Routt County resident Connie Cassel adopted one of the rescue horses from the recently formed Rescued to Ride organization. Whispering Willows Ranch trainer Scott Whinfrey worked with the horse named Cayenne to prepare it for adoption.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Routt County resident Connie Cassel adopted one of the rescue horses from the recently formed Rescued to Ride organization. Whispering Willows Ranch trainer Scott Whinfrey worked with the horse named Cayenne to prepare it for adoption.

Routt County's Rescued to Ride trains rescued horses for adoption

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Rescued to Ride was created after an idea from Jason Patrick, a trainer at Whispering Willows Ranch, off Routt County Road 14.

How to help

Rescued to Ride is in the process of obtaining its nonprofit status. But the organization is looking for contributions. Donations can be mailed to Rescued to Ride, P.O. Box 775874, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477. For more information, go to www.rescuedtoride... or call Diane Panetta at 970-217-5183.

— A local organization is working to pair rescue horses with new owners.

Rescued to Ride, a Routt County organization that is awaiting approval of its nonprofit status, was created to train rescue horses in preparation for adoption, Executive Director Diane Panetta said.

“There’s a poorly conceived notion that rescue horses are damaged goods; they’re not ridable,” she said. “That they come with problems of some kind — health, behavioral. That they’re limited in what they can do because they’re from a rescue.”

Panetta said that’s not the case.

“Our goal is to help the horses get that start, get adopted,” she said.

Panetta said rescue horses have been abandoned and, in some cases, abused or neglected. She said it’s always been a problem but has increased since the federal horse slaughter ban in 2007.

According to a December 2009 study by the Denver-based Colorado Unwanted Horse Alliance, 6,000 horses were abandoned that year statewide.

“For lots of reasons, people choose or can no longer have or want the horse,” said David Gies, a member of the Colorado Unwanted Horse Alliance Board of Directors. “I guess it’s a matter of willingness. People are no longer willing to take care of the horse.”

The study estimated that Colorado horse rescues and sanctuaries had the capacity for 1,600 horses, leaving about 74 percent that can’t be accommodated.

“There’s a great need for the horses that are being adopted to get trained so that it opens up space for other horses that need help,” said Judy B. Smetana, executive director of Colorado Horse Rescue.

Smetana said Colorado Horse Rescue, of Longmont, trains some of its horses but that it’s a volunteer organization with limited resources.

Enter Rescued to Ride.

Panetta said the organization was created after an idea from Jason Patrick, a trainer at Whispering Willows Ranch, off Routt County Road 14.

Patrick grew up at a ranch near Whispering Willows and has worked with horses his entire life. At a horse expo a few years ago, he worked with rescue horses. He realized that with some training, rescued horses could be showcased for adoption.

Rescued to Ride partnered with Colorado Horse Rescue and Front Range Equine Rescue at the Rocky Mountain Horse Exposition in Denver and the Four States Agricultural Exposition in Cortez in March.

Patrick said he, trainer Scott Whinfrey and Panetta worked with 16 horses during the two shows. He said the trainers would work with small groups of horses on horseback. He said they worked to establish trust with the horses until they were comfortable being handled by a human. Then, he said, the trainers would ride the rescue horses.

The process took three to four days, but it was done in public for the crowds at the horse expos to see that the horses could be trained and were desirable animals. Patrick said 11 of the 16 horses they worked with at the expos were adopted.

“It was a challenge but a good deed,” he said. “You walked away feeling good about what you did. It was the most powerful thing I’ve ever done.”

Routt County resident Con­nie Cassel, a hairstylist at the Doak Walker Care Center, adopted one of those rescue horses. Cassel, who helps out around Whispering Willows Ranch, accompanied Rescued to Ride at the horse expo in Denver.

Cassel said she had no intention of adopting a horse but couldn’t say no to Cayenne. Cayenne, a brown mare with white spots (a registered American Paint Horse), has a conformation problem that Cassel said would prohibit desirable breeding. But that didn’t bother Cassel.

“She’s just so sweet,” Cassel said.

Panetta said Rescued to Ride would like to partner with horse rescues to train horses at expos across the country. She said the organization needs support to help pay for the trainers’ travel and lodging costs.

What Rescued to Ride does, Panetta said, is the missing piece. She said abandoned horses can be rescued and rehabilitated but that there’s no way to train them.

“We’re trying to make a difference for the horses,” she said.

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