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CSU Right Horse Program rehabilitates, trains rescue horses

Student+trainer+Maia+Lee+works+with+Right+Horse+Program+mustang+Shelby%2C+introducing+him+to+new+experiences+and+objects+Nov.+5%2C+2023.+I+fell+in+love+with+him%2C+like%2C+the+first+day+I+met+him%2C+Lee+said.+I+was+like%2C+Thats+the+one.
Collegian | Aria Paul
Student trainer Maia Lee works with Right Horse Program mustang Shelby, introducing him to new experiences and objects Nov. 5, 2023. “I fell in love with him, like, the first day I met him,” Lee said. “I was like, ‘That’s the one.'”

Since starting as a pilot program in 2016, Colorado State University’s Right Horse Program has paired rescue horses from the Dumb Friends League Harmony Equine Center with students in CSU’s equine science program.

When Shelby was rescued in August 2022 by the Dumb Friends League, he arrived with his mustang identification tag embedded deep within his neck, resulting in an open and infected wound.

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Working with the rehabilitation team at the Harmony Equine Center, Shelby gained trust in humans and learned to take a halter and saddle.

“He didn’t necessarily have a bad human interaction, but he needs some more help to get more confident,” student trainer Maia Lee said. “He’s very motivated to learn, and he will do a lot to just please you.”

“I think there is some bias against rescuing horses, and people don’t really understand what type of horses they can be for them. If we can show people that their horses can be versatile and ready to do disciplines that people want to do, I think that will start to lessen the numbers that end up in rescues.” Cayla Stone, animal sciences course instructor

Lee has always loved horses and leased one for almost nine years, competing in trail competitions and 4-H before coming to college. Lee trained Shelby, a sweet 3-year-old gray pinto mustang, alongside fellow student trainer Maddie Hawks.

“I fell in love with him, like, the first day I met him,” Lee said. “I was like, ‘That’s the one.’”

The program challenges students to assess and evaluate horses in transition for a second career. Then they train them to excel in a new home. Students start with evaluating their horse’s condition, manners, groundwork and behavior. 

From there, they build skills week by week, teaching their horses to yield to pressure, take a saddle and bridle and conquer obstacles inside and outside of the arena. 

Animal sciences course instructor Cayla Stone works with students, tailoring specific skills to specific horses and helping both the horse and trainer grow. Over the semester, students work with not only their assigned horse but also other students’ horses, allowing them to experience horses at various levels of training and for the horses to experience different riders and trainers, each with a specific touch.

“They call them unwanted horses, all of the horses that need homes, and so I think my goal is that the students have a chance to work with a variety of horses,” Stone said. “Just about anything they may come in contact with in a rescue scenario.”

The equine program at CSU is unique, as no other university has a specific program focused exclusively on training rescued horses for adoption. Since its start, the RHP has grown from two horses in its first semester to more than 15, with off-track thoroughbreds among the mix of horses students work with.

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“(Then) when (students) get out into the world and into the equine industry, if they want to get into the rescue business, they’ve had hands-on (experience) with all of these types of horses and have also worked with industry professionals,” Stone said.

Lee has an interest in working with abandoned or abused horses.

“I want to go into training myself,” Lee said. “I want to become a veterinarian and look into animal welfare, and properly training horses is really important for veterinary work. This class seemed like a good one to take, and I have learned so much.”

Several students have adopted the horses they were training, including Meg Schatte, one of the course’s teaching assistants and a graduate student working on a master’s in animal science under Temple Grandin.

“I think the coolest thing about this is you get to work with that horse for a whole semester,” Schatte said. “You get to know their personality and really try them out before you buy them.”

Schatte adopted her mare, Opal, following the conclusion of her class, and she has continued to work with her, doing liberty, tricks and trail riding.

“I just fell in love with her over the semester,” Schatte said. “She just has one of the greatest personalities. Other horses bossed her around, and she just let them. I mean, (she’s) just one of the sweetest horses I’ve ever seen.”

Schatte helps students out individually, offering an extra perspective when working through difficult moments. She also steps in to work with horses that need some more one-on-one training time throughout the semester. 

The final challenge for students at the end of the semester is the Right Horse Showcase, where students from both class sessions present their horses to potential adopters, demonstrating the versatility of rescue horses.

“I think there is some bias against rescuing horses, and people don’t really understand what type of horses they can be for them,” Stone said. “If we can show people that their horses can be versatile and ready to do disciplines that people want to do, I think that will start to lessen the numbers that end up in rescues.”

The program is the brainchild of Adam Daurio, director of the Temple Grandin Equine Center, and a couple of CSU alumni from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Right Horse Initiative

“We’re hoping, I’m hoping, (the Right Horse Program) expands here, but I’m also hoping it expands in other universities,” Stone said.

Reach Aria Paul at life@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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