By Tracy Will | Photography by Kelvin Andow
Apache and Doc are content. Under the watchful eye of long-time horse professional Jennifer Van Guilder, the two horses are well-cared for in a secure home. But not long ago, their future didn’t look so bright.
The pair are two of hundreds of horses that have found new homes with the help of Ryon’s Rescue Pen in Cannon Falls since it opened in June 2015. Without the organization’s intervention, the horses that come through its doors would have been sold to slaughter. Instead, they are getting a new lease on life.
“We want to give these animals a chance, to get them back out in the population,” says owner Ryon Simon. “The public is welcome. Our door is open to anyone who’s willing to do something with them.”
My passion is horses
For Van Guilder, the pen’s manager, seeing the horses with new owners is gratifying.
“Hanging out with the horses every day, I get to know their personalities. So I love it when I get to see how they’re doing,” she says. “Sometimes people buy a horse, and I’ll get a message later telling me how much they love them, or I see them at an event or on a trail ride, and they’re doing well. That is so fun.”
And, every once in a while, Van Guilder can’t resist taking in a horse of her own. In addition to Doc and Apache, she’s also purchased a mare and a foal through the Rescue Pen.
“My passion is horses; it always has been. I get to know these horses, and sometimes I just have to take one home,” she says. “I’ve known the Simons for many, many years. I’m happy to be here and be part of this.”
30 horses a week
The Simon family has been in the horse industry for three generations. For Ryon Simon, a desire to keep that industry strong was part of his motivation for starting the Rescue Pen.
“The breeding and reproduction side of the horse business has tapered by at least 40 percent since the recession,” he says. “We want to keep the industry alive and bring in new people. This is one way to do that. We want to keep as many horses in circulation for as long as possible.”
To accomplish that, Ryon’s Rescue Pen runs on a fast-paced schedule. On average, 30 to 35 horses arrive at the beginning of each week. Van Guilder is in charge of selling them all by noon on Friday. The Rescue Pen is not an animal adoption agency or a non-profit organization. They buy unwanted horses and then sell them at a discount. Prices range from about $300 to $700.
The horses come from all over the country. Many of them were originally purchased as pleasure animals but rarely ridden. Others were ranch horses who can no longer work a full day but are still sound. Still others may need some training, extra attention or rehabilitation as a result of injury or temperament.
“You don’t always know exactly what you’re getting with these animals. That’s always a risk with a living being,” says Simon. “But most of them have had a job or a home at some point. We give buyers all the information we have about each horse so, as much as possible, they can make an informed decision.”
The people who buy horses from Ryon’s Rescue Pen are as diverse as the horses themselves. Some simply want a companion animal. Some buy horses for use in children’s camps, pony rings or riding lessons. And some are looking for a horse they can train and make their own. Simon recalls one mare purchased from the Rescue Pen who is now a successful barrel racer.
“The horse was a little skittish, and the previous owner had a tough time with her,” he says. “But the girl who bought her from us took time with her, trained her well and has made a heck of a horse out of her. We love to see that.”
Although most buyers are in the upper Midwest, some of the horses have gone as far away as Pennsylvania and Arizona. Many who purchase from Ryon’s Rescue Pen are repeat customers. They keep track of the animals available each week through the organization’s Facebook page, which now has more than 17,000 followers. Simon finds that level of interest encouraging.
“We’re different than many horse sellers because we’re open to anything; we don’t specialize in one type of horse. The variety of horses we have on a regular basis is appealing to many people,” he says. “All these horses are beautiful creatures. They have many great qualities. Here, people can help one out, and it can be a wonderful experience for everyone involved.”
Tracy Will is a Rochester-based writer who never outgrew her childhood affection for horses.
For “mare” information
Ryon’s Rescue Pen maintains a Facebook page with weekly updates of all the horses available for purchase. The page also includes an extensive list of FAQs, along with hours and contact information.