APACHE JUNCTION, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Every day Good Shepherd’s Healing Ministries Horse Rescue volunteers work hard to save the lives of abused and abandoned animals. But the love they feel for the horses in their care is matched by the love they feel for Maria, the owner, operator and life-blood of GSHM Horse Rescue.

[WATCH: Arizona's Family surprises Apache Junction horse rescue with a big check]

“Maria is a gift to us,” said one volunteer.

“Maria is an ironclad woman,” said another volunteer.

“She puts everything, her heart and soul into this place,” said Pam, the volunteer who nominated Maria.

“She doesn’t take care of herself as much as the horses,” said a woman while grooming one of the rescues. “I mean she gives up things.”

“She saves people, too,” said a volunteer on horseback.

“Let’s go surprise Maria and make her day!” said 3TV’s Gibby Parra. While cameras followed, Para worked his way through the sprawling ranch, asking for Maria.

“Are you Maria?” asked Parra, approaching a petite woman.

“Yes,” said Maria.

“Tell me about this horse rescue,” said Parra.

“We try to help all the horses that we can,” said Maria. “We have a new rescue that came in that was very damaged and we’re trying to save her. She’s been extremely starved, massive wounds on her leg. Here is Irma.”

[READ MORE: Surprise Squad stories]

Maria described all the healing Irma had undergone since arriving at the rescue. She then pointed out the stories of a few of the fifty horses in her care. There were young Arabians no one wanted to buy and a former jumping horse who now makes a wonderful lesson horse for special needs children.

“When I was a child, I think horses saved me, now it’s my turn to save them,” said Maria. “I myself saving horses at the auction because they were probably going to end up at slaughter.

Maria depends on her loyal, dedicated family of volunteers and donations to keep the rescue running.

“We don’t get a lot of funding, so we struggle,” said Maria. “Somehow we make it.”

“Is that one of your biggest challenges, is to be able to feed these horses?” asked Parra.

“Yes,” said Maria.

“I understand when these donations are low, you’re going out of your own pocket,” said Para.

“Yeah, a lot,” said Maria.

“She thinks she just saves horses, but she also saves us,” said Pam. “She does so much for the kids and animals, I just want something good to happen for her.”

“You know, we are Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad and with the help of Valley Toyota Dealers, we have a little something for you,” said Parra handing Maria a box. “Hopefully, it will help.”

Maria opened the box to reveal $3,500 for a month of horse feed. 

When she showed the crowd the amount, the volunteers broke into applause, cheers and tears.

“Oh, my gosh! Thank you, thank you so much!” said Maria hugging Parra.

“That’s for the horses. This is for you,” said Parra, flipping the paper over to reveal dinner for four at The Keg. “Our friends at The Keg are going to take care of dinner for you. And that means you’re not going to pay tip, you’re not going to do anything. You get to enjoy a nice dinner on The Keg.

"We just want to say thank you because of what you’re doing here with these horses, these volunteers are doing, you keep giving and we just wanted to give back.”

“Thank you so much. God bless everybody,” said Maria. “We don’t have a lot of money, but we have a lot of love.”

If you would like to help Good Shepherd’s Healing Ministries Horse Rescue, contribute at gshmhorserescue.org/contact-us.

Thank you to The Keg for partnering on this surprise to give Maria a well-deserved night out!

Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad is sponsored by your Valley Toyota Dealers.


Copyright 2019 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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