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A Girl And Her Horse And The Rule Of Law

NORTH FORK — When Nikki Johnson brought home her new best friend, retired race horse Indiana Jones, she had no idea that it would spark such controversy in the neighborhood.

The community of Cascadel Woods has been embroiled in a bit of an upset since “Indy” came to live at the home of Russ and Sandy Johnson.

Their 11-year old daughter Nikki had been saving to buy a horse when she saw a story on the news about some neglected and abused animals who needed homes.

“I’ve known Nikki since she was born,” says Gina Runyan, the mail carrier who serves the Cascadel Woods community. “She worked like a dog for 3 years to save up to buy a horse, and when she saw those starving horses on the news down in Fresno, she just had to rescue one.”But when a few neighbors saw the horse and turned the Johnsons in to the County, Russ and Sandy discovered that their property was not zoned for horses.

“We were told when we bought this 2-acre property that we had the same zoning as all the people with acreage, and that we could have animals here,” says Sandy.

So after spending a great deal of money for the fencing, the pen, and supplies and feed for Indy, Russ and Sandy learned that indeed, they were one of the very few homes that were not zoned for animals, and it would cost them about $5,000 to have their property rezoned.

“So do I get a new roof, or get my house rezoned,” says Sandy. “That’s the choice we’re faced with, and we can’t afford to do both.”

According to Sandy, they are one of only two houses on their road that are not allowed to have animals.

“Right across the road, just the width of this dirt road, they can have horses,” she says. “And this is open range. We have cows wandering through our yard all the time.”

As of mid-September, Sandy said the County had given the them 10 days to get the horse off their property or face fines. A neighbor about one-quarter mile down the road has offered to let Indy stay in a fenced-off area that his daughter used when she had animals in FFA.

“We are so grateful to our neighbor,” says Sandy. “But the area is fenced with barbed wire, and there is a very steep ravine with a creek at the bottom, and when the weather turns icy, we are so afraid that the horse will kill herself trying to get back home.

“She was a race horse, she’s 25 years old, and has joint problems. It’s not safe for her to be running around like that. She was going down into that steep creek area and trying to find her way back to our house.”

Gina Runyan describes this as a “total love story. That horse just trots around and follows Nikki everywhere she goes. It doesn’t need a rope, it only wants this little girl.”

“When we bring Indy to our house in the morning, it only takes about 5 minutes to get here,” says Sandy. “When we take her back in the evening, it takes over an hour. We have to yank and pull. She just doesn’t understand why she can’t stay with Nikki.”

Indy and the catSandy says that when Indy gets to their house, the horse goes to the pen, opens the gate with her nose, goes as far away from the gate as she can, and stays back there.

“She has been so abused and neglected for so long, she was skin and bones when we got her, and she just loves everyone,” says Sandy. “Our two cats, who used to sleep in the house, would sleep outside with Indy. But not anymore. Indy has to go down the road, away from us, every night.”

The Johnsons say they have spent hours on the phone with the County, trying to work something out to where they can afford the rezoning process. They have also been circulating a petition to get support from the Cascadel community.

“We are just asking the County to provide us with the same rights and privileges for this property that are already extended to every other home on this road, but one,” they say in their petition, entitled “Save Indy.”

So while the homeowners association and the County and the neighbors who object are busy debating the rules, the law and their various points of view, Nikki and Indy just want to be together, and winter is coming.

To read Nikki’s essay about her horse Indy, click here.


  1. So what are our options? Help her raise money? Petition the County? Seems this little girl has done a wonderful thing & of course… No good deed goes unpunished!

  2. I do not understand how a community can stand by and allow this to happen! How can only two properties be restricted, while neighboring homes are not?

    Shame on the realtor/seller, for misrepresenting the property restrictions, shame on whoever imposed these restrictions/zoning on only two properties nd shame on the community for not standing up for this young lady with such a big heart!

    What a blemish it will put on the community if this rescued horse dies while trying to get back home to a love so genuine!!

  3. Do you need a blanket for Indy? If so what size? I have extras and would like her to be warm during the winter. You can message me on Facebook my name is Carolyn Hjerling Shaffer. Good luck on the zoning

  4. I’m so sorry that this is happening to you! To take away the real happiness that this horse has because of rules? How sad is that considering you have the property! This is so inhumane to all of you! In this case I really wish I had money because I would give it all to you but unfortunately I don’t do to circumstances that I can’t work. Hopefully others will read this and give what they have so everything works out and soon considering that Indy is up in age and deserves all the happiness that she has right now!

  5. The person or persons that made this an issue must be real miserable human beings. Grow a heart!!!

  6. They have two acres!! What the heck do you mean they can’t have horses!! Give me a break!! This is not Fresno or any other city.. this is the MOUNTAINS! People move here to keep dogs,cats, goats, sheep, chickens and HORSES!!!

  7. What lovely neighbors, sticking their noses where they doesn’t belong. Shame on you! Get a life! A child does something every adult wishes they could do and look what her neighbors did. Sure glad I don’t live there.

  8. Where’s the petition to sign! I want to sign it and this is just ridiculous in my opinion. Shame on those neighbors who are opposed to this little girl having a horse she was so willing to save with her hard earned money!!

  9. Some idiot who parked on the lawn

    I hope Indy gets to live at your house again soon, however that ends up happening! Glad to hear you’ve made such a great friend 🙂

  10. The cascadel association should be helping the family not hindering their ability to care for this horse. Good luck with the horse!

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