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"Underestimate me. That'll be fun."

This should be the mantra of Michelle Cochran, mother of two autistic children and Founder and Medical Director of HiCaliber Horse Rescue, the country's most active horse rescue.

Living a rare life is often not planned; sometimes it is thrust upon you by circumstance. And it is not the rarity of the circumstances you find yourself in, but the courage, character, devotion, leadership, and true heroism with which you survive them that places you in a category over and above the norm.

Michelle's story of survival might begin with the physical and mental abuse she endured for years at the hands of a man who continues to haunt her life in unspeakable ways.

Maybe it began with her career as an animal control officer, where she witnessed the widespread abuse and neglect of defenseless animals. Perhaps it was the traumatic brain injury she suffered, while on duty, where she incurred cognitive, receptive, vestibular and speech issues, as well as chronic neck, back, and shoulder pain, issues which affect her daily.

But I believe it begins with a race horse named HiCaliber Americana.

After a lifetime running races, HiCaliber Americana had been thrown away, as many race horses are when they stop winning, and was on his way to be sold for meat, when the vehicle pulling the trailer he was in crashed. Taken to the animal shelter and labeled "fractious" in his fright and confusion, he was marked for euthanasia.

It's a rare occasion when a car accident turns out positively, but for this horse it was fortunate, indeed. Seeing the situation for exactly what it was, even in her inexperience with horses, Michelle brokered a quick deal - $50 for the horse - thus beginning a rescue journey that would blow the boundaries off any other horse rescue operation in the United States. Ever.

With HiCaliber Americana in tow, Michelle began tapping into an ability she wasn't aware she possessed, and discovered an innate sense and understanding of horse psychology and behavior. The kind of rapport she developed can't be taught, but must be earned. Perhaps these abused horses saw in her an understanding and compassion that could only come from having lived the pain herself. She just "got" them. The horses, in turn, seemed to "get" her.

The horses Michelle has saved have saved her back, allowing her time to recover, to cry, to rail against a society by which they all, each in their own way, have been so wronged.

A true survivor, Michelle is righting wrongs in record numbers. HiCaliber Horse Rescue, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, now boasts over 300 volunteers and fosters. Fighting to keep horses out of the slaughter pipeline, they have rescued nearly 500 horses from slaughter auction in 2016 alone, and rehabilitated and adopted out 210 of those as of the date of this writing. High-profile rescues include 2015's Fallen Herd - an unprecedented case of starvation - and 2016's Slaughter Truck 11, where HiCaliber Horse Rescue pulled off the Herculean feat of raising more than $11,000 within one hour to turn around a slaughter-bound truck, literally pulling 11 horses off the truck that would have shipped them to their death.

In 2015 and 2016, the ASPCA recognized and awarded HiCaliber Horse Rescue generous grants in support of the phenomenal work they do.

In the meantime, Michelle has learned to live a life of full transparency, not an easy feat. She keeps her worldwide "village" updated through live social media videos and posts, even when the news isn't pretty. "Horses first, always" is the rescue's credo. HiCaliber Horse Rescue takes part in community events, hosts ranch tours, and welcomes participation from interested parties, all while raising awareness about the truth of horse slaughter.

And she will tell you we've only just begun.

Underestimate Michelle? I dare ya.

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