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.”
Sandy 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.