By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In rural Dakota County, there’s a veterans home where the residents have put in their time, and now they’re learning what retirement is really all about.

“When people help us create this community, we can continue to expand our reach to help horses in need,” Nancy Turner said.

Turner has loved these animals her entire life. It’s the reason she started This Old Horse, a sanctuary where retired race horses can go to live out their final days, animals that were once so beloved by owners and fans.

“People who work with their horses don’t want to keep their horses, they want a new one. So the old one has no value to them and becomes unwanted, even though it’s been loved and healthy,” Turner said.

So they come to This Old Horse. Turner started the sanctuary in 2012 with just 12 horses. Now she has 40, and another 50 in foster care.

“A horse’s average lifespan is 25 years. We have at least 10 horses that are older than 25. We have one that’s 37, so they can last a long time,” Turner said.

But they’re not just living. Some of them are actually falling in love. That includes the grandchildren of two of the most famous racehorses of all time.

“This is Big and he’s the grandson of Secretariat, and he looks like him,” Turner said while petting the grandson of the former Triple Crown winner.

And wherever Big goes, so does Gigi, the granddaughter of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.

“They are in love with each other. They are just a bonded pair. They are hilarious. They are like teenagers in love,” Turner said.

Here, bonds form between horses, but also between humans.

“It’s the little moments in the evening. But I think it’s just sharing time with her and having our thing together,” volunteer Patrick Schmid said.

This Old Horse runs on volunteers, like Schmid and his daughter Fiona, who like horses, but also like doing chores.

“Always get our time together. It’s really fun to be with my dad and do something that we always do together,” Fiona Schmid said.

It’s the same for Stacy Kauk and her son.

“I like it. I like this place a lot,” Jackson Kauk, who came to work on his 10th birthday, said.

“It’s just been a lot of fun. Growing together, laughing and working hard,” Stacy Kauk said.

Not every “horse tail” at the sanctuary has a happy ending.

“There’s just something about his eyes that we are really, really working with him. We are really trying hard,” Turner said.

A couple years ago she started taking in rescue horses, too. Cases were a horse had been neglected and was close to starving, like Shadow, who was also battling pneumonia.

“Sometimes you get a horse that is really sick that you have a lot of hope for,” Turner said.

Because that’s what the sanctuary is really all about: giving a second chance to anyone who sets foot, or hoof, through the front door.

“It teaches you, it helps you just find your happy place. That’s why people love them. They are with you more than any other animal you have ever met,” Turner said.

Volunteers who put in enough hours, can get free riding lessons at the sanctuary. There is an open house coming up Sept. 10. Click here for more information.


UPDATE: Shadow, the rescue horse who was battling pneumonia, passed away the night after WCCO filmed this story. Turner said his last day was spent interacting with volunteers and people who cared about him.

John Lauritsen