by Deborah Myers
Victoria Cochrane, affectionately known as Vee, started volunteering two years ago for The Farm at Gardner Village – a Salt Lake area animal rescue that offers pony rides, a petting zoo and hosts birthday parties. Cochrane has the unique ability to relate to the horses in a special way. People and children return to the farm just to spend time with her, as she is instinctively able to determine their needs and fears. After 6 months, the staff decided the horses and visitors wanted more of Cochrane, so they officially added her to their team by putting her on their payroll. This year Cochran celebrated her 24th birthday at the farm, surrounded by her human and animal friends.
“Vee is a fabulous employee,” says Gill Ma, owner and founder of the farm. “The animals love her. We call her the Stall Fairy – she keeps their dwellings so clean. She never stops working, whether she’s keeping the animals happy or introducing the children to the animals.”
Cochrane begins by introducing herself and all the animals by name and species. “This is Gary the Alpaca and our little baby lambs. Would you like to feed them?” she asks. Then she brings the bottles out and lets the children feed the babies. They love this experience most of all. She moves along to the next area, handing the children a brush and teaching them how to safely and properly groom the small ponies. After the wonderful introduction and fun interactions, many of the children are comfortable with climbing on a pony for a ride around Gardner Village.
“We have daily visitors at the farm and the work is never ending. We also conduct group education programs for preschools, elementary schools, and for people with disabilities of all ages. The animals can be very therapeutic in a variety of ways. I trust Vee to be the one that can help take away people’s fears and instill a new-found confidence,” says Gill Ma.
“The animals love Vee and you can see it. We rescued a young horse just over a year and a half old. We named him Sparkie, after the cartoon character Sherriff Cali, who rides a horse named Sparkie. Sadly, Sparkie had a pipe imbedded in his foot since birth. Our veterinarian sedated him and removed the pipe. Poor Sparkie was afraid and didn’t trust anyone – until Vee did her magic and now Sparkie trusts her. They have a very special bond,” says Gill Ma.
Cochrane has a disability herself, a neurologic disorder, which causes her to shake. She is also dyslexic and has difficulty putting sentences together when speaking. At the tender age of two, her grandparents, Ken and Sandy Cochrane, introduced her to horses. As a young girl she attended the National Ability Center in Park City, where she gained confidence in working with horses.
Cochrane shows quarter horses, competing in halter for amateur age geldings and open age geldings. She proudly explains. “The Judges set up in the middle of the arena where they can observe the horse’s patterns and muscular structure. Envy Dot Com, is the horse I ride. If he was a super hero, I think he would be called Envious Prime. We’ve been together for our two-year anniversary, October 1, 2016.”
Cochrane is a member of the American Quarter Horse Youth Association. She likes to say she has special abilities instead of disabilities. Last year she competed in a competition every month – taking home four championship buckles. She is proud to tell people she competed in the mainstream section of the competition in Tennessee and won! “When we won, I cried a happy cry, not a sad cry. My trainer is Cooper and we get to keep the buckles,” says Cochrane.
If you’d like to meet Cochrane and experience her special abilities, The Farm at Gardner Village is open during the winter Tuesday – Saturday, noon – 5 p.m. or until visitors are done . The Farm, a non-profit animal rescue, is working to expand to an adjacent area, next to Gardner Village, to care for more animals soon.