Rojo came up behind 14-year-old Hannah Welch, nuzzling the side of Welch’s face as Welch spoke affectionately about where Rojo was just a mere three months ago to the calm and rideable state he is in now.
The 4-year-old horse has come a long way from being unwanted, untrained and underweight before being rescued by the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation located in Zimmerman. Now, with Hannah’s help, Rojo is set to be auctioned and adopted into a new home on Saturday at the Leatherdale Equine Center on the University of Minnesota campus.
“It’s been a lot of fun (training Rojo), but of course there have been challenges,” said Hannah, who hails from Sartell but spent the summer on her grandparent’s, Bob and Holly Welch, Harmony Ranch in St. Mathias. “And you have to have patience, that’s for sure and really just know the horse and go slow until you work your way up until they are ready.
“But I loved it every step of the way.”
A self-described horse lover since a young age — given her first pony at the age of 2 — Hannah decided this past winter that she wanted a horse to train.
After some research online, she came across the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation, a nonprofit organization that takes in neglected, injured and old horses for a second chance. Hannah decided that was the type of horse she wanted to train. Getting approval, first from her parents and then from her grandparents and finally from the organization, she was on her way, given the guidelines to prepare the horse in 140 days to be adopted.
“It’s always hard to say no to kids,” said Holly, who has owned and operated the ranch complete with 13 horses for the past 22 years. “But as she first asked us to bring another horse onto the ranch and told us about the program, we really couldn’t say no.
“We are very proud of her for this.”
Hannah faced setbacks in her training regimen. First she was given a different horse, Bonfyre or “Bonnie” as Hannah referred to her, that fell ill and was no longer able to train with Hannah. That shorted the teen a month of training until being given Rojo. Next Hannah fell ill, having her appendix removed and losing two weeks in the barn with her horse.
But still, the young girl remained determined, now proudly boasting a horse that is ready and trained.
“When you are given something that has to be done by this date (Aug. 25), there’s a little pressure there,” said Hannah. “This is for his future, so I want to make sure we had everything ready. For him.”
Hannah said Rojo can now be saddled up and ridden as much as any other horse and even gives kisses when provoked with a treat. The duo’s next task will be to showcase their achievements during Saturday’s auction, where all the unbroke horses from the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation and trainers will display how far they’ve come with five judging classes: halter and fitness, trail and obstacle, pleasure, vet and freestyle.
And with so much time spent together in the past few month’s, Hannah admitted the auction will be bittersweet.
“I’ve gotten very close with him (Rojo),” said Hannah, who added that with $9,000 in prize money, trophies and ribbons offered on Saturday, any money won she wants to give back to the organization. “So it’s going to be difficult to say goodbye. But if he goes to a good home, then I’ll be happy.”
To learn more about the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation, visit www.mnhoovedanimalrescue.org.