It's a reality of the horse business: Unwanted horses that are old, injured, neglected or even perfectly healthy are sold for slaughter.
But Jennifer Van Guilder, the manager of Ryon's Rescue Pen, would rather see a kinder fate for those animals.
So the Simon Horse Company has stepped in to buy and sell those horses at low prices to owners who use them as pets. The fast-paced operation, Ryon's Rescue Pen, started in June and sells about 35 horses each week. So far, the business has had a 100 percent placement rate and tons of interest from all over the country.
"None of us want to see that negative end result, and it's working; it's a positive thing," Van Guilder told the Post-Bulletin. "We would rather see a picture on Facebook, kids on the ponies, out on a trail, just lovin' on 'em."
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The rescue offers decent horses at a fraction of the price, with a small catch — these horses might need a little extra work. For those who are willing to put in a little extra time training or rehabilitating a horse, it's a good option, said Ryon Simon, the owner.
"The more they go back into the country, the more opportunity you might see them again. You might have a chance to buy them again someday down the road," Simon said. "If they're slaughtered and gone, your opportunity is zero; there's nothing left. As they recirculate and find new homes and they do good with them, it's good for the business."
The horses go for about the price they would be worth if sold for meat, according to the rescue's Facebook page. Most of the horses haven't been neglected, said Simon, but they just haven't had enough attention to make them "great" horses.
Common ailments include foot issues, or a little lameness, said Simon, but it is usually due to the environment they've been in and will go away once they have been ridden and worked with.
"You know, a lot of people will buy a horse and assume they'll have the time to train it and break it to ride. People get busy, don't have time for it," said Simon. "Not that they've been neglected, but they've just been hanging out in a pasture."
Karrie Zidlicky, a customer from Decorah, Iowa, has purchased seven horses from Ryon's and said she still watches Ryon's Facebook page. But she has been picky with her purchases because she doesn't have a strong background with horses or training them, so the horses she has purchased were broke to ride.
"You have to know what you're getting into," Zidlicky said. "Would I recommend this for somebody who has no animal knowledge? No. You have to be open to the idea that it might not work out, but at a quarter of the price or less for what you're going to pay for something else. You know, there's no guarantees with anything out there really."
The rescue has turned to Facebook as a platform for posting photos and information about the horses because of how quickly the business moves. And Van Guilder said this has worked well because other platforms would have been too time-consuming. Once a horse is sold, the ad is simply deleted.
"It's very fast paced because our goal is to keep these horses out in the public. It's first come, first serve," Van Guilder said. "My phone goes crazy between Facebook messages, text messages and calls."
Since starting in June, the page has garnered more than 8,500 likes, and buyers come from all over the U.S. and Canada, said Van Guilder. She said her phone has even shut down a few times because of the high volume of calls, texts and Facebook messages.
The Cannon Falls seller has been in the horse business for three generations and said getting rescues back into the country helps the overall industry and strengthens the horse market. And with hay prices down and the economy doing better than it was a few years ago, Simon said the economy was right for getting into the rescue market.
"I think if we would have tried this three years ago, it wouldn't have worked," Simon said. "The timing is very good for just boosting the horse industry and trying to put the horses back into the countryside."
The summer has been busy for them since they started the business, but he's not sure what the winter will bring.
"I'd like to say it exceeded my expectations, but we didn't really have any expectations," Van Guilder said. "It just kind of happened, and we're gonna keep doing it as long as it works."
by Taylor Nachtigal, Post-Bulletin, AP Exchange