Li’l Red is shown with her new family following her win in the East Coast Comeback Challenge
There were tears in the Large Arena of the Farm Show Complex as 10 rescue horses displayed their new found skills after just 90 days of training. Ultimately it was the amazing work of Todd Feaser of Newville, PA, and the rescue horse, "Lil' Red" that wowed the judges in the East Coast Comeback Challenge. The pair completed the obstacle course with ease and went on to exhibit incredible feats during their "freestyle" which included shooting a gun at balloons. Lil’ Red handled the gunshots better than the audience; adults jumped, children cried, and Lil’ Red did not turn an ear.
Feaser received "Red," one of 32 malnourished horses seized from a private Mercer County, PA, farm, in July. Red was badly emaciated upon rescue and in need of medical attention, but thanks to foster care, she put on hundreds of pounds in just a few short months. When she arrived at Feaser's Top Shelf Ranch in Newville, PA, she was timid and untrusting for the first two weeks until Feaser's daughter, Fallon, began working with her.
"She trusts kids," Feaser said of Red. "If she won't do something, just send a kid to her and she will follow them across fire. Literally."
The trainers had been given free license to exhibit 'extra' training skills during the two minute “freestyle”, and Feaser did just that. He had balloons placed on top of cones and then shot them with a loud air gun while mounted and walking around. His young daughter Fallon then mounted the tiny chestnut Quarter Horse and rode her across a flaming block of wood.
Winning the Equine Comeback Challenge at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in October was "as good as winning any rodeo or anything else," Feaser said. At the end of the freestyle, Feaser brought the McBride family, who had already decided to adopt Red, into the ring where they surprised their three young daughters with their new horse.
"Right away he [Feaser] said, 'This is the perfect horse for your family,’" said Mrs. McBride. "Finally my daughters guilted me into getting them a horse. They had no idea it came true until the announcer said it. It was a total surprise!"
Along with the championship, Feaser won a custom handmade saddle donated by Cowboy Classics Saddlery.
The horses involved in the Challenge had never been under saddle prior to the start of the 90 day training period. Trainers and rescue horses competed in a versatility trail class that included opening a 'rope gate', walking over a raised ramp, showing at all three gaits, and trotting over poles. Following the event, rescue horses became available to be privately rehomed by each trainer to approved homes only. Some are still available and can be seen on Equine.com. At least three trainers chose to keep their horses.
The other featured trainers were: Joel Miner of Cedar Rock Ranch in Orrstown, PA, who galloped his blindfolded horse; Courtey Vanderbook of Moriah Farms in Rochester, NY; Kimberlee Straus of Renegade Wind: The Horse-Human Revolution in Honeoye, NY; Tammy Marsh of Palomino Acres: Equine Services, LLC, Lindley, NY; Erin Zellefrow of Equine Revelation in Erie, PA; Shane Ogden of Cornerstone Equestrian Center in Hamlin, NY, Jessica Flaherty of Flaherty Equestrian at Navillus Farm, Davidsonville, MD; Missy Morris-Rothfuss of Rothfuss Racing Stable in Houston, PA; and Melissa Smithmyer of Hancock Stables in Hollidaysburg, PA.
The horses, varying in age, size and breed, showcased different talents like climbing mounting blocks, galloping while blindfolded, and standing quietly while their rider stood on their backs. Accomplished hunter rider and trainer Louise Serio, and trainer and judge Terry Helder judged the Comeback Challenge, and personally congratulated each individual trainer on their accomplishments with their respective horses during the final lineup. Tiffany Mead was the Course Designer.
A Home for Every Horse created the Equine Comeback Challenge to provide horses in need of care and shelter the chance to find a loving and caring home. A Home for Every Horse was founded in 2011 as a way for Equine.com—the World’s Largest Equine Marketplace—to develop a lasting partnership with equine rescues all over the country and use their resources to help find forever homes for the more than 170,000 unwanted horses. At the beginning of 2014, Mariah Hammerschmidt, the Project Coordinator for A Home for Every Horse, realized there was a growing need to assist rescue organizations in their efforts.
“Rescue horses needed a platform and a knowledgeable partner to show the world what they are capable of,” said Hammerschmidt. “With a competition like the Equine Comeback Challenge, rescue horses are given that much-needed opportunity to showcase their abilities and potential.”
The inaugural Equine Comeback Challenge took place in February, 2014 at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo in Denver, Colo. After a very successful finish, the need to do a similar event on the East Coast became prevalent. These rescues provided the 10 horses for the Equine Comeback Challenge: Geauga Humane Society’s Rescue Village, Lollypop Farm and the Humane Society of Great Rochester, Second Chance Thoroughbreds Inc., The ANNA Shelter and Triple B Ranch Horse Rescue.