'A labor of love': Rescue ranch takes in abused, abandoned horses
It was a sad, skinny horse named Jeb that set it all in motion.
"His pasture consisted of 15 feet of nothing but dirt due to him eating down to the roots with no water," Jeanie Young said. "He was severely dehydrated and about 200 pounds underweight. You could tell that he had not been cared for in a long time."
Young and her husband, Jim, both horse lovers and Minnesota natives, were working and attending college in Madison, Wisconsin, when Jeb came into their lives.
"We ended up saving him and bringing him home," Young said. "We thought, 'You know what? Maybe we want to get back into horses.'"
After Jeb, the two adopted another rescue horse in Wisconsin. They returned to Minnesota in 2009 and boarded their horses while in search of the perfect farm. When they came across a 28-acre farm eight miles west of Urbank in Otter Tail County, they knew it was a fit.
They settled in with their two horses. But that number quickly began to grow.
"We had no intentions of becoming a rescue but word of mouth gets around," Young said. "I'd started volunteering at another rescue and before I knew it, we had kind of evolved into one."
Now, the Youngs run Lazy J Horse Rescue. The ranch has acted as a rescue for the past five years, and officially became a nonprofit last year.
Readying for adoption
Over the past five years, more than 200 horses have come to the Youngs, from a variety of situations. Some have been abused and mistreated, while others have been abandoned.
Young says this past summer was particularly bad, with the ranch taking in more than 30 horses.
"There were a lot of neglect cases, starvation, hoarding," she said. "Lots of breeding farms that just got taken over and they could breed freely."
The Youngs work with local humane societies and law enforcement when it comes to the horses they take in. In some cases, horse owners are given options before having their horses seized.
"The first step is educating, before we want to take the horses away from them," Young said. "We're the last choice."
When a horse arrives at the ranch, there is a 30-day quarantine process during which the vet and farrier visit. The horses are monitored to determine their temperment and whether it is safe to have them around people.
All horses stay at least 30 days, although some take much longer to be ready to be adopted.
"There's some here that have been here two years and are just becoming ready to get adopted out," Young said. "And that's hard, because you get so attached, they become family. But it takes that long for them to trust humans again."
Once a horse is ready for adoption, Young posts the horse to the Lazy J's Facebook page. If interested, potential adopters can come out and meet the horse. They must fill out an application and pass a background check. Often, Young will also visit their farm to be sure the horse is going to a good home. Adoption fees for the horses range from $300 to $500.
In some cases, Young has had to turn people away.
"They (horses) have got a personality, and we've had people come out here who don't understand that, and those aren't horse people," she said. "I don't care how much money they have, it's not about the money. We're doing it for the horses."
If a horse does not seem comfortable around a certain person, Young will not allow the adoption to go through.
"I believe horses find their people, not the other way around," she said.
The Youngs keep track of every horse that is adopted out and often stay in touch with the people who have adopted them. Each summer, Young gets the group together to ride in the Wenonga Days parade in Battle Lake. They also organize a time to go camping and riding.
'Every horse has a place'
Young says with time and patience it is possible to find a home for any horse. For example, the ranch has been home to two blind horses and a blind pony.
"The blind pony, we named her Vision," Young said. "She's at a fellow horse rescue and is a therapy horse. She teaches kids how to ride because she has no fear. No human has ever let her get hurt. Every horse has a place, you just have to figure out where it is."
In addition to horses, Lazy J has taken in ponies and donkeys. One of the ponies, Q-Tip, was taken to visit residents at the Good Samaritan Society in Battle Lake at Christmastime.
"We had the chance to take him into resident's rooms," Young said. "Some were on hospice and weren't really conscious. He would come up and lay his head on the bed like a big dog."
In November, nine years after bringing home their first rescue horse, the Youngs had to make the decision to let Jeb go due to his age and quality of life. Young says the following weeks were difficult. Then, in early winter, they realized one of their rescue horses, Ruby, was pregnant. On Dec. 21, 2017, she gave birth to a healthy foal.
"It was a sad holiday season because of losing Jeb," Young said. "Then to find out we're going to have a baby on the farm, and to see how cute she is and see her running around, it kind of made it easier. It was like rebirth."
Young focuses on the rescue full time, while her husband also works at another local ranch. Despite the fact that her job is unpredictable and sometimes heartbreaking, Young says she wouldn't want to be doing anything else.
"Some days it's easier than others," she said. "But it's a labor of love. I love horses, and I don't know what I would do without them."
According to the Animal Humane Society, anyone who suspects animal abuse or neglect In Otter Tail or Douglas Counties can contact Animal Humane Society Humane Agent Keith Streff at 763-489-2236 or 612-747-4168, or reach out to local law enforcement.
Rescue My Heart Benefit
Lazy J Horse Rescue is holding a fundraiser at 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, at the Railroad & 2nd Event Center in Evansville. The event will include a chili feed, silent auction and live music by the Honky Tonk Stardust Cowboys. Donations can be made by visiting www.gofundme.com/lazyj18. All donations are tax deductible. Proceeds from the event will be used to purchase a used tractor for the ranch.