The barn doors of Royal Star Ranch in Orange, Calif. are thrown open lovingly for horses nobody else wants.
Some limping on slab fractures or broken ankles, others abandoned along the side of the road, or vanned off racetracks with injuries, find here they are welcomed like returning warriors from battle.
About 80 all together, have found shelter at Jenny Earhart’s farm.
And they thrive. Many even finding new, adoptive homes where they now enjoy a life few could have imagined for them when the chips were down.
“There’s got to be an outlet for the horses nobody believes in,” says the 27-year-old owner of the ranch. “When these horses beat the odds, it gives people hope that others can beat the odds as well.”
Earhart didn’t start off looking to rescue the unacceptable ones. She grew up showing and riding Quarter Horses and Tennessee Walkers. But after growing bored with the show routine, she went looking for a new challenge.
Her first leg of the journey started with her home computer, where she discovered ex-racehorse Thoroughbred Skyattic. The beautifully muscled creature looked so different than the horses she was used to. Far from docile, he appeared like a great, confident athlete in the picture, and with little else to go on, Earhart picked up the phone and called the number listed on his advertisement.
“I was told that Sky had a fractured knee and anybody who agreed to take him would have to agree to do the surgery,” she says. “Because I had a Quarter Horse I was reselling anyway, I knew I could apply that profit to the operation.”
She took him in, got the surgery, rehabbed him through eight long months of a combination of stall rest, hand-walking and limited turnout.
The end result was a very pretty bad boy, she says, laughing.
“It’s a good think I love Sky, because he is a barn demon. He tears the walls down and fights with the other horses, and what do I do? I turn him around and give him a cookie,” says, acknowledging that she knows full well she’s encouraging his wily behavior.
He’s 27 years old now, and she plans to keep him with her forever, good boy or not.
Since taking in Sky in April 2011, the floodgates have opened.
“It started out with me taking a few horses for friends, and the occasional auction horse that might wind up at slaughter,” she says. Then my eyes opened, and I started going regularly to auctions, and singling out the ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds to save.”
In April, after spotting seven Thoroughbreds at an auction, four with fractures, Earhart posted a plea on Facebook for funds to pay their $300-$500 sale prices. “I got an overwhelming response and raised close to $5,000 in donations!”
Among other horses, Earhart was able to take in ex-racehorse Thoroughbred Racketeer, who eventually found a new home at Old Friends in Kentucky.
She estimates she has placed 80 horses in new homes since last April, including a horse with three fractures in one leg, who eventually was adopted by a woman who needed a companion horse.
One of her favorite stories of triumph over adversity centers on a flashy chestnut with lots of chrome, a racehorse named Lane’s Luck.
On Oct. 14 last year, the gelding was vanned off of the Los Alamitos Race Track with a slab fracture, his second.
“My friend at the racetrack called because she knows I’m a sucker for the chestnuts with chrome, and I said I’d take him,” she says. “We took a different approach with him once we got him here and had a vet examine him.
“Because he had a previous fracture, we were hesitant to try to do surgery. So instead, we decided to turn him out and see if it would calcify on its own, and heal.”
Ten months later, Lane’s Luck has been cleared by a vet to be ridden; he’s fine.
“He’s sound at the walk and trot and I don’t think I’ll ever push for the canter,” she says. “He’s fine as a walk/trot horse.”
There are so many horses like these success, who have found help and a home with her, or with a loving adoptive family.
A Quarter Horse abandoned by the side of a desert rode was gladly taken in when it was clear he had no other option. “I got a call from someone who saw him dumped on the side of the road,” she says. “He had nothing wrong with him; someone just dumped him there.”
That lucky horse will receive as much care and attention as some of the big-money earners. Earhart recently accepted Blue Chagall, who earned $400,000 on the track, and Hunch, who won $106,000. Both will be started under saddle and re-trained.
As she continues to welcome the abandoned, broken horses, who nobody else wants, Earhart feels optimistic.
As she begins the process of certifying her facility as a federal nonprofit, she never fails to be inspired, every day, by triumphant stories of individual horses who defy the odds.
“Seeing horses beat the odds and come back gives people hope,” she says. “It gives me hope. I see it everyday that a horse was worth it. When I see a horse who had an injury a year ago now trotting down the fence line, I know we’re on the right path.”