From left, CMC TRIO staff member and Mountain Valley Horse Rescue volunteer Heather O’Malley and CMC Leadville students Alyssa Lowry, Kadia Soulemane, Ryan Kowalik and Maura Reed reassure Blondie after the Belgian draft horse received shots for her eye infection.  Photo Carrie Click

By Carrie Click

[MCCOY, COLO.] – Blondie the draft horse was peering through a fly mask to protect her infected eye as it healed. The rescued Belgian was being given shots for her severe eye infection, and about 15 Colorado Mountain College students were on hand, ready to calm her with pets and words of encouragement.

Feb. 24 was the National TRIO Day of Service, and Mountain Valley Horse Rescue in McCoy, Colorado, was buzzing with Colorado Mountain College students enrolled in TRIO, a federally funded program that provides support services to students nationwide. TRIO Day is a time for students who are benefiting from the program’s financial aid assistance, academic tutoring and other support to give back to their communities.

Colorado Mountain College hosts two different TRIO programs: Upward Bound, which supports high school students who want to go to college, and Student Support Services, or SSS, for students enrolled in college.

Mucking stalls, cleaning troughs

Every year TRIO students sign up to volunteer on the annual service day, helping out at nonprofits such as the horse rescue, Habitat for Humanity or other community-based organizations.

The list to help out at Mountain Valley Horse Rescue always fills fast, said Heather O’Malley. “The rescue is such a popular TRIO Day project,” she said. In addition to serving as a volunteer at the rescue, O’Malley is the director of Upward Bound of Eagle and Lake Counties, a TRIO program for high school students that helps them graduate from high school and go to college.

Though O’Malley usually works with high school students, on National TRIO Day she was glad to have the help of college-age students enrolled in the SSS program – and more. TRIO students, family and other supporters from Eagle, Routt, Lake, Summit and Garfield counties enthusiastically mucked pens, cleaned water troughs, groomed horses and spent the day hanging out with their new four-legged friends. The horses come in all shapes and sizes – from minis to drafts, young and old. The oldest horse on the 115-acre property is 46-year-old Sinclair.

“All of these horses have stories,” O’Malley said. They come from Eagle, Routt, Park and  Garfield counties. Several have come from as far away as South Dakota.

Resiliency: A shared trait

These horses, like the TRIO students volunteering to care for them, are resilient, said O’Malley. “I see these students get drawn to a certain horse. Both of them have overcome something to be here.”

SSS student Gloria Chairez was busy raking a horse pen at Mountain Valley. She will graduate this May from Colorado Mountain College Vail Valley in Edwards with two associate degrees, in business and history. She is continuing on to earn her Bachelor of Science in business administration, and is not stopping there.

“I want to become an immigration attorney,” she said. “I see people struggle and I want to make a difference.”

For more information about Colorado Mountain College’s TRIO programs, visit or call Laurie Lawrence at 970-947-8455. For more information about Mountain Valley, visit