OKLAHOMA CITY – An innovative new competition is pairing horses in need of care and adoption with 4-H members eager to help and learn.
They’re the future generation of Oklahoma equestrians, farmers and vets and now they’re getting experience that’s not just helping them.
We’re talking about local 4-H kids teaming up with rescued horses.
Some of the animals were neglected, others were cared for but deemed unfit for the race track, show arena or other jobs.
All of them – in desperate need of time and attention to prepare them for a new home, purpose and life.
Now these kids and this rescue are saddling up for a competition blazing a new trail in the horse rescue world.
Everyone has a story, even horses.
Sometimes that story isn’t easy.
But at the Heritage Place in Oklahoma City – a new chapter for these rescues – and it’s being written by local 4-H members.
Its mission of love through Nexus Equine Rescue – which takes horses from all walks of life.
Nexus is now calling on young equestrians to prepare them for new homes.
To do so, they selected ten 4-H members to be paired with ten horses.
The 4-H members sent in applications with essays and references from veterinarians, farriers and others who could attest to how they care for their horses.
The applications were reviewed by a panel of industry professionals who selected the participants and the horses best for each person.
After the duos were paired, they were given goals.
Participants then had 90 days to strive toward these goals before they faced the judges – to see whose horse was most improved.
“The kids are our future and the kids have horsemanship skills and they want to develop those skills,” said Rita Hoch of Nexus Equine.
Each 4-H member took home a horse – to locations across the state.
There, they realized their new teammates’ unique challenges.
“She really wasn’t very friendly,” said McKayla Hunt.
When Hunt brought 4-year-old Aubrey home to Wellston, the mare had never been ridden.
In fact, she didn’t even want to be caught.
Hunt broke the mare to ride and the two put in hours of work on a creative obstacle course with poles and swimming pool noodles.
They even spent time swimming in the family’s pond.
Hunt’s training techniques are far from ordinary but so are her results.
Midway through their 90 days, the mare went from hard to catch to friendly and broke to ride.
Farther south and a little west – a unique challenge in Marlow for Chloe O’Connor and Big Red.
Severely underweight, the gelding was left in a pasture for years without proper care.
“He didn’t know if he should walk up or if he should trust you when you walked up to him in the pasture,” O’Connor said.
Not much else is known about Big Red – other that he was on the race track at one point.
Even his age – a mystery – though he’s estimated to be about 25-years-old.
O’Connor – who hopes to be a vet one day – was tasked with nursing Big Red back to health.
Not accustomed to proper feed – there were a few health scares along the way but she was able to help him pull through.
“That really solidified in myself that I do want to be a vet and I do want to help animals,” O’Connor said.
Because of his condition, it will be a while before “Red” can be ridden.
In the meantime, O’Connor found new ways to keep him busy, like painting with a brush and canvas!
It’s a task they fine-tuned for the big day.
After 90 days, horses and kids returned to Heritage Place where it all began.
The duos – showcasing what they’ve taught their horses and what their horses have taught them.
In the end, Chloe helped get “Red” back to a healthy weight.
Riding will likely come later.
But the biggest transformation came from McKayla and Aubrey.
After an impressive performance displaying the results of her extensive training – Aubrey showed how she ended her 90 days a different horse.
McKayla won the contest and took home a $1,500 scholarship.
The rest of the kids – claimed smaller cash prizes – and a fresh perspective.
“Just getting to show her that life’s not all about pain,” said participant Jacob Miller. “Because she’s getting to experience a new life and she’s getting to enjoy it.”
Some of these horses found their forever homes with the contestants.
Others ended their 90 days more ready than ever for adoption.
But above all else it provided a lesson in finding the hidden potential in all of us.
“She’s become my best friend,” McKayla said.
Nexus says event was made possible through the help of The Right Horse Initiative.
Feed and other expenses were covered by the event through sponsors.
The second Oklahoma 4-H Equine Makeover is already underway!
For more information on the competition and adoptable horses, visit nexusequine.org.