By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN “It’s time the foal is being born!”
It was the middle of the night on Jan. 25, 2007, but Bonnie Ritter couldn’t resist calling fellow horse lovers Sarah Smith of Howard Lake and Debbi Potts of Lester Prairie.
Undeterred by the bitter cold, Ritter’s friends, as well as Hutchinson veterinarian John Fronig, left their homes and made their way to Ritter’s rural Lester Prairie residence.
The colt’s birth came at a perfect time for Ritter, who had been out celebrating her own birthday with friends that evening.
She wouldn’t have known the foal was arriving, except that she glanced at the video camera connected to her horse barn when she got home.
“The mare was pacing, which was unusual,” Ritter said. Then, the pregnant horse turned around, and Ritter caught the unmistakable sight of little feet.
Now, three years later, those “little feet” have earned two American Paint Horse Association (APHA) world championships.
“He just moves so nicely,” Ritter said.
People often ask Ritter if the talented horse will have any siblings, but he’s a one-of-a-kind wonder.
His mother was a crippled mare, and his father was gelded before the owner realized its potential.
Ritter received the mare because the previous owner didn’t want to deal with her anymore. Three months after the foal’s birth, the mare fell on the ice, heightening her existing injuries. There was nothing that could be done, and she had to be put to sleep.
The little horse’s bloodlines are impressive, though, with ties to high-performance horses Tin Man and Mr. Fancy Bonanza.
A rosie start
Ritter originally called the horse “Rosie,” after a family friend whose last name is Rosenberg. During her time raising Rosie, Ritter taught him basic skills, like how to lunge and how to handle a saddle.
“When I put the saddle on him for the first time, he didn’t buck or anything,” she said.
Ritter described Rosie’s personality as very mellow and docile.
“Because he was orphaned at three months, he was really people-oriented,” she said. “He was kind of like a dog. He would follow you around the pasture.”
A worldwide winner
In late 2008, Ritter decided to sell Rosie, because she didn’t have the means to properly train him.
“If I would have kept him, he would never have been a world champion,” Ritter explained.
An Ohio trainer named Shannon Gillespie rode him to his first world championship in 2009 in the 2-year-old Hunter Under Saddle class.
In a Hunter Under Saddle class, the horse is judged on movement, style, and manners.
It was around that time that Rosie became known as “Hardy,” and his official name became “Guitar Hero.”
In February 2010, Michelle Sloan of Illinois purchased Hardy, and he won the world championship in the 3-year-old Hunter Under Saddle class, as well as the 3-year-old Hunter Under Saddle challenge class.
Ritter, who attended both of Hardy’s world shows, and said it was amazing to see him perform.
“He looks like the little engine that could,” she laughed, referring to his determination, consistency, and lovable personality.
A heart for horses
Ritter’s passion for horses began when she was growing up on a dairy farm near Lake City, where her father raised foals.
Ritter and her husband, Pat, moved to Lester Prairie about six years ago. Pat, a former bull rider, has been a big help with the horses, according to Ritter.
Hardy was the first and the last foal that Ritter plans to raise, however.
“It was a one-time thing. I’m sticking to my 100 percent success record every horse I’ve bred has been a world champion,” she joked.
To learn more about the American Paint Horse Association, go to www.apha.com.