepower!
There are so many great non profits, and so many great causes, so how do you decide which events or organizations you will support?
I am inspired by non profits that provide the tools and resources to help the individual help themselves. I believe the pride of accomplishment is what ultimately motivates an individual to continue improving their life.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment other than your family?
I know I am not following instructions on this question but I do feel like my greatest accomplishment has been raising my three daughters. My focus in life since becoming a mom has been to raise three upstanding citizens who understand the value of a good work ethic and compassion for others. I believe communities are stronger when families are strong.
What qualities do you look for in a friend?
Loyalty, positive outlook on life, hard working.
Aside from your family, what is your most treasured possession?
My wedding ring, for what it symbolizes.
With all the activities you juggle, how do you handle the stress that might come with it? What keeps you grounded and focused?
All my worries melt away when I am riding a horse. My focus is 100 percent on the horse, so my mind doesn’t have time to think about everything else going on in my life.
Do you have a cherished family tradition?
We have a very close family and we spend almost every major summer holiday at the family lake cabin. We take hikes, boat, make great meals and play lots of cards.
What are your favorite places to travel, and leisure activities in which to participate?
I have had the great fortune of traveling to many places around the world, but I have to say I am content to stay in the Pacific Northwest most of time now. There is so much that I haven’t explored here.
What is your favorite for each of the following?
Book: Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austin
Movie: Life is Beautiful – Roberto Benigni
TV Show: Frasier (I had to go way back to think of show I truly enjoyed)
Who do you really admire?
My husband, Randy.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? Future goals?
Selling real estate and giving back to the community in a meaningful way. Always having enough time for my family and friends.
What is one thing you have to do every day?
Doing something outside, whether it is a chore or a leisure activity.
What is, hands down, your favorite food or meal?
A steak dinner at the lake with all the trimmings.
Describe your perfect day.
Getting up early, heading outside for morning feeding. Come in have a cup of coffee and do a little reading. Plan my day for work and personal. Attend to my to-do list, which includes riding. Make a healthy dinner and spending time with my husband.
What are some local organizations whose causes you support, either by attending an event for them, or you are just a fan of their cause?
Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, Women Helping Women, Idaho Youth Ranch
What is the best advice you have been given?
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t…. you’re right.” ~ Henry Ford
For what are you most grateful?
My relationship with God.
What is your favorite place you have travelled to?
I went on a 13-day horseback riding trip in Ireland, and rode horses from town to town by way of beaches and countryside.
What is your dream vacation?
See answer above.