My name is July Urschel and home is my 10 acre farm in Harrodsburg, KY. Having horses is my dream come true and I’m lucky to call The Trooper (AQHA), and Willa (AHS) my dancing partners. Trooper is the all-around, jock. He’s game for anything and he’s the perfect big brother: brave, and sporty. Willa is described as “fancy, and she knows it!” She’s a total diva. Smart, athletic, and drop dead gorgeous. She’s your uptown girl kinda horse.

Willa and Trooper have brought me so much joy and given me so much. I have enjoyed the challenges of learning dressage because my partners are so kind and forgiving. Trooper gave me the confidence to bring Willa along as a barely backed 4yr old. Willa has taught me patience. It took a lonnnnng 4 years to understand each other.

I’m a cardiac critical care nurse. I love the heart, and helping my patients feel well! Being a nurse in the time of a pandemic has been a mixed bag. Some days you feel like a hero and other days you really struggle to see the bright side. It’s challenging trying to navigate such a troubling and uncertain time in our lives. The one thing I can count on is the comfort of snuggling my ponies.

I lost my father to COVID-19 this summer. He is the person that introduced me to horses and I remember our first trail ride, and all the other rides, as if they were yesterday. As a young boy, my father worked on a farm, cutting and stacking hay so I feel like horses are in my DNA!

Hanging out and riding my horses has been my time to decompress and being in the barn is my safe haven. It’s where I can clear my mind and just be present. Now more than ever, I need time to just breathe in the smells of the horses and hay and I feel so blessed and lucky to have them!

Horses came back into my life as an adult in 2016. My love for riding had been shoved down into the deepest, darkest corners of my heart for more than a decade, not having seriously ridden since college. We were over at my mom’s house for Sunday afternoon lunch and she was packing for a move. She sent me to the garage to sort through a yard sale box from my old bedroom. Anything that I wanted to keep had to go home with me that day. My old paddock boots and half chaps were shoved into the box, along with some really embarrassing dance recital costumes from the early 90s. I snatched the boots and half chaps up and threw them in the floorboard of my car and rejoined my family at the table.

Riding the hour home with my wife and kids, I sat quietly, not wanting the emotional floodgates to burst. I had shoved my love for riding for so long, I didn’t anticipate the huge wave of longing and ache that having my old riding gear would trigger. When we got home, I sat with my wife on our front steps crying and I  told her all about how I’d spent hours daydreaming and pouring over the Dover catalog imaginary shopping for if I’d ever ride seriously again. A few months later, at Christmas, I opened up a Groupon certificate from her for 4 lessons at a hunter/jumper barn about an hour away. This was a part of me that my wife wanted to embrace.

After the Groupon ran out, I decided to take a lesson at a barn an hour in the opposite direction from my house and dig back into dressage. While those lessons weren’t incredibly productive, the trainer mentioned she had a retired eventer in storage for an upper level rider, and he’d be perfect for me. With plans to ride strictly dressage, I brought Ned home in January of 2018. He came with a nasty leg wound and a fierce personality, but after some healing and a lot of groundwork, we started our partnership under saddle. Ned had previously evented to Intermediate and after a near miss with an arena fence, I quickly learned that if I didn’t jump this horse, he would jump me. We changed barns and fell under the guidance of my amazing trainer/coach/friend, Abby, and started at cross rails.

We competed in our first three phase in February 2019 at tadpole (when I was gifted my first Mindfilly band) and worked our way up to Novice by fall 2019. We were gearing up for our Novice debut at Stableview Oktoberfest when I had a bad fall on a cross country outing 2 weeks out and injured my lower back. I was out of the saddle for a month, and even missed a couple shifts at work. My wife and I had some serious discussions about whether eventing or even riding in general was a risk worth taking. We have three kids that need me healthy, functioning, and alive. I need to be able to work and make a living. So after much consideration, I took a step back in the winter 2019. Ned was/is getting older and he deserved a comfy retirement, so that’s what I’ll do. I took that season off and who knew what we were headed for.

As an ICU nurse, I kept a close eye on the news about Covid19. At first, I brushed it off. SARS outbreaks happen all the time, so this will turn out okay too, I convinced myself. But as the news started to pour in from China, Italy, and eventually New York, I felt a sense of overwhelming dread. People were dying. Nurses were dying. Refrigerator trucks were being brought in as the morgues were overwhelmed.

I experienced what I can only describe as pre-traumatic stress disorder. It felt like I was standing on a beach, watching a giant Tsunami head right towards me, and there I stood, unable to move and completely powerless to stop it.

My hospital started seeing Covid positive patients in March and we had a surge in the spring. I’m a healthy adult with no underlying health problems, so I often worked CovidICU, which was staffed by our regular ICU team.

Sometime around April, as we heard about healthcare workers dying at an alarming rate world wide, I reconsidered the risks of riding. If going to work is enough to kill me, shouldn’t I at least get to do the things that bring me the most joy? I asked my wife one day. I called my trainer and scheduled a jump lesson for a few days later. We started back at cross rails, but quickly got back into our groove and even managed to successfully compete twice this last fall. Our last show of 2020, Stableview’s Eventing Academy in October was our best ever, adding a single rail to our first sub-30 dressage score.

Right now, we are facing the biggest Covid surge we’ve ever seen at my hospital. One day last week, more than half of our hospital census was Covid positive. Just this morning, Covid1, which has previously been half ICU patients and half medical patients, transitioned to CovidICU with all 22 beds full with patients on the vent.

My supportive family has kept me sane, but the barn and Ned have created a sense of normalcy and consistency in a time when my world is on fire, and I can’t thank my wife enough for bringing horses back into my life 5 years ago.


Kalli and Winton

Meet Maya Benperla and Kalli Quigg, Founders of Viva Global rescue. President and co-founder of Viva Rescue, Maya is an equine rescuer and rehabilitation specialist who started her work caring for over 350 critically abused horses with serious medical, behavioral and trust issues. Maya rescued her first horse, Thunder, one of the Viva mascots, who inspired her to rescue more horses. It soon became her life’s work. Maya has an extensive background in medical and behavioral issues in horses,  training, and rehabilitation.

Co-founder and rehabilitation specialist, Kalli began her work with neonatal kittens, caring for and treating infants and nursing them back to health. She also specializes in feral cat rescue, working in low-income communities with high feral cat populations. Kalli rescued her first kitten, Naomi who became Viva’s other mascot, and opening the doors to Viva’s cat rehabilitation programs. When Kalli was introduced to horses, she fell in love with the seniors, and has been rescuing and caring for horses ever since!

What is your favorite part about what you do?

My favorite part of what we do here at VIVA has got to be taking in horses that have worked their whole life and being able to give them that peace, support, respect and dignity for the end of their lives that they deserve. It’s always amazing to see old horses that are shocked that they now live in “horse heaven” as we call it with 24/7 care, feed 5 times a day, 30 different innovative therapies such as massage and Chiropractic care, and so much more! At first they are hesitant of accepting their new life but once they settle in they act as if they have been here forever! Lots of our seniors are very sassy!

Winton after his rehabilitation

Is there one (or several) rescues that stand out as especially significant or important?

I think one rescue that always stands out to me would be Winton, our 40 year old Arabian gelding that just recently passed. He came to us in the worst of shape- DSLD, neurological condition, congestive heart failure and more. He had a body score of 1 when he arrived and while most said he should be euthanized we decided to do everything in our power to give him a few days, weeks or months (we weren’t sure how long we had to help him before his body was ready to go). Winton lived 60 days with us but those must have been some of the happiest days of his life filled with mashes, grain, carrots, and so much love. Winton had a spirit like few horses we have rescued; he fought like he was a young horse, he did his best to assist us as we assisted him. He stood for the Farrier and for the vet and did the best he could to give himself a chance at recovering even though all the odds were stacked against him.

What do you wish people knew about the work that you do?

I wish more people understood that thousands of horses are slaughtered, abused and neglected each year. Many people we speak to are not aware of the extent of horses in need of rescue. We get hundreds of calls a month and we can only take so many in. It’s important to understand that horses in America are in great need of rescue from many different situations at ALL times.

What is your favorite activity to do with your horses?

I’d say one of my favorite things to do with them is play music for them, go on walks, or play enrichment games! (Hay balls/treat balls/fruit bobbing etc).

What are the most common animals you have to provide service for?

Most often it’s horses. Whether that is in natural disasters or abuse/neglect cases we get the most calls about horses and most of our programs are dedicated to horses and equines overall.

If you could change the world in one way, what would it be?

There so many things I would change if I could. The way wild mustangs are treated in this country, horse slaughter, kill pens etc…. but one simple thing I would change would be the way people think about horses older than 15-20 years old. Most of the calls we get are about old,lame, sick horses that need homes after 20+ years of working for humans. If only more people understood that after a horse has served you for years…why not help them retire and provide for them in their last years. I truly believe and know that if more people took that to heart and attempted to follow through with ensuring retirement for their horses, we would have hundreds and thousands less horses in need of placement in rescues each year.

I love to ride, but riding can be scary sometimes. I love all the horses I’ve been able to ride but Truman makes me feel brave. I think he likes me; he lets me make mistakes.  I think the biggest thing I feel when I ride is brave.  When I hack alone with him my mind gets slow, sometimes my mind is fast!  It’s good to think slow, especially right before the sun goes down, that’s my favorite time to ride.

Truman is kind, he is such a good good good boy. I can’t believe he’s mine!  He’s also so handsome, he knows he’s handsome. He’s like, “look at me! I’m so handsome!” My mom says he wants to find the right answers, Truman is a unicorn.

I love to ride Truman bareback!  He’s very bouncy, I didn’t think I’d ever get good at sitting his trot but everyone says I’m awesome so that’s good! We practice a lot, sometimes I’m just too tired to put his saddle on so we ride bareback. I love to be with Truman, he’s my best friend.  My mom and I prayed him here and I love him very much.

There is no such thing as a bad horse, there are a lot of horses that haven’t been listened to very good, that makes me sad. I’ve learned with Miss Marny (groundwork trainer) that horses are the world’s best communicators. That means they are always talking to us, we just have to pay attention. The smallest movements are them talking, sometimes they talk loud but horses mostly talk quiet, when we don’t listen they have to talk loud. A loud horse is a stressed, scared, frustrated horse. I wish people would listen better to their horses, it really does make things so much easier and safer. Horses are AMAZING!

I haven’t had Truman very long, I am most excited to take him in the mountains soon and I’d like to go swimming with him.  Truman’s favorite treat is bananas and I wish I could put him in my pool but I don’t think he could get out. 

Photo Credit: Ride Heels Down & P.TEN Marketing

The first time I rode JJ Spot, a 15.3hh red and white tobiano ’03 American Paint Horse gelding, I didn’t really think anything of it. Or of him. It was a completely unremarkable ride.

Then, a few months later, I rode him again and had the striking realization that ‘I need to learn to be a better rider, or this horse is going to kill me.’ JJ had come to my former trainer as a “problem horse” and was definitely not easy. I knew he was talented as hell, though, and that he would be able to teach me a lot. So, I put my nerves aside and gave him a shot.

After a lifetime spent with school horses, I thought I was an okay rider but JJ showed me I was fairly useless up there in the saddle. Half halt what? Connection who? True teamwork where? Yeah, we had none of that.

But, he inspired me, and JJ helped me to improve dramatically in a fairly short amount of time simply because I had to participate more and be more effective. I joke that the desire for self-preservation did amazingly good things for me!

One day, during a lesson in which my coach had me jumping a little higher than I was comfortable with (full disclosure, it was our first time doing a complete Novice course at the 2’11” height) I had an epiphany.

As JJ and I cantered towards an intimidating (to me) oxer, I got nervous but quickly told myself to ‘just put your heels down and hold on,’ then immediately thought ‘hey, that’s a cool idea for a t-shirt!’ Haha!

It took a few months before I got around to doing anything with the idea, but, after several revisions and a whole bunch of refining, I decided to call the company Ride Heels Down and sell riding-related apparel. I officially launched on September 1, 2015 and have been having a blast ever since – all thanks to JJ and his initial inspiration!

Photo Credit: Mary Campbell Mare Goods

JJ and I evented together for about two years when I started toying with the idea of buying him… but it was a pretty intimidating step and I wasn’t ready to commit. I was riding him in a lesson one afternoon and the jump exercise we were doing was four verticals set perpendicular to one another with a barrel in the middle to act as a center support for the poles, kind of like spokes on a wheel.

When it came time to jump through the center of the setup (over the barrel), JJ and I had a disagreement about, well, about several things.

He wound up not going straight and caught a leg on one of the poles on the landing. It came down as it should have, but he tripped and stumbled and basically did this hardcore belly flop-faceplant-flail maneuver straight into the ground. It was horrible. I somehow managed to stay until the very last second, and, miraculously, neither of us were hurt more than just a few scrapes and bruises.

Of course, like George Morris says, you either go to the hospital or you get back on. Since no hospital (or vet) was needed, I got back on… and asked JJ to do it again. I expected him to hesitate, I expected him to refuse, I expected him to be (rightfully) freaked out – instead, he jumped it perfectly.

He showed me that he trusted me enough to try again, and he showed me how big his heart was. It was a completely epic crash and burn, but I knew in that very second that I was going to buy him. It was a done deal.

Now, as of February 16, 2016, JJ is mine and I haven’t regretted a single second of it. I can only hope that he’s only as happy with me being his person as I am with him being my horse. I love him with my whole heart and he means everything to me. I know all horse moms say that, but this kid of mine is really special!

Photo Credit: Danielle Ayan Eye-On-Images

JJ has this very quiet kind of humor about him. He’s not one of those in-your-pocket type horses that’s aggressively affectionate, but once you get to know him and can read his expressions, you realize that not only is he extremely intelligent, but he never shuts up! He’s always making subtle comments about things and “talking” to me. SO many opinions!

He’s also got quite a following for his “Will JJ Eat It?” video series… yes, he’s a garbage disposal and will eat just about anything – including chicken nuggets, spinach and artichoke dip, and he even drinks pickle juice. He’s a weirdo, but he’s my weirdo and I love him for it.

He’s the absolute sweetest boy in the world, too, and has never once hurt me. JJ won’t even eat a treat unless it’s physically handed to him, and even then he will gently take it with his lips. No teeth, ever.

He stands as solid as a rock when children are around him, he’s easy on beginners (he taught a 47-year-old who had never been on a horse how to event and successfully carried her around her first Amoeba 3-phase event in early 2019!) and he hacks out bareback, by himself, in nothing more than a halter.

It hasn’t all been easy peasy, though, as JJ spent a year on stall rest recovering from a pasture accident collateral ligament injury just five weeks after I bought him, and I spent months recovering from a broken foot I sustained when I was hit by a driver on the wrong side of the road. We rehabbed together, though, and came back even better with a bond that was stronger than ever.

Prior to our accidents, I had been really focused on winning. The downtime taught me to focus more on JJ, because he deserves it for being such an incredible horse and wonderful partner, and now I put his health and happiness above all else. All I want after an event is to come home with a safe, sound horse. Winning a ribbon is still nice, I won’t lie, but that’s no longer my main focus.


Photo Credit: Xpress Foto

And, of course, once I stopped trying so hard to win, I found out that JJ and I had qualified for the 2019 United States Eventing Association’s American Eventing Championships at the legendary Kentucky Horse Park! It was a completely unexpected surprise as I had been trying (unsuccessfully) to qualify at Novice but accidentally qualified at Beginner Novice instead.

Not wanting to miss the opportunity to compete at such a prestigious event and at such a historic venue with my fantastic horse, I decided to go at Beginner Novice. (Fun fact: Ride Heels Down also sponsored the event and I worked my vendor tent, alongside my good friend Mary at Mare Goods!)

JJ and I had an awesome time competing, and it was such a treat to splash through the famous Head of the Lake on my first horse. Ultimately, we finished on our dressage score with no additional penalties; we placed seventh overall in our division and second in the Adult Team Challenge.

I also write a blog called “Lessons Learned” that I publish on which chronicles my eventing career with JJ. From our very first Tadpole to our current Training attempts, I share my falls, fails, struggles, and successes. I talk about what I’ve learned from JJ, from the sport, and from myself each time out in hopes that I can help others keep from making the same mistakes I have and to inspire them to keep going, too.

Photo Credit: Erin Wheeler Sweet Fresno Photography

JJ has taught me a lot about letting go of expectations – both in life and in riding. He’s shown me that when you make your peace with a situation and “surrender to the Universe” and just accept that what will be will be – while still working hard to stack the deck in your favor and take action to manifest the outcome you want, of course – that things seem to fall into place much easier.

I am so grateful to JJ every single day for how he has changed my life… he was absolutely worth the wait.

After waiting for so long to finally own my own horse, the thing I enjoy most is simply knowing that JJ has a forever home where he will be taken care of and that he will safe and happy until he’s no longer here. (I do remind him regularly, though, that he has to live forever.) He deserves that, for everything he’s given me, and for being my true heart horse.


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