By Jon Platt and Madi Miller
Dr. Heidi Marcum’s two starkly different worlds keep her peaceful and give her a sense of purpose.
By day, Marcum is a senior lecturer of environmental studies in the Baylor Sciences Building. However, after the last class is released, she dons boots, coveralls and occasionally a hat to care for her foster horses. Despite the hardships of this task, she said she pushes through because it is her calling.
“Every time I despair or worry, something comes up,” she said. “Something rescues me.”
For over a decade, Marcum and her sister have cared for dozens of horses, oftentimes on their own dime and at the expense of almost all their free time.
“She’s got a big and good enough heart to care for animals that no one else is,” said Mike Jones, co-owner of Bar None Country Store in Woodway, where Marcum purchases feed and supplies for her herd of horses.
Marcum said she and her sister took in their first horse because they had been raised to care about animals and could not stand to see an innocent animal suffer.
“Fifteen years later, we have 40 horses that have, through some circumstance or another, had to have a home,” Marcum said. “They’ve either been abused or neglected or they’re old and their owners don’t want them anymore. We basically run a sanctuary for horses.”
While 40 horses to look after seems overbearing, she said she views providing medical attention, working in harsh conditions, spending her spare time and all other aspects of caring for the animals as her life’s work. No matter the cost.
“I’m supposed to do this,” Marcum said.
The bill is not footed by Marcum alone. She said that many people in the community, including her students, give to the cause and that Bar None Country Store has helped provide for the animals in the past. The support of others is another form of confirmation for Marcum that this is her what she is supposed to be doing.
Not only is there a financial cost for this endeavor, but Marcum said the time she spends with her animals totals somewhere around 40 hours each week — the length of a regular full-time job.
“We put in a minimum of four hours a day,” Marcum said. “Seven days a week. If it’s cold, miserable, rainy and sleeting, or 100 degrees — it doesn’t matter we’re out here about four hours a day. It’s five or six on the weekends.”
The long hours and expenses are what Marcum chooses. She finds solace in the methodical care of animals, she said. After her day at work in the Baylor Sciences Building, Marcum said caring for and working with the animals is calming.
While people and tasks grapple for her attention all day, her animals just want to experience her presence and she theirs.
“I just look at these guys and they’re like, ‘Hey, got any food?’ and I say, ‘Yeah. No problem,’” she said. “It keeps me peaceful and happy.”
Over the years, as people heard about her outreach program, more and more phone calls came in to Marcum about mistreated horses. She said every horse they can afford is taken in for care. After an animal’s health is restored, she and her sister work to find a permanent home for it.
“They’ll never end up used or abused again,” she said.
Ruben Pizana, who graduated from Baylor in 2014, often spent time helping Marcum care for the four-legged giants.
“Whether sound to ride or not, Dr. Marcum has taken in many horses and given them a new and improved lifestyle,” he said. “Her wealth of knowledge and love of horses can be seen every day with the countless hours she dedicates. She teaches people to appreciate everything horses can offer.
A lot of the time, neglected animals end up in Marcum’s barn because of her relationship with the McLennan County sheriff’s office.
As word spread of the outreach program, the sheriff’s deputies began contacting Marcum to house and heal horses. Soon, she was the go-to for rehabilitation services in the area.
Generally, the sheriff’s office is alerted to animals in abusive situations by phone calls from civilians who notice the atrocity. Officers also coordinate seizure operations for neglected animals if they see them while on patrol, said Cpt. M.R. Colyer with the McLennan County Sheriff’s department.
Colyer said Marcum’s efforts are reverberating throughout McLennan County and Central Texas.
“She’s helping by getting these horses back up to good health,” he said. “And then by possibly being able to find good homes for them.”
By answering her calling, Marcum is contributing to both healing the world and inspiring people along the way.
“It’s good to know that someone cares enough for animals to make sure they’re treated the right way,” Jones said.
To report animals in abusive situations, call the McLennan County sheriff’s office at 254-757-5000.