Canterbury Park, Shakopee, Minn logo

Paying it Forward

payIf a horse gets a second chance, shouldn’t that apply to a teenage boy, too? Or is it the other way around? It’s hard to tell sometimes at Sioux River Stables where the Pay it Forward program has been giving racehorses a chance to give young boys a chance, or vice versa as the case might be.

Sometimes a former racehorse is adjusting to a new life or healing from an injury when he or she is turned over to a class of five youngsters in the program from one of three Prentice Houses in Ashland, Wis. Take a horse named Good Thunder, for example. He was healing from a bowed tendon when turned over to the boys, who then became responsible for overseeing his care and well-being. Once the horse was sound again, the boys had to decide as a group what kind of home would be best for the rehabilitated thoroughbred.

Sioux River Stables is located in Washburn, between Ashland and Bayfield. “We’re about an hour and 15 minutes from Duluth,” said Callaee Hyde, who operates the 40-acre farm with her husband, Dave.

Hyde has gotten former racehorses from various locations since establishing Pay it Forward in 2008, primarily from Canterbury veterinarians Dick Bowman and Lynn Hovda.

Sometimes Hyde has made a trip to the barns in Shakopee herself. Another time a meeting was set up in Duluth, and the Pay it Forward program has wound up with horses named Good Thunder, Candy Quik, Rex, Black Bob, and Lamb in the Mist among others.

Hyde has offered two 12-week classes in the Pay it Forward program each year for “at risk” youngsters from the Prentice Houses. “They’ll come out to the farm for two-to-three hour stretches at a time to work with the horses,” Hyde said. “The idea is to teach life skills through rehabilitating the horses. Sometimes it’s as simple as (correcting) a behavioral problem. Other times a horse needs physical rehabilitation before the boys can oversee its adoption.”

The process includes learning to groom the horse, attending to its needs – feeding, vaccinating and worming. “A lot of these horses are fairly anxious in their new settings at first,” Hyde added. “The boys can relate to that.”

Hyde herself has found interesting some of the youngsters’ reactions to situations, one in particular. “These boys get to see how a horse’s anxiety might play out in the herd,” she recalled. “One of the boys said ‘I know exactly how this is going to work’ when we turned out an anxious horse one time. He said ‘that horse is going to go into the herd and find the lowest man on the totem pole and buddy up to him. When he gets more comfortable he’ll start making friends all the way up and then move on and not have anything to do with that first horse again.'”

The boys in the program are residents of Prentice House for any number or reasons. Some don’t have families or are from dysfunctional settings. “There are a variety of reasons,” said Hyde. And she never asks.

“We don’t ask why they are here,” she said. “They’ve been through counseling and can give you a book on what is wrong with them. When they’re here they are just ‘John’ or ‘Paul’ or ‘Bill.’ That’s all.”

The boys are taught that commitment is necessary with a horse that learns to trust and depend on them, that they need to make good on that commitment. Once that is completed, “they get to fill out the adoption forms and screen the adopters and choose where the horse is going to be placed,” said Hyde. So far, so good. “We haven’t had any problems with decisions about placing a horse,” she added.

The adoption fee, usually $500, is used to help fund a subsequent Pay it Forward class, and so forth. “We’ve had horses adopted to race barrels, for dressage or simply as riding horses,” she said.

The farm also offers therapy sessions for the physically handicapped, speech therapy by licensed therapists using horses in their sessions, as well as the usual riding lessons. Graduates of the Pay it Forward program have sometimes returned to help out with a class.

Callaee says her inspiration for starting the Pay it Forward program came from her son, Robert, now 24. The name of the program, of course, came from the movie starring Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey. “I saw that movie and I bawled and bawled,” Callaee said.

She didn’t know the author of the book that inspired the movie, however:

Catherine Ryan Hyde.

Hyde, Callaee that is, continues to pass on the message, to Pay it Forward.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.