Stars of Horse Adoption Competition

Rebecca Johnson and her adopted mare, Minnie Moo, won the open division at the 2019 Battle on the Rockies competition for adopted horses held in Denver, Colorado.

Horse adoption competitions showcase what rescue horses can do when their circumstances change.

No typical horse ends up in a horse adoption or equine rescue facility, needing a home. They come from all kinds of situations, all ages, breeds, and stages of health.

But the horses that have a hard time getting placed often have one thing in common.

“Training is the biggest roadblock that is holding up most horses in shelters from being an adoption candidate,” says Christie Schulte Kappert, program manager for The Right Horse, a funding initiative that supports increasing equine adoption across the United States. “The more training period, the more adoptable.”

Rebecca Johnson and her adopted mare, Minnie Moo, won the open division at the 2019 Battle on the Rockies competition for adopted horses held in Denver, Colorado.
Rebecca Johnson and her adopted mare, Minnie Moo, won the open division at the 2019 Battle on the Rockies in Denver, Colorado. Photo by Christine Hamilton

More and more horse adoption organizations have created fun competitions to get training for horses that need it. The December 2019 issue of Western Horseman showcases two that debuted in 2019—the Battle on the Rockies and the Nexus Equine Oklahoma 4-H Training Challenge. Meet the inaugural winners here!

Going from Feral Mare to Battle on the Rockies Champ

Rebecca Johnson loves showing off what her sorrel mare, Minnie Moo, can do, whether it’s work cattle in a feedlot or a reining pattern in the reined cow horse.

“I like to show people that this is what a rescue horse can turn into,” she says.

Minnie Moo came to the Denver Dumb Friends League Harmony Equine Center in Franktown, Colorado, in a large herd of feral horses—she was 3 and in foal. When Rebecca met her, the foal was weaned and Harmony Equine Head Trainer Brent Winston had just started her under saddle.

“I got out of my truck, and this little sorrel mare ran to the edge of the fence and called out to me, ‘Hey I’m here!’ So I wanted to see her,” Rebecca recalls. “She didn’t know much and was an anxious horse. It’s a scary world but she was so willing and had so much try.”

Rebecca grew up riding English, but when she moved to Sterling, Colorado, to study nursing at Northeastern Junior College, she “fell in love with the ranch horse world,” and wanted a horse for that.

“That’s when I found Minnie,” she says. “I was green to the Western world, and she was green to the people world. We’ve learned together.”

Minnie has since become a go-to using horse that Rebecca has used in feedlot work and to help with starting colts.

“I also compete on her,” Rebecca says. “Every now and then I throw some sliders on her and say, ‘let’s go.

 I’ve done team penning and sorting on her, and roped off of her. She never ceases to amaze me.”

The first Battle on the Rockies debuted in March 2019 at the National Western Event Center in Denver, Colorado, a competition open to horses either up for adoption or that had been adopted through one of 10 participating Colorado horse rescues, including Harmony Equine Center.

Each facility could bring six horses, and Brent asked Rebecca to show Minnie. She showed in ranch riding and ranch trail in the open division and ended up winning it along with a trophy saddle from Colorado Saddlery.

“Growing up, I always had horses that came from a bad scenario,” Rebecca says. “When I started looking, I thought I might as well go to a rescue and see if I can’t make a horse’s life better.

“When I’ve had friends looking for horses, I’ve steered them to Harmony or other rescues to look. A lot of people don’t know, but there are some really nice horses in the rescue system. Maggie was one of those.”

Rising to a 4-H Equine Makeover Challenge

With her parents’ thumbs-up and encouragement from her 4-H club leader, McKayla Hunt applied for the first Oklahoma 4-H Equine Makeover presented by Nexus Equine in the summer of 2019. The new competition challenged approved 4-H club members to train a horse up for adoption at Oklahoma City-based Nexus Equine and compete with it after 90 days.

When she picked up her assignment, a 4-year-old Pony of the Americas named Aubrey, McKayla was nervous.

 “ ‘What do I do? Where do I start?’—I had all these thoughts running through my mind,” McKayla says. “She wouldn’t let people pet on her and they had trouble catching her in the stall. I was like, ‘I don’t know if I want that one!’ But I ended up with her, and it’s been the best thing ever.”

McKayla, a home-schooled freshman from Wellston, Oklahoma, grew up in a rodeoing family and she junior rodeos in breakaway, barrel racing and pole bending. She put her horse experience to work with this new challenge.

McKayla Hunt and her adopted Pony of the Americas Aubrey won the first finals in the Oklahoma 4-H Equine Makeover competition, presented by Nexus Equine and held at Heritage Place in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
McKayla Hunt and Aubrey won the first finals in the Oklahoma 4-H Equine Makeover presented by Nexus Equine, held at Heritage Place in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Photo by Beyond Theory Creative

“Aubrey was very nervous. She couldn’t focus on a lot of things,” McKayla recalls. “I didn’t have a round pen so I hauled her over to my friend’s house. Just in 15 minutes of getting her to longe in the round pen she settled down really quick.”

After two weeks with the horses at home, the competition organizers required the youth to turn in formal training goals for their horses, and helped set some of them. The final competition would be judged on how well the goals were met.

“After 90 days, one of the goals they had for me was to at least be able to sit on her and have her saddled,” McKayla says. But she added to that: “To side pass from the ground and to be able to have ropes swung around her because I breakaway rope; to walk through water and through cattle.

“And to be able to go through different obstacles so if we go someplace and there’s something that’s new she should be exposed to a lot of things.”

McKayla and Aubrey more than exceeded those goals for the competition, and ended up winning the first finals held at Heritage Place auction facility in Oklahoma City. To show off everything Aubrey learned McKayla put together a Hawaiian-themed routine complete with a grass skirt breast collar and a plastic kiddie pool obstacle.

“During the competition I could ride her bridleless,” McKayla says. “She loped circles, did sidepasses, a reverse arc, a spin. We walked over the bridge and did several obstacles.”

Now Aubrey is on the road to becoming McKayla’s newest junior rodeo mount. But McKayla is most proud of one thing—Aubrey wants to be with her.

“For the first couple of days she was in a stall, and the week after we put her in a small drylot so she’d have more room, and it took me, my mom, and my dad to catch her,” McKayla says.

“But now, if you holler at her in the 10 acre horse pasture, she’ll come trotting up.”

Find out how horse adoption competitions are changing horse rescue in “Changing Ground” in the December 2019 issue.

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