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Wendy Reuer, Published June 06 2011

Hawley horse rescue sees growing need

HAWLEY, Minn. – Spencer’s ribs poked through a matted, dull-red coat as he struggled to find the strength to hold his gaunt body up to eat.

The American Saddlebred’s owner could no longer afford the horse’s care and surrendered him to the Hightail Horse Ranch and Rescue. After about two weeks of care, cleaning and good feed, Spencer is now thriving.

Spencer is one of many animals rescued by ranch owners Charlotte Tuhy and Joel Hildebrandt.

“I give the owner a lot of credit for recognizing he needed help,” Hildebrandt said.

Hightail Ranch and Rescue officially became a nonprofit in October, just in time for a spike in rescue requests, Tuhy said.

In the past three weeks, Hightail Ranch took in 12 horses and eight miniature horses.

“When they all come in like that and they’re in tough shape, it can be overwhelming for a while,” Tuhy said.

She is quick to find new homes for the horses. Still, as more horses are taken in, Tuhy finds she needs to work even harder to find funding. The rescued horses need services such as veterinary grooming, homeopathic medicine, training, chiropractic care and dentistry.

Most horses rescued by Hightail Ranch can be adopted. The ranch also offers a lease-to-buy option.

Tuhy said the lease-to-buy option allows new owners to get a feel for a horse before taking the plunge into ownership.

“It’s not just train or un-train an abused horse; we need to educate the owners,” Hildebrandt said. “That’s why we offer the various options that we do. It needs to be right, or it doesn’t work.”

All the profits are returned to the ranch, Tuhy said.

The 40-acre ranch is nestled in the Hawley hills where the couple and several rescued animals from horses and donkeys to chickens and ducks live. Volunteer Maia Rasmusson also stays at the property.

On average, the farm holds about 30 horses with a 28-stall barn, pasture, and an outdoor riding arena. Boarding is available for adopted horses and outside horses.

Tuhy said she is usually contacted by owners who want to surrender their

horses, mostly because they’re too expensive.

“All horses require a monetary investment,” she said. “There are feed, farrier and vet costs.”

As Fargo-Moorhead area residents recovered from this year’s spring flooding, many found caring for a horse was no longer financially feasible, Tuhy said.

A local trainer, Todd Burley, donates his time on weekends to help train the horses for riding. Tuhy’s daughter, Jordanne Bruns, is building her own farrier business, and helps shoe and trim the hooves of rescue horses.

Volunteers looking to learn, such as Katie Shaw of Moorhead, also make a difference in keeping the rescue growing, Tuhy said.

Shaw has loved horses her whole life but didn’t have the opportunity to be close to them. When Tuhy donated riding lessons to a local charity auction last year, Shaw made sure she was the highest bidder. Her lessons far behind her, Shaw and her daughter still regularly help and ride at the ranch.

Even the ponies help earn their keep at Hightail Ranch.

Marshmallow and Moose are party ponies. They, and two handlers, attend parties or gatherings and give rides to kids throughout the region for a small fee.

Hightail also offers riding lessons and basic lessons on horse etiquette, which Tuhy likens to “horses for dummies class.”

“You want a lesson, you tell me what you want to learn and I’ll do my best to accomplish that,” she said.

Renee Danielson of Detroit Lakes bought lessons for her 9-year-old granddaughter, Hannah Rose, from Tuhy.

“This is a good way for her to start learning from someone who knows a lot about horses,” Danielson said. “It’s a good way to learn before you buy one.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530