Henry’s Home History
The history of Henry’s Home actually began in 1994. Our founder, Donna Stedman, walked away from what she believed was a ‘conversation with God’, in shock. There was no question in her mind that she had been shown her primary purpose for being on this earth. She will tell you that this ‘conversation’ showed her a future that would be the culmination of all of her life experiences and everything she believed in and dreamed of.
What she was shown was a retreat center on a large piece of land with big barns filled with all sorts of animals, beautiful gardens and flowers everywhere. She found herself walking through a trail in the woods to a large lake. She felt a healing, enveloping sense of peace. As she looked around. A big rustic lodge had a centerpiece kitchen with dining tables and chairs scattered throughout the main floor. Massive stone fireplaces, high timbered ceilings, comfy but simple bedrooms, and bathrooms with big soaking tubs reflected an eclectic theme of comfort and simplicity. Nestled about the grounds were fire pits and cozy seating arrangements. Included in the main lodge was a uniquely square auditorium with large descending sections going down to a stage. These sections of wide floors were filled with comfortable, obviously donated, couches, lounge chairs and recliners. The intimate design was meant to feel like the speakers or performers were in a warm and inviting home.
More sleeping arrangements were nestled into creative yet functional buildings, all reflecting the unspoiled nature around them. A bunkhouse, connected to one of the barns; a greenhouse creatively incorporated more bedrooms next to a greenhouse; a boathouse which housed more bedrooms next to the canoe storage.
There were no electronics in the bedrooms. Guests had an opportunity to disconnect from the world and step back into the peace of nature. Incumbent upon visitors was the expectation of an extended quiet time while there – be that in a canoe, with a horse, on a walk, with a book, in the gardens, or whatever was healing and calming for that person. Two of the main messages that she got during this conversation was that folks would come here to heal their souls, and that if she just kept seeking Him, that when the time was right, He would bring together all the money, land and people needed to build this place.
Over the next twenty-some years, while she raised her family and continued to grow in life experiences, that original vision of a retreat never left her mind. She took as many human footsteps as she could to prepare for this, including becoming a Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. After a few years of waiting, rather impatiently, she put it on the back burner while she worked on building her faith in all that is good, love and life. Never forgetting.
Unbeknownst to her, this ‘purpose for her life’ started to take shape as a sanctuary for donated and rescued horses in February of 2012 with the adoption of her first two rescued horses, Henry and Lexi. After having a dream that lasted two nights, laying out all the details, she opened a small trail riding business she named Just Us Gals and Our Horses, to help pay for the costs of the horses as she adopted more. It became apparent to her, and those who rode with her, that spending time with these horses and out in nature heals people.
Finally, in the fall of 2014 while sitting around a campfire with some of her regular riders, “it” clicked in her mind. This was the ‘retreat’, the purpose she had been waiting for. He was in the process of building it, even if in a completely unexpected way. A sanctuary for horses, yes, but even more important, a sanctuary, a place for healing, for people. So she incorporated it into a 501c3 non-profit and named it Henry’s Home Horse and Human Sanctuary after her beloved horse Henry, who continued to be such a loving soul to all who met him, rescued from the brink of death for an obviously very important purpose.
In July, 2015, the Houston Chronicle ran an article about a neighborhood dispute that was occurring due to this non-profit in their neighborhood. One of the leaders of a large development company, Johnson Development, saw that article and Donna was asked if she would like to move the sanctuary to the land that they had just purchased, soon to be called Grand Central Park. It had been Camp Strake boy scout property, and was located just a few miles away from where they kept the horses. After almost a year of keeping the horses at the private home of one of their executives, the horses were moved in October, 2016, onto their new land with only a perimeter fence and a hay shed [both Eagle Scout projects put in quickly], a couple of old sleeping pavilions as shelters for the horses, and a working bathroom. It was very primitive, in fact Donna was sleeping in a small tent under the hay shed for months, but it was in the middle of 1,200 acres of woods and very peaceful, costing them nothing as Johnson Development paid for all their utilities and land management needs. There was no question in Donna’s mind that this was a God thing.
Remembering His promise to take care of the land, money and people, Donna knew Henry’s Home was on a right path. Leadership Montgomery County, another 501c3, chose Henry’s Home as their project for the Class of 2017. They built out the arena, got a large portable office building donated, got plumbing and electrical put in throughout, helped with marketing and put on the ribbon cutting for the whole community, getting over $120,000 in in-kind donations. Numerous local corporations contributed both time, work and money to quickly move along the growth of the sanctuary, along with a number of boy scouts doing their Eagle Scout projects, and other non-profits who supported this group with grants and donations. And Johnson Development continued to support the sanctuary with help, as needs arose.
While there over the next three years, Henry’s Home took in a dozen more horses/mules/donkey’s, as well as two pigs, a dog, a half dozen cats, and a family of ducks, all of whom made it feel more like a family home. And all of whom had been surrenders from rescue or unwanted situations. Besides the Horse Sanctuary Program, a Herdmate Program continued to offer anyone who needed healing time with the horses and other animals an opportunity to volunteer at the sanctuary. And since it’s move in 2016, the sanctuary had been offering EAGALA equine psychotherapy [run by a team of equine specialist and therapist] for veterans and their family members, always at no cost to them, in a program called Horses & Heroes Equine Therapy Program. When it was discovered, after running these sessions for several years, through conversations with the veterans, that they wanted more horse time, less talk time, and the opportunity to volunteer at the ranch, in 2019 another program was added called Horses & Heroes Equine Learning Program [HHELP], [run by an EAGALA equine specialist and PATH certified therapeutic riding instructor]. That program offered as much time at the sanctuary for veterans and first responders and their families as they wanted, helping to care for the horses and the property, including therapeutic riding and training lessons, and when they were ready, the opportunity to join the herdmates in trail riding, always at no cost to them.
Over 2019, the Herdmate Program grew from a couple dozen civilian volunteers, to over 100, and the Horses & Heroes Equine Learning Program brought over 100 veterans, and a few first responders, into the Henry’s Home family. In fact, with the veterans having the choice between the two programs, in every case they chose more horse time, so the EAGALA psychotherapy program was put on the back burner for future possible use. As the year came to an end, it was becoming obvious that God was closing the door to the property they had built out in Grand Central Park.
In God’s perfect timing, one of the Herdmates just happened to have a very neglected 21-acre horse farm that they could afford to donate to Henry’s Home. So they moved all the animals over on January 4, 2020, and started the build out of what would be the final retreat center Donna had been shown over 25 years ago.
side note: her sister, Diane, here on Miss Lexi, is still alive and doing just fine with no treatment for the cancer, just lifestyle changes that brought her joy.
Henry’s funny personality and his persistence in getting all the attention paid off, and he became beloved by all who got to know him. He likes to remind us all that Henry’s Home is all about him. Here is Donna, and her beloved boy, out learning to ride again after almost 30 years since owning a horse.
July 13, 2013, here is Donna with her daughter Dani, out on a trail ride on the Spring Creek Greenway. She boarded Henry and Lexi at Loveland Ranch in Spring, Texas, for a year and a half, learning about natural horsemanship. Due to health issues, her sister had to step down from involvement with the horses. But Donna made some good friends and really wanted to stay in this riding area when she decided it was time to move her horses away from Loveland Ranch.
Donna found a family just down the road from Loveland Ranch who had 13 horses. She moved her horses to board in one of their paddocks, and used the last of her sister’s money to build a couple of shelters for the horses. They also let her use a 10’x 8′ shed to keep all her stuff in. She had a dream a week after she moved here that told her to start a trail riding business called Just Us Gals and Our Horses, to help pay for the upkeep of the horses. She started adopting more horses, getting Wall-E and Sunny from the SPCA in the summer of 2013.
Within that first year she also adopted Tavi and Miss Jinx from the family she was boarding at, Melissa and Bernie Eskins. She had promised the family that she would figure out a way to help them exercise and pay for the other horses they had if they would let her board there, so she also used them for her trail rides, paying them for their horses use. Just us Gals grew quickly, and she made enough money to pay her board and bills every month, just barely. It was hard work, and the pasture was boot-sucking mud about six months of the year, for two and a half years, but the trails were glorious!
Donna incorporated Henry’s Home Horse and Human Sanctuary into a 501c3 at the end of 2014. The owners of Loveland Ranch did not like that Donna had started a competing trail riding business just down the road. So they instigated a neighborhood lawsuit against the Eskins, siting deed restrictions, which did not affect Loveland Ranch’s part of the neighborhood. This lawsuit resulted in a newspaper article in the Houston Chronicle
on July 19, 2015. An executive at Johnson Development, who had just bought the Camp Strake property close by, saw that article and called to offer Henry’s Home a home in this new development they were calling Grand Central Park.
On January 1, 2015, Chandler arrived into the herd. As he was stepping off the trailer, his owner told us that he would be low in the pecking order because he was so submissive. We had just taken the alpha gelding and mare out of the pasture because they belonged to the Eskin family, so the small herd were feeling worried that they did not have a leader.
When he walked in to meet them, they all elected him as their alpha leader.
We received a call from Everett Coverdell, the Construction Manager for Grand Central Park, offering to have us move our horses to his private home in Conroe, since Johnson Development wasn’t quite ready for us to move in yet. He and his wife Jeanette had always dreamed of having a couple rescued horses some day. So off to work this dedicated group of volunteers went, on Christmas Eve of 2015 to start building fences and preparing to move our horses over. By now we had also taken Chandler as a donation, so we were moving 8 horses over, including one we were keeping for a board member.
This generous family, not allowing us to pitch in any money for our stay, were like family almost immediately. We were expecting to stay just a month or two, so put up some temporary fencing. They already had a nice big loafing shed that would be plenty big enough for a hundred bales of hay, all our saddles and supplies, with enough room for a couple portable stalls if we needed them. We also brought over all our portable corral panels to make an arena for us to use for training and riding.
We got settled in quickly and got the horses moved over right after Christmas. What planned to be a month or two ended up being about a year that we were there. Our herd grew with Willie Nelson almost immediately after we moved in. And Gerrie Barnes started teaching horsemanship classes for our volunteers, including ground work and riding. We also let the public come in for arena riding to help pay for some of our horse care expenses.
On February 2, 2016, we got a visit from a neighbor that said he had a horse that was probably dying, would we take her? We said no, because we were not on our own land yet, so could not accept any more horses. But Jeanette said yes, so we went to walk her down the road to her new home. She was about 300 pounds underweight, and had already given up on life. Jeanette, with our help, took her right to our veterinary for a check up, and we discovered she had a 5 out of 6 heart murmur, one inch points on her teeth in front and back from neglect that were making it too painful to eat, and her feet were in terrible shape.
Jeanette was also fighting her own battle with breast cancer, so she needed something to take her mind off that. She was a natural healer, spending her life as a pediatric nurse. She went out every cold day, three times, to make and feed Bella a bucket of warm mash, full of calories and nutrients to get her weight back up, before the doctors could even sedate her to do her teeth. These two bonded and they both flourished. .
After just a couple months and several veterinary visits, this is what happened to Bella with so much love. The only thing left to try to fix was her feet, which from x-rays, showed signs of having foundered. The farrier and vet were not hopeful, but Jeanette was not willing to give up on her.
Shortly after we moved to Everett and Jeanette’s home, another neighbor brought this mini horse down to us, asking if we would adopt him. His name was Willie and he was a little stallion. We agreed and took him right to the veterinary to get gelded. Once he could get into the herd, he found a safe place of protection from the others standing under Chandler. He spent a good portion of the first two weeks taking advantage of Chandlers kind nature. But then, being the little Casanova he still thought he was, he decided to try to steal one of Chandler’s sister wives, Miss Jinx. He succeeded and they were a couple after that. Rather a Mutt and Jeff couple, but he was delighted to have a woman, and she put up with him.
On April 29, 2016, Art Jansen brought out a horse trailer that he had purchased and updated for us. He was a friend of one of our volunteers, Pam Grabsky, and a truly generous animal lover.
Early in February, 2017, we received a call from a friend at the Lone Survivor Foundation asking if we could take a horse from the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department. He had sustained an injury a year before and the department felt he was healed enough to be fine with some very easy work. They were going to drive him over in a two horse trailer, but one of our generous volunteers paid for him to have a much more comfortable transport.
He loved loved loved to roll!
Such a beautiful, sweet big boy.
He was too sore to run with the herd, so they became known as Mick and the Minis.
In His perfect timing, two big things happened that moved us along our path towards our final property, along with this door gently closing. One of our recent volunteers learned of our situation and went home to talk to her husband. They had purchased a property eight years before with a friend who wanted to start an equine breeding and boarding facility. They knew with its location in the heart of Montgomery County that it was a good investment. As it turned out, unfortunately, the woman who they partnered with did not keep up her end of the deal, which resulted in a constant money drain for our volunteers, as well as eight years of neglect for the property, leaving it in terrible shape. They approached us and offered us the opportunity to assume their remaining mortgage, while they donated their equity in the property. Seeing it, we realized that it was going to take a lot of work and money to build up just the horse sanctuary, with the retreat center coming down the road. It was perfect . . . obviously a God thing.
The 21 acres was located just five minutes from our place in south Conroe, had never flooded, had a sustainable source of great well water, was on a quiet dead-end road surrounded by woods, already had utilities [all of which seriously needed updating], a big barn with tack and feeding supply rooms, and enough outbuildings and pastures [with ponds] to be basically ready for us to move in. On December 1, 2019, we were able to get on the property to start preparing one of the pastures for our horses, and on December 26, we were given the deed, and got started in earnest preparing to move.
Being a small young nonprofit, dependent on local donations, our biggest problem at this point was affording this move. But God had that taken care of as well. Donna’s good friend, Bob Graves, died on June 23, 2019, totally unexpectedly. They met when Bob started bringing his granddaughter out to trail ride with Donna when she was still Just Us Gals, before incorporating Henry’s Home. He loved and supported her vision of where God was taking this thing over the years, being an important and generous part of the journey. She was devastated, but knew he was fine and there to still guide and protect the place they had grown together, in spirit. That became even more obvious when she had a visit with Bob’s son Lee, and the executor of his estate, Jason. They knew that Bob would have wanted to continue to support Henry’s Home, so ended up making a donation large enough to cover a good portion of the next years operating and moving costs.
Thanks to Bob and Lee Graves and Jason Petrie, as well as John and Linda Harrington who donated the property, Henry’s Home would keep growing . . .