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A Beauty for Ashes Story: Finding New Purpose in Loss and Love from a Horse named Sadie

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

Losing two of her favorite jobs within a short amount of time and the death of her grandparent along with a painful back injury after a fall from her mule, all these life struggles left Tiffany Shepherd heart-broken–devastated–questioning God on why was this happening to her. Why now? But what Tiffany didn’t know or foresee at the time in just a few short months–she would have to struggle with another devastating blow–the death of her beloved horse Sadie.

And just like Job’s restoration story–Tiffany’s story is one filled with heartache and loss along with the restoring of hope and purpose. A beauty for ashes story–a story Tiffany will be quick to say–a story only God can write.

Tiffany Shepherd and her painting of her horse Sadie

Working two jobs, one at a high-end residential landscape company along with teaching at a local community college, Tiffany was enjoying both careers which gave her a sense of purpose in addition to learning new things and most importantly, helping others. Then the unthinkable happened and sent Tiffany into a downward spiral of despair and a loss of self-worth.

“The landscaping job was an opportunity that really came through for me during Covid,” Tiffany explains. “I started the job during Covid because it was essential, and it got me out of the house.

Last June I left my job at the landscaping company that I was involved with. I loved the job and the people that worked there. I learned a lot and felt so accomplished. It was the first place I had ever driven a dump truck. I got to haul equipment and pull trailers. But things happened and it was no fault of my own, but it was time I had to go. I was devastated.

“I was working with the college during this time as well in the Adult High School Diploma program and then after a month after Ieaving the landscaping job, I lost my job at the college due to budget cuts. That caught me off guard. I had already lost my favorite job I had ever had at the landscape business working in a field I loved with many coworkers that were very close to me and doing many of my favorite things. When I lost that first job I felt like I had lost my purpose. And when I got the news of losing my job at the college I was in my car and I pulled over and just cried. Just scream-cried. I just couldn’t believe it. I knew at both places I hadn’t done anything wrong and felt like I was making a difference at both places. I questioned God–how could this happen?

“For weeks I felt like I had been beaten up. And thinking everyone who would find out about it, would think I was such a screw up. How do you lose two jobs in two months?! I knew it was just situations out of my control, but I still felt guilt. I felt shame. I was ashamed of myself. I wasn’t happy.

“I remember telling a friend I’m not happy with who I am right now. Everything that I knew and everything I was had been stripped away. And every purpose I was serving was no longer being served. I really had to process and work through a lot. I was taking the steps holistically to feel better, but it was a long process. That following October I had a friend tell me I needed to find another job since I was only working one part time job and I liked to work and stay busy. And I remember agreeing with him and being appreciative that he had been so honest. But I also remember telling him, I’m not proud of who I am right now. I was so low, and I didn’t know where to go.”

Tiffany took her sadness and grieving to the Lord in prayer and asked for His touch on her life.

“I got down beside my bed and prayed and asked Him, please show me,” says Tiffany. “What can I do? I am feeling completely lost. I asked God where I could find another job where I could serve others like I had been doing in my other two jobs. I needed to find my sense of purpose again.”

An animal lover since she was a baby, Tiffany explains she was raised around animals and always loved them. She had planned to study to become a veterinarian until she attended a Cooperative Extension Meeting in Wilkes and learned about Cooperative Extension. She decided she liked the sound of practical hands-on work and really enjoyed the aspects of that as a future career. Tiffany graduated from NC State with a BS in Agriculture Extension and a minor in Animal Science and Horticulture.

“I was raised around animals, cows and sheep,” Tiffany says with a smile. “There’s a picture of me when I was just a little baby and Daddy is holding me out over a fence and one of our black cows is looking up at me and I’m looking down at her. I tell Daddy that is where it started.”

Baby Tiffany and her Daddy, Mark Shepherd

Sadie, Tiffany’s horse of 26 years, was a gift from her mother. Sadie and Tiffany were the same age when they met–nine years old. Tiffany explains, “I was raised with her. She was a really good girl–the same age as me. She was a quarter horse, a Doc O’ Lena line. Mama bought her for me and for herself. We both wanted a horse.”

The exact day Tiffany prayed to God for direction after the loss of her jobs, she found herself once again suffering from a heartbreaking tragedy–the death of Sadie.

“That very day that I prayed that prayer I went out to the barn to feed my horse and my two farm dogs and let them out to play. When I got to the barn, I noticed something was wrong with Sadie. She had never had anything wrong with her before. Surprisingly, she was 35 years old and had never been sick. I thought she had colic. I called the vet and he came out and she did have impaction colic. He did a thorough job and had her feeling better when he left. I thought about the experiences I have had with natural medicines and alternative therapies and what I could possibly do to help her with the colic. I found some acupressure points and things online and I started doing that in any effort I could to give her relief. I went back home for about an hour to get some things to prepare to spend the night with her. When I came back to the barn, she came around the barn to greet me, but I could tell she still wasn’t feeling well and had actually started feeling worse again. I remember thinking I wish I knew more to do.

I walked around the barn beside her and she ended up passing right there with me. I remember laying over her. I couldn’t believe she was gone. I think it hurt even worse because it was sudden and totally unexpected. I had her for over 26 years and she was always like a mom to me. It was like she had a part in raising me and I could see the little girl in me and what she had taught me.”

The death of Sadie laid heavy on Tiffany’s heart with thoughts of what she could have done and questions of could she have helped in relieving her horse’s pain in some way. And then her mind reflected back on her desire many years ago to learn equine massage and body work. Tiffany began searching online and found a seminar or a type of bodywork called the Jim Masterson Method of Integrated Body Work for both horses and dogs. She ended up going to this weekend workshop and loved it.

“While I was at NC State, I considered doing an equine massage course or an equine body work course,” says Tiffany. “There was one in the eastern part of the state, but it was a certification. I just didn’t have time and I needed to focus on finishing my degree.

“At the seminar in Tennessee I got to work with other horses and there were a few times I had to turn my head to keep from crying in front of everyone because I was missing my horse so much. But what I was learning to do and seeing the results of the work, I thought it was the coolest thing and I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn't been there seeing it and doing it myself. I fell in love with it.”

Tiffany registered for another class in the Oxford area in NC and received her certification for equine massage therapy and canine massage therapy. And what happened while during her time at this class confirmed she was on the right journey for her purpose in life and God’s plan all along.

“The class was at this lady’s farm in Oxford,” Tiffany says. “We did the classroom work in her house and at the barn for the hands-on instruction. The first day there’s a couple other people there and we walk toward the house and the lady comes out to greet us and her little dog comes out and greets us too. It was a really sweet dog and she would stand on her back legs with her paws up in the air like she was so happy to see me. It was like she had known me and she missed me. I petted her and said hey sweetheart and the lady looked at me and said, ‘that’s Sadie’. And I thought, God–thank you. I’m in the right place. And that little dog was my friend the whole week. She treated me special and was so excited to see me every day. She didn’t do this to the other ones in the class. And then on the last day for final exams, she jumped up in my lap and sat there while I answered my questions. And the minute that I got done with the last question, she jumped down. And I just know that was what I call a God hug."

Within the midst of mourning her beloved horse Sadie, God used Tiffany’s pain to bring her to her renewed purpose and now Tiffany is slowly building her business, Summit Equine and Canine Bodywork and excited to see where God will lead.

“Sadie lived a wonderfully long life and was very healthy for her age,” Tiffany says with tears. “She lived until she died and I have accepted that and I see through tragedy God used it to give me back my purpose. A new purpose and if it hadn’t been for the death of Sadie, I couldn’t have seen this. Today Sadie is just as much alive as she’s ever been because she lives on through me and every horse I touch. She’s the reason I’m here and others will benefit from it.

“I’ll never forget what my instructor said in class, ‘Let me tell you something, the body work, the massage, whatever you’re doing with these animals is only ten percent technique and ninety percent your heart.’ I feel that and I know I’ve got a lot more experience to gain but my heart is there. And I believe God has directed me to this. I’m continuing to work at another landscape company part-time and just open to see what God will do. I really want to help these animals and am excited to go down this next path that God is taking me.”

Contact Tiffany at 828.383.9898 or email at

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A sincere and humble thank you to Tiffany Shepherd for sharing her beautiful story with

Farmer Rhodes Granddaughter. She has been a friend of mine for many years and I am in continued awe of her heart to help others and animals. She is an inspiring young lady and I am blessed to know her and call her my dear friend.

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I have been blessed to know Tiffany and her family since she was a baby. Praying that God blesses her new “calling” in a mighty way. Thank you Tathel for sharing her story in the special way that is your “calling “.

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