Their plans were set. Cole Irvin and Kristen Beat were supposed to head to Lake Norman in North Carolina. They had booked a pontoon boat for the day, and the Orioles pitcher and his wife planned to spend part of the All-Star Break relaxing in the sun.

Then the phone call came.

They have a habit of this — when a call comes, they answer it, and the story on the other end of the line is enough to supersede existing plans. Because while it’s a human on the phone, the story is always about an animal in need. And that animal needs help, pontoon boat be damned.

“Honey,” Beat turned to Irvin after she hung up, “you know what we’re doing today?”

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Irvin could guess it didn’t involve the pontoon boat.

On that occasion, Irvin and Beat — who works as a broadcaster covering Supercross and extreme sports — drove south instead of north, away from Lake Norman to Gastonia, North Carolina. They had received a call that an elderly man was open to surrendering six of his dozen dogs to new homes, and the day turned into a series of phone calls to prospective foster homes, vet visits and an outpouring of love to animals in need.

That’s a constant in their lives. The care began well before Beat and Irvin adopted their first dog while he pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2019, but the introduction of Rocky — a blind and deaf four-pound Yorkie — opened their world to animals at every turn.

“Rescuing animals, saving animals, is part of our every day,” Irvin said.

There was the lost golden retriever and black Labrador that wandered into the backyard of their 22-acre property in North Carolina. Beat and Irvin pull over on drives to pick up lost cats and dogs. As the years progressed, they adopted three other Yorkies on a permanent basis — Candy, Sissy and Hank — and they’ve served as fosters to many more over the years. Beat and Irvin are passionate advocates for adoption.

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And then there is the rescue horse, saved on a blind recommendation, who has changed their lives forever — giving credence to her name, Hope.

Beat and Irvin have long welcomed dogs in need. Hank, their newest addition, suffered traumatic brain swelling after an accident. They nursed him back to health, and he now uses his full function of all four limbs to snuggle or hop in Irvin’s truck to join him for his throwing sessions. Candy and Sissy, a bonded pair, are once more comfortable in a home after their rescue from an abusive family.

Kristen Beat and Cole Irvin have adopted four Yorkies over the years: Hank, Rocky, Sissy and Candy. Rocky, their first, inspired what may turn into “Rocky's Rescue,” a nonprofit for animal rescues that Beat and Irvin dream of running some day. (Photos courtesy of Irvin family)

And in Baltimore, Irvin quickly volunteered at BARCS and Maryland SPCA. He’s a staunch advocate of adopting animals, particularly mature dogs, and he’s pushed for a rescue to become the Orioles’ clubhouse dog.

A horse was different, though. They both have experience with horses from their time growing up in Southern California, but they hadn’t ventured into that field since moving to North Carolina.

It was another phone call, another spring into action.

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And Hope was aptly named.

“Kristen had a feeling about this horse,” Irvin said. “And that feeling was a good one, because she has been a godsend.”

***

The voice on the other end of the line didn’t want to presume, because what she was asking was no ordinary request. The veterinarian, though, had come to know Irvin and Beat as people she could rely on — people animals could rely on.

See, there was this horse, about 15 years old. She was bought from a kill pen, from a buyer who wanted the mare to do lessons. But this $200 horse, saved once from an untimely end, needed to be saved again. She was severely emaciated. She had worms.

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“With a little bit of love, we could turn this horse around,” the veterinarian told Beat. “Would you want it?”

Beat turned to Irvin, who was listening in to the conversation. The look on his face told her everything.

“We’re getting this horse,” Irvin said.

Sight unseen, Hope came into their lives in January. They paid the $200 for her, and when she arrived, they could just about see every bone in her body. She was so weak she could barely walk. She needed trimming of her overgrown hooves, dental work for her uneven teeth and treatment for equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, a disease that attacks the central nervous system.

But she was theirs.

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Over the course of six months, Hope was nursed back to health. She visited a chiropractor because her back was out of line. She received necessary vitamins among her nutrition and, as the months passed, the mare’s body grew strong.

“She became our little baby,” Beat said.

She was such an easy horse to love, despite having seven different owners and a near-death sentence at the kill pen auction — a terror-filled experience. Hope was safe here, though, and she had a stall at a 100-acre horse boarding facility run by a neighbor of Irvin and Beat.

They didn’t know at the time whether she’d be rideable, but at the very least, Irvin and Beat had a pasture horse — another rescue pet that is hundreds of pounds heavier than their lot of Yorkies.

Over time, though, Hope became the best-natured horse either Beat or Irvin have ever ridden.

“She’s had a lot of training in a lot of different stuff she’s gone through,” Irvin said. “Now, she just gets loved on every day. She gets to do trail rides every once in a while, but mainly just eats and sleeps.”

During her recovery, though, Beat was confused why Hope never went into heat. For much of the time, the veterinarians figured it was because Hope was so sick. When it never came back, a pregnancy test confirmed an unexpected development.

Irvin and Beat had thought they saved one horse. They had actually saved two.

Cole Irvin and Kristen Beat adopted Hope, a 15-year-old mare, on nearly a whim. The horse has changed their lives in so many ways since January. (Photos courtesy of Irvin family)

***

The panic didn’t set in at first.

Hope wouldn’t run off, Beat told herself. She was a gentle horse, a smart horse, and she must be only cropping grass behind one of the barns. She didn’t even spook that one time a coyote ran at her during a trail ride. She was solid. There was no need to panic.

Beat visited Hope in her stall around 11 p.m. last Thursday, knowing Hope was nearing the end of her pregnancy. And when Hope reared and bucked in the stall, Beat led her mare out to the dressage pen, offering Hope more space as she approached giving birth.

Beat had only turned away for a minute, but when she returned with a bundle of hay, the gate she had closed was open.

And Hope was nowhere to be seen.

“She broke through the fence somehow,” Beat said.

But again, Beat wasn’t stressed. Hope was level-headed, so Beat tooled around the barns looking for her. She got in her car and drove to the upper and lower pastures, searching for her horse.

It’s then when Beat began to cry, unsure of what had happened — or what would happen next.

“Oh my gosh,” she thought, “I lost my pregnant horse.”

The next two hours were a blur of tears and phone calls. Beat’s mother arrived, and she, too, soon cried at the sudden disappearance of Hope. A neighbor who owns another horse at the stables stopped by in her pajamas, just to check if everything was OK.

It wasn’t.

The neighbor had seen a Facebook post of a pregnant mare running down Highway 73 through the middle of the night. One look at the photo was all Beat needed: That was Hope, a horse on the lam.

When they arrived at the end of the interstate, the flashing lights of police cars and an ambulance made Beat fear the worst, that Hope had caused a crash or had been hit. Instead, in a circle of officers, Hope was being petted.

“Ma’am, is this your horse?” Beat was asked.

She could hardly get the words out for the new tears flowing — tears of relief.

A mile and a half from her stall, Hope then received a police escort home. Two squad cars rode in front, lights on, and two drove behind Beat and Hope. She walked her mare down Highway 73, closed off just for her and her mare, back to the stall.

Only moments later, shortly after 2 a.m., Hope’s water broke. A wild night on the loose had induced her birth — which, Beat later learned, was likely Hope’s plan by running. And by Friday’s dawn, Beat washed her foal’s snout with a sponge, instantly in love with the miracle of Hope.

“Horses sometimes know what they need, so she got herself out of the fence, she ran, she induced her pregnancy,” Beat said. “And here we are with the blessing of a little baby that we have not named yet.”

Cole Irvin and Kristen Beat adopted Hope, a 15-year-old mare, on nearly a whim. The horse’s foal was born early Friday morning after a wild adventure of a night for Hope that involved a police escort. He’s unnamed, but Lucky is a front-runner. (Photos courtesy of Irvin family)

***

It all began with Rocky, that little, four-pound Yorkie.

So much has happened since. The Irvin family has grown from husband and wife to include four dogs, a mare and a foal. And someday, there will be room for more.

Irvin and Beat plan on buying a larger property to allow them to rescue more animals. At some point, he said, they’ll create “Rocky’s Rescue,” a nonprofit that will help them focus on something more important than baseball.

“We can’t save them all,” Beat said, but they can try to make a difference in an animal’s life.

As for their foal, the name Lucky is a front-runner. Beat learned that it was something of a miracle that he was born healthy, because the placenta within Hope had grown so thick. The run down the freeway may have been exactly what was needed to ensure both mother and son survived, and now Lucky — if that’s the name that sticks — will be with Beat and Irvin forever.

Hope had moved around so much. She worked jobs on an Amish farm, ran barrel races and has been a trail horse. She never had a permanent home — until now.

“I don’t want that for Hope’s baby,” Beat said. “I want to treat this baby like a companion.”

So on a farm in North Carolina, Hope and Lucky, Candy and Sissy, Hank and Rocky, and Cole and Kristen will live on together.

The foal, possibly named Lucky, is certainly aptly named. (Photos courtesy of Irvin family)

andy.kostka@thebaltimorebanner.com