Down a long, sloping gravel driveway, Jamie Woodruff has created a small haven for animals large and small who have one thing in common: they need to be rescued.
In the past seven years, Woodruff has rescued 14 horses, at least one dog and one cat, all of whom live in relative harmony on her 5-acre farm in Clifton.
"Every day still gives me butterflies," she said. "They do everything they can for me, why shouldn't I do everything I can for them."
When she was growing up, Woodruff spent her summers on her family's ranch in Nebraska, learning how to ride horses from her grandfather, Roland Schulz.
She never set out to rescue horses, she said.
"When I went out to buy my first horse, I couldn't find anything I wanted," she said. "I went to this one farm to look at a seven-year old horse, but by the time I got there, it was sold."
Another horse at that farm, a 14-year-old thoroughbred, looked to be between 150 and 200 pounds underweight.
"She used to be a race horse but she'd been abused," Woodruff said. "I had no intention of buying a horse that old, but when we saw her, we just fell in love with her."
The horse was brought back to the farm and nursed to health, she said. "We had her for seven years until she got sick and we had to put her down, that was just in December," Woodruff said.
MORE THAN a dozen horses have arrived at Red Road Farm malnourished, neglected, with physical or medical complications, just looking for some TLC, attention and a second chance.
"I don't think of myself as a rescue organization," Woodruff said. "I'm just taking in horses, bringing them back to health, retraining them and correcting whatever I can so they can find good homes."
Some of the horses earn "homes for life" at her farm. The most recent horse to fall into that category is appropriately named Hope.
The dark brown filly, only 11 months old, has been rescued twice: once off a slaughter truck and then from a farm with her mother, Classy Lassy. The two were in a small fenced-in area, standing in a foot of mud when Woodruff found them.
"Their owner wanted to see if I could train them, but I told them I couldn't do it there," she said. She brought the horses back to her farm and, a month later, had convinced the previous owner to sign over ownership of the horses.
Hope was thin and sick when Woodruff took over caring for her. Unfortunately, she got worse before she could get better. Nearly two weeks ago, Hope had a case of colic that nearly killed her.
"Her large colon got wrapped around a stomach muscle near her spleen," Woodruff said. "She couldn't eat or go to the bathroom, she kept throwing herself against the wall or rolling on the ground, she was in so much pain."
A veterinarian gave Hope medication and she appeared to be getting better, but a few hours after leaving her at the Marion DuPont Scott Equestrian Hospital in Leesburg, Woodruff received a phone call that her condition had grown worse. Without surgery, Hope wouldn't last another day.
After the hour-and-a-half long operation, Hope was noticeably in better spirits, Woodruff said, adding that she stayed to watch the procedure with her fiancee, Mike Munson, and some of their friends. "Even though she was groggy, she was a completely different horse."
Hope recovered so quickly, she was able to return to Woodruff's farm a day early.
"I'd still like to see her gain 50 or 75 pounds, but she's doing so much better already," Woodruff said.
THE ONLY EVIDENCE that Hope had been sick is the small patch of missing hair on the underside of her belly, where she had been shaved for the operation, Woodruff said.
"Jamie has done so much with these horses," said Munson, washing down Dakota, a white horse with bright blue eyes that used to kick every time she was washed.
"A couple of these horses, when we first got them you couldn't get anywhere near them," he said. "Now, they'll come right up to you."
A native Texan, Munson has been raised around horses and is doing "whatever I can to make her job easier" on the farm until he is deployed with his Air Force unit in late April.
Working side by side with the horses has helped their relationship, he said.
"Since Hope got sick, it's made us a lot closer," he said. "It's given us a new appreciation for our relationship, going through something like that. We realize how much we really love each other."
They talk of their future with one common goal in mind: getting married when Munson returns from overseas, buying a ranch with more land and continuing to save horses.
"Eventually, I'd like to get into therapeutic riding," Woodruff said. "Next year, I'm going to Colorado for 10 days for the John Lyons training certification. It's not something I have to do, but I really want to for my own benefit," she said.
Currently, she is in the process of getting her farm certified as a rescue operation. "We went to the [Fairfax County] courthouse and got the name secured," she said.
The name Red Road Farm comes from her Native American heritage. "The Cherokee Trail of Tears was also called the Red Road from all the bloodshed," she said. "I thought it would be a good name."
Some of the horses Woodruff has nursed back to health have stayed in Fairfax County.
Dorian Miller said her horse, Scout, is so gentle and careful with her children, they ride him bareback on trail rides.
"He's just incredible," she said of the horse she's owned for five years.
However, he still gets scared by simple, small things, like a wayward stick of bamboo in the pasture.
"He's incredibly fearful," she said. "We can't take him to shows because he won't jump anything the first time he sees it. He'll get scared and go around it."
"Scout was very fearful of people at first," Woodruff said. "He's come so far, I'm so proud of him."
He has continued to improve every year, Miller said, but she can still see traces of whatever abuse he suffered in the past.
"I didn't know he was a rescue when we got him," she said. "When I look back at him, I wonder when he'll quit improving. He's just phenomenal."
Next door at the Burk house, Cheyenne has become a member of the family, running alongside their two chocolate Labradors and 50 chickens.
The miniature horse was bow-legged, with an underbite and large forehead when Woodruff first purchased her for her niece, but those characteristics "just made her cuter," she said.
"She's just wonderful," said Laura Burk. "She's really gentle and careful with our baby [son Nathanael, 2]. He'll walk down to the road with her and talk to her the whole way. She'll just nuzzle him on the cheek the whole time."
Cheyenne serves as a sort of guard horse, keeping an eye on their chickens, but mostly "she just likes to think that she owns the place," Burk laughed.