Founder & President
Jim Gath enjoyed a very successful corporate career as one of the founders of USA Today, moving on to Turner Broadcasting, becoming a publisher for a few college magazines and later producing and promoting college football bowl games and large city-wide events. His drive to return to reconnecting with horses started with volunteering at kids’ camps and giving riding lessons, progressed to a boarding facility, then morphed into a safe haven for horses who needed him. Offering his complete heart and soul to these animals became his mission as he created Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary in 2006.
Susan is affectionately known as “Colonel Saturday” for her role as the ranch lead on Saturdays. Susan came to Tierra Madre in June 2015 on a volunteer outing with her high school students with autism. It was the beginning of an amazing opportunity for the students and truly “love at first sight” for Susan. Susan has loved horses all of her life but realizing the chance to ever own one had long passed, she just let that desire fade. The day she walked through the gates at Tierra Madre that love sprang to life and she just knew there would be no need for turning back. Susan is a faithful Saturday volunteer who looks forward to every opportunity to serve those amazing animals and help realize the vision that brought about such an amazing place as TMHS. Her only wish is for more school holidays to allow extra time with her ranch family!
Donor Services Manager/Captain
Leah had always loved horses but was never really around them too often except for the occasional trail ride. After she returned from a horse camp in northern Arizona July 2012, she got online and searched for a rescue to volunteer at. Once she called Jim and made it out to Tierra Madre for a tour, she was hooked. She developed a soft spot for Heighten almost immediately. Over the years, she came out nearly every weekend at 6 in the morning until her family moved to Florida in 2014. Leah still visited as much as school would allow and she ultimately moved back in May of 2018 to pursue her degree at NAU. Leah often does outreach work for the ranch as well. She was professionally requesting silent auction donations from businesses at as young as 15 and was instrumental in helping us put together our first benefit and silent auction in August 2015. She works with any and all of our donors, making sure that they’re a part of the family. She is currently attending NAU online, majoring in Justice Studies with an emphasis in Criminal Justice Administration. She plans on attending graduate school in the future.
John was born and raised in Arizona, no leaving or anything. He’s a desert man through and through, which is evident by his “go-go-go” mentality. When John retired a few years ago, he was living comfortably at home with his wife. When she herd about a boy scout troop visiting Tierra Madre for labor jobs, she had an idea. Later on, she saw the special on the news about us and told John outright, “There’s a horse sanctuary in Cave Creek that needs volunteers. You need to be there on Saturday for orientation.” Thus, John has been with us ever since. He works harder than the rest of us combined, hence the nickname “Iron John.” John has both sides of the ranch’s lunch schedule memorized and works on things that the rest of us dread doing in this heat – renovating stalls, fixing fences, climbing the hay pile and knocking bales, digging trenches, and tweaking the misting systems to name a few. We wouldn’t be anything without him.
Leika has been a member of the Tierra Madre family since February of 2014. A native of New Jersey, Leika became interested in horses during a childhood trip to the Kentucky Horse Park but never had the opportunity to gain horse experience. She chose TMHS specifically because it gives volunteers the opportunity to interact with the horses and make a difference in their lives. Leika credits King John with helping her overcome initial fears and now spends most of her time pampering a once-neglected Kiss, who has quickly become one of the most spoiled kids on the ranch. Every Tuesday, she brings Kiss out for a full bath and special treats.
Jeremiah wasn't around horses much but he was always captivated by them. After a long visit to a family friend's ranch in Texas, he began to understand just what horses can do and how they can help humans. After searching for a place to be with them in Arizona, he found Tierra Madre and immediately committed to 6 days a week. He came nearly every day since he began volunteering in December 2018 and quickly became a leader and lover of the herd. He is especially attached to Jack and dedicates time into training him nearly every day. Some of his hobbies include competitive dancing (he can waltz and salsa) and he is taking up sword artistry.
Tierra Madre’s Accountant
Kathy was indifferent to horses for most of her life. When her daughter, Leah, began as a volunteer in July 2012, she didn’t connect with the horses at first, and was really only there because of Leah. After a few months, she began to come out and volunteer as well and her whole perspective changed. Kathy has since fallen in love with the animals and braves the early mornings with Leah. When our long-time accountant and dear friend passed away, we didn’t really know where to go from there. Were we going to start paying large amounts to a firm or a private person? We net just enough to keep us going 365 days a year. Well, that’s where Kathy stepped in. She does everything to do with our accounting – all as a donation. She is an essential part of our Tierra Madre family and goes out of her way for us. Kathy currently comes out when she’s in town and has her granddaughter, Kaitlyn, in tow.
Kathi has always been an animal lover and had been looking for a way to help horses in need. In December of 2016 she walked through the gate at Tierra Madre after a series of “small world” occurrences and she just knew Tierra Madre was meant to be. We learned right away that she plans events for a living. Which we decided was a wonderful stroke of luck for us. It’s been working out just fine! Ever since she got here, she’s been dedicated to making sure that our major fund-raising events are successful. Kathi grew up around horses and has always loved them. But, after landing on her butt a few times as a little girl she became unsure around them. Enter Iron Man, he’s a tall dark & handsome guy at the ranch who melts hearts. Kathi fell in love with him immediately. Since then she’s grown attached to many of the horses at the ranch (it’s ok, Iron Man isn’t the jealous type.) It’s clear that Kathi has a deep love for all of the horses and will be here with them for a long time to come.
Alissa is an Arizona native, growing up with horses and just about every other animal imaginable. She spent most of her time trail riding and a little barrel racing as a child. Due to work and family commitments, she hasn’t owned horses since her teenage years. However, her love of horses never diminished over the years. She now has the opportunity to give back, and found Tierra Madre. After her first day volunteering, in December 2018, she was hooked. She happily looks forward to tackling any work that needs done, and interacting with the horses as much as she can, including running around the arena with them! Alissa loves all the horses at Tierra Madre, but Chianti is a special favorite. She also has a soft spot for Jazz and Cadence. Alissa continues to volunteer because, “Being a positive part of these horses’ lives just makes my soul happy!” Alissa has 3 wonderful daughters and additionally loves the outdoors and hiking with her two dogs.
Alexis Roeckner Ferri
Executive Director Emeritus
Alexis walked into Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary in June 2009 when she was 17 years old, armed with the task of completing 100 hours of community service for a school project. The original plan was to get those hours done, learn some more about horses – her first love in life – then be done. By the end of her first day at Tierra Madre, however, she knew she was never going to leave. Five and a half years of volunteer and videography work for the ranch later, Alexis was appointed a ranch manager in October 2014 and the ranch director a few months later. In January 2017, she was appointed Tierra Madre’s executive director. In addition to ensuring the completion of day-to-day tasks that come with the smooth running of a ranch, she oversees volunteer training, fundraising and marketing efforts, social media, event planning, donor development, community outreach, program creation and development, and morning donut gatherings. Her favorite part of her job, however, is being responsible for the health and happiness of the horses. Alexis holds a bachelor’s degree in sustainability and a master’s in nonprofit leadership and management, both from Arizona State University. Far from being the lost, miserable teen she was on her first day, she credits the horses of Tierra Madre for making her step into the shoes of someone she never thought she could be. Alexis is still a volunteer but pursuing her next journey with her growing family.
Melissa is a native Phoenician and grew up loving on horses. Her grandmother had horses, which began a life long love affair of all things equine. She showed Quarter Horses in the 1980's and early 1990's then after getting a graphic design degree, worked at the Arizona Horse Connection, and built their first (and I think still functioning) website. She lost her last Quarter Horse mare, Dreamboat Annie Jo just two summers ago. Fortunately she met Leeanne at a retreat a couple of years ago and answered the call for a new webdesign. That first volunteer orientation was just like, well, riding a horse. The smells, the sounds, the emotion of being part of a herd again. Home.