Cait Oponski horse rescuer describes herself as a volunteer, but she is much more than that. Cait has rescued countless horses, brought communities together, built and strengthened collaborations between organisations, individual rescuers, expats, and locals, empowered people to take better care of their horses.
All of the work Cait has done has been on her own; no logo, no charity, no payment, no bureaucracy, just one woman’s determination and passion to do something about the suffering she saw. This is what it takes to make a difference in the world, and Cait Oponski has proved that when we act and do so out of compassion and with no personal financial gain, we can be an incredible force for good in the World. Here is our interview with Cait Oponski.
In your own words, what do you do?
My name is Cait and I own Corral West Horse Adventures and Lucky Break Horse Rescue in Arizona. We rescue at-risk, slaughterhouse pipeline, auction, kill pen and owner surrender equines. Our team saves, rehabilitates, trains, and rehomes/adopts second chance horses. All of our herd at Corral West is also made up of entirely rescued horses who take out guests to our area on trail rides. While saving individual horses is our passion, we also advocate saving horses to other people to change the stigma around horses that end up in dangerous situations. Over the last 5 years we have rescued 85 horses ourselves and our network of sister rescues has saved over 275 together.
What sets Corral West apart from its competitors?
I don’t like the term “competitors” because there is plenty of room at the table for everyone, but we are not only a female-owned business in a predominantly male-dominated space, we are also the only trail ride operation that uses exclusively rescued animals. Shattering the narrative that rescue animals did something to deserve the hand they were dealt is just as important to me as encouraging other young women to pursue their entrepreneurship dreams.
When did you make animal rescue a part of your life?
My mom is my hero, best friend and has the kindest heart you could imagine. While I didn’t inherit her green thumb for plants, I did inherit her heart for animals (and people) in need. Growing up we always had rescued pets. As an adult, I have fostered over 70 rescue dogs. Five years ago, I learned about the plight of American horses being sent to slaughter in Mexico and rescued two horses. That same year, I purchased Corral West (then, an existing business) as a way to generate income and ultimately rescue more horses. Initially, I leased guest horses from a summer operation in Wyoming, but as we kept rescuing good horses, we no longer needed to borrow horses. Two years ago we became 100% rescue horse-powered and have never looked back. Our horses are great ambassadors for the general public and I could not be more proud of what they’ve done to encourage others to take a chance on a thrown-away animal.
How are you changing the world?
One of my favorite quotes is from Mother Theresa: “not all of us can do great things but we can do small things with great love.” While I wish I could wave a magic wand and ban horse slaughter, I know I can’t do it by myself. I am very grateful to the crew or rescue advocates, customers, friends and family who have helped us spread our mission. We try to focus on helping where we can in our corner of the world so we can someday look back and see how far we have come. Another fitting quote for this question that keeps all of us going on even the hardest of days: “saving one horse won’t change the world, but it will change the world for that one horse” helps center me and re-focus when the hill seems too steep to climb.
What has been your greatest accomplishment so far?
Becoming a 100% rescued herd, receiving our 501c3 and trademarking “save a horse, ride a rescue” as our slogan have probably been some of my greatest accomplishments thus far. While other business owners may consider profit margin growth, perfect reviews on Yelp (which I am of course proud of), years in business as their benchmarks, we measure more qualitatively with equine lives saved, human lives touched, and memories made. And, of course, doing something you were told you couldn’t do is reward enough 😉
How important is collaboration?
Teamwork makes the dream work. When I first started rescuing horses I felt like I was on an island, fighting a solo battle. Over the years I have met so many rescue sisters who are dear friends, fierce champions and amazing people. I am forever grateful to have a rescue (and small business) sisterhood. As our social media following has grown I am also forever indebted to the brands, boutiques, makers and other small businesses who have created content with us and shared the rescues. When my first rescue horse, Zane, was featured in a Wrangler ad for the first time, I cried. It was a victory not for Zane and me, but for rescue horses everywhere.
What is your next big goal?
Our next dream is to purchase a forever home and sanctuary for the rescues. While I love being a small business owner – rescue is my true passion and purpose. We take our herd to summer pasture in Wyoming each summer and watching them run free in waist-high grass is a view that never gets old. We would love to have a bigger facility where we can rehab and rescue more horses each year.
How do you think modern women can feel more fulfilled?
In my journey, I have found the most fulfillment in life (both professionally and personally), when passion is pursued. Corral West is proof that you can both pursue the things that make your heart sing and the things that pay the bills concurrently. As women, we are so often defined by other people or society’s expectations of us, that we forget what our dreams were as little girls. I know 6-year-old Caitlin would be proud of what has been accomplished. As women, we need to encourage eachother, silence the noise from the “neigh-sayers” and get out of our own way.
To what do you attribute your success?
While I can’t give credit to a “what”, I can certainly give it to a whom/who. I am very fortunate to have parents who believed in me, supported me, and encouraged me every step of the way. Additionally, I have some of the most supportive friends a girl could ask for. When you need a mental health day, great friends who have your back – even when you aren’t in the room – are so important for every girl. I also have a wonderful fiancé who balances me out in every way…he is the yin to my yang and not only completes me, but complements me. With a good support system, a little grit, determination and a positive mindset when obstacles arise, anything is possible for us ladies.