By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN Situated on a scenic stretch of paradise just outside of Winsted (23677 Cable Ave.), Truhaven Ranch transforms lives, “four hooves and two heels at a time.”
“We started out [in 2009] as an equine rescue,” president Candy Phillips said.
The non-profit organization rehabilitates unwanted horses and places them up for adoption, and also uses rescued horses to help at-risk youth. In the future, Truhaven plans to implement a program for military veterans and corporate sponsors, as well.
The ranch is run entirely by volunteers, and relies on the generosity of donors to keep its doors open.
Oct. 6 excitement
The public is encouraged to contribute by attending a trail challenge event at the ranch Saturday, Oct. 6 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Tickets are $5 at the gate, and proceeds go directly to support the horses at Truhaven Ranch.
“You don’t have to be a horse person to come to this,” Truhaven vice president Sarah Smith said. “It’s a great atmosphere for families.”
The ranch will be decorated with a Halloween theme, and visitors can watch as horse owners navigate a “haunted” trail.
“We’ll have simulated natural obstacles that help make your horse more versatile,” Phillips said.
Throughout the day, horses can also compete in barrel racing and other activities.
At the new 108-by-250-foot indoor arena, vendors will have jewelry, coffee, spices, and other items for sale. Lindy’s Café plans to provide a lunch stand.
Old West reenactments from 1 to 2 p.m. promise to be a highlight of the event, with cowboy and outlaw “shootouts” and “bull whip cracking” by John Cody, founder of the Old West Society of Minnesota.
“It’s one hour of pure entertainment,” Phillips said, adding that festivities will continue rain or shine.
A raffle drawing is scheduled after the reenactment, along with a $500 rescued equine gambler’s choice competition.
Vendor door prize drawings will be given away at 3 p.m.
Living to give
Truhaven Ranch was born out of Phillip’s lifelong passion for horses. She lives at the ranch and volunteers there full-time, while working with horses on the side to help pay the bills.
Barn operator Melissa Norton also lives and volunteers at Truhaven. She earns her living as a weekend waitress.
Truhaven’s board also has several other dedicated volunteers, including Smith, Cynthia Glock, Clay Flemming, Sandra Peterson, Betsy Kitslaar, Darla Eichhorn, and Bonnie Ritter.
“We’ve got the greatest group of people,” Phillips said.
No one seems to mind working hard, and a sense of purpose is evident among the members.
“It’s a joy being here a privilege,” said Smith, another full-time volunteer.
For Smith, seeing the smiles of the youth who visit the ranch makes all the work worthwhile.
These smiles are especially prevalent when young women from Steps of Success Homes in Andover spend a day at the ranch.
“These girls all have abandonment issues, like the horses,” Smith said.
“They relate to them so well,” Phillips added.
Although the teens aren’t typically used to the environment of a working stable, they adapt quickly.
“They walk in a little quiet at first,” Smith said, explaining that they’re often a bit skeptical of the barn smell and unfamiliar surroundings.
“By the end of the day, they want to take the horses home,” she said. “Those are the times we remember why we’re here.”
Half the girls learn to groom, saddle, and ride, while the other half participate in an art project.
“We also have mini horses for those who are scared of the big ones,” Phillips said.
Working with horses can be a major confidence booster, according to Smith.
In addition to group home visits, Truhaven currently has 12 at-risk youth who ride on a weekly basis.
While some facilities cater to juvenile delinquents or handicapped children, Truhaven focuses on a “middle group” of 11- to 19-year-olds who might not fit a specific classification.
“We couldn’t find a model anywhere that has the same program we do,” Phillips said.
Truhaven mainly finds qualified youth through word-of-mouth referrals. In addition to riding lessons, the adolescents also learn responsibility through a variety of volunteer activities, such as cleaning, lawn maintenance, grooming, and more.
Healing for horses
Many of the horses at Truhaven also come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Some are donated because the owner can no longer care for them, while others were abused or neglected.
“We specialize in younger, trainable, more adoptable horses,” Phillips said.
After the animals are rehabilitated, they are placed in “forever homes,” where they will receive plenty of love and care.
“We really focus on matching the right horses with the right people, and the right people with the right horses,” Smith said.
Before taking a horse home, Truhaven encourages equestrians to try foster care. That way, the potential owner has an opportunity to get to know the horse at Truhaven before committing to the purchase.
Since the beginning of 2011, more than 25 horses have been successfully adopted.
Sponsor an equine
Rehabilitating horses is rewarding, but with about 40 of them to feed and care for, it’s also expensive, according to Phillips. Basic care (vet, farrier, board) for one 1,000-pound equine costs about $3,000 per year.
“We’re always short of funds,” she said. “We were down to 14 bales of hay last spring, but something always comes along, and we make it.”
Individuals and groups can sponsor an equine at Truhaven for a month or more. Donors receive a photo and e-mail updates for their sponsored animal, and can also visit in person.
Payments from equine classes and riding lessons also help fund the rescue program.
To learn more about Truhaven Ranch, call (320) 224-5454, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to http://truhavenranch.org/