What does Rescued Horses have to do with Saved Kids? There is a connection. First Rescued Horses – Saved Kids is the name of our horse ministry serving children and youth in our church. Ok, it’s even popular with some of our adults. The concept began with by Patti Foster and Valarie Whitworth, church members and neighbors only 4 doors apart on Weber Road in Malabar. They began using horses that had been rescued – saved from the situation of being put out to pasture until they died or were malnourished. The Rescued Horses Saved Kids ministry introduces young people and even adults to all aspects of caring, handling and riding horses. After learning the basics of riding, small groups go on trail rides. The ministry has been enthusiastically and generously sponsored by the church.
Beginning with several horses loaned by Rescue Riders, a group that rescues horses, we now have four horses and a goat of our own. Several of our rescued horses have since passed on due to natural causes. Our first horse, Cindy, was a standardbred mare used as a harness racer. A successful racer until an injury shortened her career, she was used as a breeder and afterwards turned out to pasture to survive if she could. Badly undernourished, Rescue Riders nursed her back to health. Valarie, known to love kids and cats, decided she should be our first horse. She humanly put down in early 2013 due cancer in her mouth causing her to be unable to eat normally which caused severe weight loss.
Our four horses are mature adults, trained and rideable. We currently have Joy, a 4 year old, 1,600 pound Belgian Draft horse who leads the herd. We have two quarter horses Buddy, a 13 year old gelding and Cherri, an 11 year old mare – each standing about 15 hands. Finally, we ave Reilly, a 10 year old Thoroughbred gelding. “Patches”, our goat, was also donated. She is good for trimming fence rows and eating all kinds of things including taking a bite of blue jeans from an unsuspecting visitor. Patches is very friendly, loves a scratch on her head, and reminds us that God has a sense of humor. She thinks that she is the herd manager.
God is always involved in His ministries. How we received Buddy and Cherri is an example of God at work. About a week after ordering two saddles from a local feed store, a customer came in and wanted to donate two horses, saddles, and food to a program that works with kids. The store owner, familiar with our ministry, gave us a reference and we received a donation of two quarter horses, two saddles and a bunch of food. And they all came from a neighbor – 5 or 6 houses down the road.
The herd is housed mostly at Valarie’s home in Malabar. Patti grew up with horses and is our resident horse expert. She provides most of the hands on training and lots of care. Her dedication is what really makes the ministry go.
So what does it take to run this ministry? You need dedicated adults and kids plus horses, saddles, tack, brushes, tools, and lots of food. Horses are pretty high maintenance – the goat is low maintenance. Some of our horses come to us a little underweight so diets are carefully managed. Each week we use one 1500 lb roll of hay, six bags of food, and food supplements. We also use wormers, fly sprays and washing soaps and all kinds of brushes to keep the beasts in top condition. Every six weeks the farrier visits to trim and care for the horses’ hooves. You also get to know the vet – shots, tests, teeth, injuries, etc. The horses eat twice a day in our barn, but our barn is an ongoing project of repair and new additions due to the needs of our horses.
The horse ministry is a real magnet. Many young people can only dream about horses but now they can experience the real thing – up close and personal. It costs them nothing except for a commitment and parental permission. Also they must attend Sunday School and Church. Caring for animals provides a lot of common ground to see how God cares for all of us. And like saving horses this ministry contributes to saved kids – God’s salvation. Horses and kids seem to naturally bond. Both absorb and respond to love and care.
Interacting with horses requires patience, care and dedication – like kids! And like kids each horse has its own personality. Some of our horses weigh 1150 – 1600 lbs. Working with them can be exciting and dangerous so our training always stresses safety above everything. Even so we’ve had some scrapes and bruises. The worst injury was a severely bruised ankle with a slight fracture when one horse kicked another horse ridden by one of our kids. The rider’s ankle was sandwiched between hoof and horse. Now horses not involved in riding are separated before saddling up. Even though horses are affectionate animals – they are still animals – gentle but powerful – so proper training is essential. They kick, buck, and bite. I was talking about horses but come to think about it horses and kids do have a lot in common.
It’s a God thing though to see a 100 lb. kid lead a 1600 lb. horse obediently with only a rope loosely draped around its neck or to see a horse stand perfectly still allowing a kid to lift and clean each foot. What a shame it does not work the same for kids. Maybe it is a matter of love and caring.