Kenzi Brost from Hollywood Horse Training rode rescue horse Belle at the Midwest Rescue Horse Trainers’ Challenge sneak preview. Belle, a rescued horse from the Pony Tales Refuge and Rehab has been matched with Brost in the trainers’ challenge program.

Rescued horses have much to offer adoptive owners. To prove this, the Wisconsin Horse Alliance will hold its first rescue challenge at the Jefferson County Fairground Sept. 22.

The challenge will begin at 10 a.m. and feature about 12 adoptable horses from equine rescues around Wisconsin and Michigan. The horses are paired with selected trainers who worked with them for 90 days.

“Wisconsin Horse Alliance is excited to raise awareness about equine adoption and to showcase the versatility and talent of rescued equines,” said WHA President Rachelle LeJeune. “Our goal is to also shed light on the Wisconsin equine rescues working tirelessly to help better the lives of horses and care for those in need.”

The idea for the trainer challenge came out of the 2017 WHA Rescue Roundtable survey conducted to determine how many horse rescues would participate in a trainer challenge program. With an overwhelming response in favor of the event, WHA proceeded with plans to hold the challenge.

“We hope this event helps to shed light on the incredible potential of rescue horses and to raise awareness about the importance of adoption when looking for your next equine companion,” LeJeune said.

Each participating rescue organization submitted an application for horses determined to be most in need of training. Each rescue group could send three to four horses as long as the horses were deemed sane, safe and sound, both medically and behaviorally.

All horses in the competition will be available to the public for adoption at the end of the competition. Potential adopters with a preapproved application may bid on the horses available for adoption, with the highest bid winning.

LeJeune notes each horse is unique with different needs since each comes from different backgrounds and experiences. Some have had little handling or have never been started under saddle. Others might have been started some time ago and then simply allowed to sit for a length of time without continued training.

One such horse is DH Nevermore from the Midwest Horse Welfare Foundation near Pittsville. “Never” has been matched with Hillary Holman of Gaia Equine, her equine training business in Michigan. Holman decided to become involved in MRHTC because she thought it was a great way to showcase that rescued horses can be great companions, trail horses and show horses if they are placed in the right environment.

“I feel a strong sense of responsibility to find as many horses as possible loving, long-term homes,” Holman said. “There are so many horses that have never been given the opportunity to really exhibit their true skills and capabilities. Who doesn’t love a great comeback story, where one of these amazing equines gets a second chance at life and some lucky person or family gets to bring a new family member into the herd.”

The trainers picked up their assigned horses the weekend of June 22, taking them to their training facilities to work with them. The trainer is responsible for the care and housing of the horse.

“We hope that through this challenge the trainers will establish long-term relationships with each of the rescues,” LeJeune said.

Trainer Mandy Henderson of Madison is working with Rudy, one of the horses nominated by Amazing Grace Equine Sanctuary. AGES considers Rudy one of its most dramatic rescues. When he was removed from his situation, his body ranking was barely 1 and he had minimal handling.

Henderson was approached by a friend and encouraged to become part of the challenge. Although participating in the challenge wasn’t something Henderson sought, she says she would do it again.

“Rudy needed a trainer and she (Henderson’s friend) kindly thought I might be a good fit for him,” Henderson said. “He’s had a long journey to get to where he is today, and it’s far from over. Although he’s been a challenge to work with due to his extreme distrust for humans, he’s probably been the most rewarding horse I’ve ever worked with. I can’t wait to continue my journey with him and hopefully help him find his ‘person’ to continue to grow strong with.”

She also wants to dispel the misconception the rescue horses are “damaged” and not able to be anything more than “a pasture pet.” She believes humans owe horses proper care because they didn’t “ask to end up in the circumstances of being homeless, sometimes abused and starved.”

“I’m hopeful these successful ‘retrained’ horses will help shed light on both the need for homes for these horses, but also on the fact that they can be great athletes and partners,” Henderson said.

A dressage trainer currently training her fourth rescue horse, Henderson wants to help bring more awareness to people that the rescued horses can go on to be trained and have careers in many disciplines.

Riding horses since she was 7, Henderson knew she wanted a career caring for animals. Building on her experience with a local humane society, Henderson became a certified veterinary technician and now works for the University of Wisconsin.

At the challenge, the trainers will compete with their assigned horses in four classes, vying for cash prizes with the overall score ranking them first through fifth place. The four classes are in-hand groundwork, a walk/​trot/​canter under saddle, an in-hand trail and a freestyle class.

There is a youth division for ages 16-18 and an adult division. The youth are judged on three of the classes (in-hand, trail and freestyle) as they cannot ride at the final competition.

WHA’s mission is to provide equine rescues with education regarding best practices information as well as serving as a networking venue between the various rescues around the state and Midwest.