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Woodbury, Minn., teen Maddie Kanda has been fostering an 8-year-old Arabian mare named Raayna as part of the Trainer’s Challenge of the Unwanted Horse. (Amber Kispert-Smith/Woodbury Bulletin)

Horse's tale completes Cinderella story

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Horse's tale completes Cinderella story
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WOODBURY, Minn. -- The message about rescuing dogs and cats can be heard in many places, but horses are one animal that is often forgotten when it comes to finding a good home.


Thankfully, some people, such as Woodbury teen Maddie Kanda, haven’t lost sight of that message.

Since April, Kanda, a student at Inver Hills Community College, has been fostering an 8-year-old Arabian mare named Raayna.

“I wanted to do something over the summer that would give a horse another chance,” she said. “I wanted to use my time and skills to help another horse find a forever home.”

Kanda is fostering Raayna through the This Old Horse rescue in Hastings.

As part of fostering Raayna, Kanda will compete in this year’s Trainer’s Challenge of the Unwanted Horse, which challenges young horse trainers to showcase untrained rescue horses in hopes that they will be adopted.

“Any work I would put into it would definitely give a horse a better chance of getting adopted,” Kanda said.

A princess in need

Raayna, whose name means princess in Arabic, came from a farm in Crow Wing County, where she was one of four Arabians on the property, including her foal Johnny.

All four horses were starved and neglected.

When the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation seized the horses in December, Raayna and Johnny were the only two to survive.

Horse body condition is ranked on a scale from one to 10, with one being extremely emaciated and 10 being extremely obese. Raayna was about a two. A healthy horse is ranked at about a five.

Johnny had a slightly better body condition than Raayna, and the best explanation, Kanda said, is that the mother horse gave any food and water that she did receive to Johnny before taking any for herself.

“She put his life before her own,” Kanda said.

Also, Johnny, who is 3, was still nursing off Raayna, which was taking away a lot of her nutrients.

“Horses typically stop nursing after a couple months,” Kanda said. “But because they weren’t separated and weren’t being fed, they didn’t have any reason to stop nursing.”

Raayna also was suffering from pneumonia.

Eventually Raayna and Johnny were moved to This Old Horse because the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation had run out of room.

Raayna and Johnny received medical attention in hopes of preparing them for the Trainer’s Challenge of the Unwanted Horse.

Through the challenge, inexperienced trainers are paired with a rescue horse for about 100 days, to work with and present at the University of Minnesota’s Leatherdale Equine Center.

The only criteria for the horses are that they have had minimal human contact, never been ridden and are halter broke.

Horses and trainers showcase in five categories – halter, pleasure, trail and obstacle, freestyle and veterinarian/farrier.

The basic skills a horse should learn include: standing quietly for a farrier and veterinarian, loading and unloading quietly into a trailer, standing patiently for tack and untacking, trotting in hand, and being able to be ridden on the rail and on the trail.

Trainers are awarded $10,000 in cash and prizes.

This year’s Trainer’s Challenge will be Sept. 20 at the Leatherdale Equine Center at the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

Moving past the worry

Kanda, who has a horse of her own, met Raayna in March after they were assigned to each other.

“When I first went out to meet her she was a little nervous,” Kanda said. “She was still getting used to the whole idea of being a horse again and having food and water.”

When Kanda first moved Raayna to her stable at Majestic Pines Farm in Afton, they spent a lot of time just getting to know each other.

“She was still worried about food and water,” Kanda said. “That’s hard to get out of a horse that’s been starved and neglected.”

Kanda said she worked with Raayna on moving past her worry.

Not only was Raayna worried for herself, she was worried about all the other horses that came in and out of the stables.

Kanda said the worry probably was an aftereffect from leaving Johnny.

“It was hard leaving Johnny behind because they had gone through that whole ordeal together – there’s a pretty strong bond after that,” she said. “Now, she’s so worried about protecting everyone.”

On average, Kanda said she works with Raayna daily for about two hours.

“It’s nice to be able to watch her relax and not have all that worry,” she said. “She doesn’t even look like the same horse because her features have totally changed.”

Kanda said she is eager to showcase everything Raayna has been able to overcome and accomplish. A few of her specialty tricks are jumping and dressage, or dancing.

But finding Raayna a home -- rather than winning -- is the priority.

“I’m sure there will be tears,” Kanda said, “but it will be so nice knowing that Raayna will be going to a good home and a place to live out the rest of her life.”

Kanda said she might consider participating in future Trainer’s Challenges.

“I find it really easy to connect to horses,” she said. “The connection you get with your horse is different than with dogs and cats – the bonds are so strong.”

To follow Raayna’s progress, visit Maddie Kanda’s blog at or her Facebook page at

Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
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