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The local horse community contributes to the flavor and face of Boulder County.

By Karen Mitchell

When Sheila Ranegar heard about a horse that was for sale, her first instinct was to say no. Sheila, who owns the Nederland Equestrian School, passed on the offer as this particular animal wasn’t suitable for her young riding students.

saddleBut the horse’s owner was persistent, calling again to ask if the Ranegars would simply take the horse if she gave it to them. The answer this time was yes. And although the horse has some issues—he wants to go too fast—the Ranegars are working with him.

“Boulder County is very supportive of its horse community, and that community is an integral part of the economy,” says Sheila, who gives riding lessons in Western, English and balance-seat riding, and specializes in teaching riding to children at her after-school and summer camps
(www.nederlandequestrianschool.com). In addition to her seven horses, Sheila boards and cares for another six on her 15-acre spread southeast of Nederland off Magnolia Road.

Having taught riding for 30 years, Sheila has a unique perspective on the state of equine ownership in Boulder County. Like the woman who donated her horse to the Ranegars, many owners have been forced to give up their steeds because of the economy, although the situation seems to be easing, Sheila says. “Summertime is always easier because grass is growing, but when winter comes it can be very challenging to afford feeding horses.”

Fortunately, after a few years of skyrocketing hay and grain costs, prices have dropped a little despite the continued drought, and may drop as low as $6.50 per small-square hay bale, compared to the 2012 price of $20 per small square.

Last year, Sheila had to buy hay from a Minnesota-based supplier because Colorado suppliers couldn’t produce enough because of the drought. “I’m hoping to buy locally this year because good moisture helped the first-cut hay,” she says.

For those who can’t care for their horses, several organizations are ready to help.

In Longmont, Colorado Horse Rescue’s nonprofit mission is to rescue, shelter, rehabilitate and adopt out horses to forever homes. Equines of all breeds available for adoption include former high-level performance horses, trail horses, miniature horses and companion/non-rideable horses. About 50 horses reside at the facility at any given time; some live out their lives there.

The organization’s determined outreach, orchestrated by a host of staff members and volunteers, features a variety of educational events and visits, sponsorships, and the publication of a stunning coffee-table-style book titled Rescued—Colorado Horse Rescue by longtime volunteer Roxanne Capaul.

“I’ve been riding off and on since childhood, and have always loved dogs and horses,” Capaul says. “I was afraid to see these rescued horses before the first time I visited the Colorado Horse Rescue property, about five years ago. I didn’t want to go through the pain of seeing these horses.”

But Capaul quickly saw through the popular misconception that all rescue horses appear to be “half-starved.” Skilled in marketing, photography and graphic design, Capaul decided to present these horses to the public in a truer light in her book.

“We’re trying to show people that even though some of the horses initially may look ‘rough,’ within a short time they receive all the care they need, including that of an equine vet who is on our board,” says Capaul, a passionate horse-rescue advocate. “The rescue program is very upbeat and not at all scary. Many of these horses are there because the owner died or couldn’t take care of them. Yes, some horses are impounds, but we rehabilitate them.”

CHR fundraising, both from grants and private donations, includes several summer events and an annual Mane Event that features a three-course meal, live and silent auctions, rescue horses, and entertainment. The next benefit is Sept. 27, 2014, at the Westminster Westin.

CHR also offers horse training and agility classes, and healing-with-horses programs.

Old and in the Way—Not!

Other local organizations offer therapeutic riding for children and adults. One is Rocky Mountain Riding Therapy, a small nonprofit organization founded in 1993 that provides physical and occupational therapy on horseback (hippotherapy), and therapeutic riding for people with physical and developmental disabilities. “Most of our horses are donated to us for a retirement home for them,” says Carrie Kass, a RMRT volunteer since 2003 and the organization’s barn manager. Kass evaluates new horses, assists in classes, and is responsible for the care and well being of the therapy horses. She also arranges vet calls, farrier appointments, and grain, hay and sup-
plement purchases.

Donated horses are typically geriatrics, often with joint problems that prevent them from being ridden as much as in their youth. “As the majority of our work is done at a walk with some limited trotting, we are a great home for these horses,” Kass says. RMRT currently has seven certified instructors and 13 special therapy horses, with some 80 volunteers who work with more than 100 individuals from Boulder County and the Denver metro area. One rider is a 14-year-old who struggles with emotional challenges, including severe temper tantrums. “Yet we’ve never seen him without a huge smile on his face when he rides his favorite horse,” Kass says.

After initially volunteering, Kass subsequently purchased three horses. While at a barn to evaluate a potential therapy horse she discovered two others in appalling condition. “While the horse I had gone to evaluate was not suitable for us, the two starved and neglected horses were coming with me, no matter what,” says Kass, who bought the pair from their owner. “With every bone in their bodies sticking out, I couldn’t possibly leave them behind.” Both went on to become great therapy horses, she says.

RMRT only accepts animals that can be successful therapy horses. “We keep all our horses until therapy work is no longer right for them,” Kass says. “Then we strive to find the appropriate retirement place for them. If we can’t find the perfect home, then they just stay with us. They have earned it!”