September 2014 | Horses Lucky to Be Alive Train for a Career in the Equine Comeback Challenge
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Horses Lucky to Be Alive Train for a Career in the
Equine Comeback Challenge

September 2014 - Stephanie Shertzer Lawson

Rico SuaveRico Suave, shown in the insert upon seizure from a starvation situation, is a personable horse who loves to hang out with his new trainer, Kimberlee Strauss.

There’s an interesting experiment underway, the results of which will be unveiled in Harrisburg, PA in October.  Is it possible for a group of horses that have been so badly mistreated they are lucky to be alive, regain trust in humanity and become useful riding companions – or more?

Rico Suave is the name rescuers gave to an 8 year old thoroughbred stallion who was seized with 14 other emaciated horses from a farm so covered in junk, “it looked as though a B52 flew over with roll-off dumpsters and bombed the place with garbage,” rescuers said.

Humane officers found two dead horses, both still wearing their halters and racing shoes, partially eaten by coyotes. The others were locked in a ramshackle barn or fenced into a barely half acre paddock of mud. Those had resorted to eating the bark off trees and the wooden fence posts. The tiny  paddock was strewn with debris – old building materials, scrap pieces of metal, old wooden boards with nails poking out of them, old farm equipment and appliances, pieces of cars and trailers.  The humane officer said they were “in the worst condition [I’ve] ever seen for horses,” and had body scores of at best 1.5 to 2 (out of 9 in the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System). One horse had a broken leg that had gone untreated for a month or more. Another had injured itself on the debris in the paddock and had a large, festering wound.

Their 53 year old owner, who had obtained them from a nearby racetrack, was convicted of 15 counts of animal cruelty and sentenced to prison.

Out of this misery emerged Rico. Apparently unraced and untrained, he was removed to a rescue, Lollypop Farm, in mid-April, 2014, where he was gelded and received much-needed nutritional and veterinary care.  In mid -July, he was paired with trainer Kimberlee Strauss, who is currently doing ground work with him.

Kimberlee and Rico are one of ten pairs of trainers and rescue horses competing in the Equine Comeback Challenge, to be held at the 69th annual Pennsylvania National Horse Show at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, PA on October 14.  The PNHS is one of the largest and most prestigious hunter/jumper shows in the US.

The Pennsylvania National Horse Show has teamed with A Home For Every Horse to address the unwanted horse issue. Six of the ten horses were seized from cruelty situations, the others were bought out of auction kill pens or surrendered by owners who could no longer afford to keep them.  The horses are Standardbreds, paints, thoroughbreds, Arabs, a Paso Fino and a quarter horse cross.

The trainers met their horse, assigned to them, not chosen, the week of July 14. They will work with them for three months, then compete in a trail class designed to show the horse’s willingness while navigating obstacles and demonstrating aptitude for the next stages of training. The Equine Comeback Challenge will take place at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show the evening of October 14 (admission that day only is free). The horses will then be available for adoption.

Trainers will be documenting their progress on Facebook and Twitter posts. Follow their progress at #EquineComebackChallenge, or at