ONCE UPON A TIME…Bethany Penrod of Maryland Heights signed up to volunteer at Mid America Horse Rescue. Though she didn't have much experience with horses, she was interested in learning to care for them, as well as in the rescue’s mission of providing a new life for retired race horses, who might otherwise face slaughter.

“I didn't have my heart set on adopting one when I started there,” she says. “I’d been taking lessons and when I realized I wanted my own, I thought about what would be a good match for me. Margo (Sutter, the founder of the rescue group) knows all their stories and histories, so she got me thinking about what I wanted to do with the horse, which horses had injuries and what they were capable of doing, and all the other things I needed to consider.”

After a couple of years getting to know the rescue and its herd, Penrod started to focus her attentions on one horse in particular: Baroque. “I took my time getting to know Baroque for several months, grooming him and bonding with him, before I was certain he was the one for me to bring home.” She adopted the 8-year-old horse two years ago, and brought him to Paradise Valley Ranch in Wildwood for boarding. Last fall, she adopted 7-year-old Papa, another thoroughbred who was best buddies with Baroque during their days at Mid America Horse Rescue.

“The day I brought Papa home, I went and got Baroque, and we put them in the arena together,” Penrod recalls. “It was the cutest thing ever! They nosed each other and sniffed each other, then they looked at each other like they remembered one another and just walked off together. I’m 100 percent sure they remembered each other and were happy to be back together.” The pair remain best buddies, and Baroque looks out for his younger friend, Penrod says. “Baroque is high on the pecking order with the other horses—he’s one of the top dogs out there. Papa is a little lower on the pecking order, so he’s less likely to get in there and get food first. So when they go to the hay bale, Baroque will clear the way for Papa to come next to him and eat.”

Though they get along great, the horses have completely opposite personalities, Penrod says. “Baroque is like a Labrador retriever on the ground—he’s sweet and cuddly and laid back,” she says. “Under the saddle, he’s more spirited—he’s young and playful and he loves to do everything very fast. That was one of the first things we had to work on when I started riding him. But he’s an incredible athlete: He amazes me with what he’s capable of.” Papa, on the other hand, she describes as ‘a big clown.’ “He’s quite the goofball. He likes to nudge things over with his nose and have fun and be goofy. But in the saddle, he’s the calmest horse I've ever met.”

Having learned to ride as an adult, Penrod says the two horses’ distinct styles really helped her grow as a rider. And the time she spends with them is one of the highlights of her week, she says. “The bond you build is just incredible. Even a bad day of riding is better than any other day—they learn something and you learn something.” Any accomplishment for the horse and rider builds that bond even more, she says, recalling time spent training Baroque to do small jumps. “I remember our first jump, when we were working with the trainer and she said, We’re ready to give it a try. The first time you do it is such an accomplishment, and to know you were a part of it is really gratifying.”

For your own fairy-tail ending:

Mid America Horse Rescue

8743 Le Pere School Road, Millstadt, Ill.

302-2216, mahrnfp@yahoo.com, mahrnfp.org

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