When Mary Trowbridge learned she was being featured in Horse Illustrated for her work with the Arabian Horsemen’s Distress Fund, she was shocked.
The Arabian Horsemen’s Distress Fund (AHDF) is a 501(c)3 founded in 2005. It is run by six board members and funded by donors, most of whom are members of the Arabian horse community. The fund provides financial assistance to horsemen and horsewomen when tragedy strikes. It is a way for fellow community members to help each other in life’s most frightening moments.
Eligible funding events include medical emergencies, barn fires, natural disasters, unexpected loss, and other life-altering events. Although beneficiaries must be members of the Arabian Horse Association, the fund is an independent entity and not tied to the association.
What is now a multimillion-dollar fund began with Trowbridge organizing one raffle to raise money for a friend in need.
What Friends Are For
Ron Copple Jr. was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the fall of 2004. He was a young trainer at the time, just starting to rise in the Arabian horse industry. News of Copple’s diagnosis began to spread at the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show in February 2005.
After hearing the tragic news, Trowbridge and a group of other industry friends knew they had to do something to help. With Trowbridge’s leadership, they organized a few fundraising events to be held during that week of competition.
They were inspired by others’ willingness to give. Although Copple was going to need more support as he navigated what lay ahead, Trowbridge recognized this momentum could continue after he was healed. He wasn’t the first person in this community who would have benefited from their help, and he wouldn’t be the last.
When Trowbridge got home from the show, she went about learning how to run a nonprofit. Even with no prior nonprofit experience and a training business of her own to run, she opened a bank account, established AHDF as a 501(c)3, and got to work.
Seventeen years later, cancer-free Copple—and many others—are grateful for Trowbridge’s initiative and continued hard work. Trowbridge’s passion for the fund keeps these “graduates,” as she calls them, deeply involved in the AHDF’s fundraisers and activities.
When asked about what inspired the fund’s start, Trowbridge simply states, “We all should want to help someone when their chips are down.”
A Woman of Many Talents
Trowbridge began training horses in 1978 at Sir William Arabian farm. The sign above the farm’s entrance read “Our integrity is your guarantee.” She carries that mantra through Trowbridge’s, Ltd., which she has run with her husband Pat since 1991. She—and the entire board—demand the same integrity is found within the AHDF.
Trowbridge is a professional horsewoman and a self-taught nonprofit leader. She generously gives her time, attention and energy to the fund, driven by her passion for the Arabian horse and the knowledge that we are stronger with friends’ support.
“Living through all of the tough life experiences alongside everyone is the hardest part,” Trowbridge says of the difficulties that leading AHDF brings. “I’m a firm believer that the toughest situations are the places where we can find the very best lessons in life, if we only have the time to take a breath to look for them.”
For the Love of Horses
In Trowbridge’s opinion, the secret sauce to the fund’s success is the shared love for the Arabian horse. Beneficiaries and donors are tied together by the bond they share with their horses.
“Our Arabian horses are gifts,” Trowbridge says with emotion. “I think that’s why people give so generously. We recognize the beautiful thing we have within these animals and want to do whatever we can do to make sure our industry, our people and our horses thrive. The AHDF helps us all to celebrate the Arabian horse.”
Sometimes horses cross people’s paths for reasons they might not realize at the time. Now 26-year-old Lillie Ellis and her family learned this when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in 2010. Her parents had just bought their first Arabian, Windborne Maestro (aka “Mo”), when she received this life-changing diagnosis.
Ellis was in the height of her battle when Trowbridge called Ellis’ mother, Heather Freeman. Ellis’ health had taken a scary turn and they needed help. The AHDF and Trowbridge embraced this first-time horse owner the same way they did their longtime friend five years prior.
“Mary and the Arabian Horsemen’s Distress Fund were absolute live-savers,” Freeman says. “If we hadn’t had Mo, and hadn’t been part of the Arabian horse community, I don’t know where we’d be.”
Mentions of Trowbridge’s above-and-beyond support were plentiful among beneficiaries. She is a catalyst for immediate financial relief, but people commented more often about her heart, kind words, and emotional support.
Trowbridge brings Maya Angelou’s quote to life in her work with AHDF: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The Arabian Horse Community
The Arabian horse community is close-knit: When something tragic happens, words, thoughts, prayers and aid spread quickly. Many times, the AHDF board offers assistance before the person, family or farm in need has had a chance to ask.
Trowbridge and board members prioritize protecting their beneficiaries’ privacy. While many situations gain quick, public support, about 80 percent of funding is confidential. People give to the fund with the quiet reminder that they may need it one day. Nobody is invincible to the unexpected, and AHDF is a great comfort for the Arabian horse community.
Since it began in 2005, the AHDF has raised and disbursed more than $2.5 million in assistance to fellow horsemen and women. Hearing a number this massive might make the fund sound like something kept alive through large donations. While there are instances of extreme generosity and record-breaking fundraisers, Trowbridge emphasizes how crucial every donation is.
“People give what they can,” she says. “If they can give in large ways, that is wonderful. However, there is also something special about the people who give $20 a month. This fund is for all of us in the Arabian horse community, so it’s beautiful that even its funding reflects our diversity.”
The Future of the Arabian Horsemen’s Distress Fund
Seventeen years and $2.5 million is just the beginning for the AHDF. Trowbridge’s goals for the fund are that it continually reminds people that horses are blessings, spreads awareness of the good within the Arabian horse community, and brings this community together for many generations to come.
“It’s an ongoing privilege, and frankly a sacred honor to me, to be with people during tough times thanks to the generosity of all who support AHDF,” says Trowbridge.
Without her dedication and enthusiasm, the fund would not have grown to be what it is today. Donors give their money, board members offer their guidance, and beneficiaries humbly accept the fund’s assistance; however, every dollar of that $2.5 million could have gone many other places if Trowbridge didn’t set up that bank account in 2005.
You can learn more about the AHDF at www.horsemensdistressfund.com.