He was once a malnourished young stallion in a bad situation, but thanks to a rescue organization and a young Bulloch County woman's passion for horses, Ranger and trainer Kailey Elizabeth Perkins won the 2017 Georgia Equine Rescue League Challenge.
Each year, the Georgia Equine Rescue League hosts a Challenge, where novice trainers are paired with rescue horses, train them and compete.
Ranger was a quarter pony stallion rescued with two other stallions, including his sire, Perkins said. He was underweight, close to 4 years old, and only trained to lead.
Perkins is a 22-year-old Bulloch County native who was born with a love for horses. Her parents, Joe and Mandy Perkins, weren't horse owners.
"I am the only horse person in my family," Perkins said.
She started competing in shows at age 4, and was trained by Statesboro resident Chris Pingel Wilson. At 7, Perkins got her own horse, and stepped back into the competition arena at 14.
Later, she graduated from Meredith Manor Equestrian College and became a farrier - a slight young female in a world dominated by husky men.
When she applied for the GERL Rescue Challenge in the spring, Perkins had no idea what was in store. She was one of seven non-profit, novice trainers selected from a field of 12, and GERL drew her name from a hat to pair her with Ranger, a 13.2-hand sorrel gelding.
(Ranger was a stallion, an intact male horse, when he was rescued, but was gelded, or neutered, after his rescue. Sorrel is a color term used to describe a reddish brown horse with red or flaxen mane and tail, and a hand is a unit of measure for horses that is 4 inches. Horses are measured from their withers to the ground.)
The horses selected are fostered by Equine Rescue members who get the horses seized by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. The ones chosen for the challenge were physically rehabilitated, but had a handicap such as being unbroken or with certain issues, Perkins said.
All the other horses chosen this year had been ridden before, but the only thing Ranger knew how to do was be led.
"Everybody else had a head start," she said.
The drawing was held by conference call June 1, and Perkins, along with her "horse mom" and friend Sharon E. Jackson, picked up Ranger from a foster home near Athens on June 24.
Two days later, his 120-day training period began, and within two weeks, Perkins was riding the little gelding.
"I used the Clinton Anderson method of ground work," she said.
Anderson is a world-renowned horse trainer.
Ranger picked up his lessons well, she said.
"He wasn't hard, but he wasn't easy. He is naturally pushy, with no work ethic. Ranger is naturally quiet, kind of lazy, and I have to push him." Working with horses like him are "a strong point of mine."
Now, Ranger is a "good sport" and "likes to please. I can drag off him, rope off him. When I train horses, they are put through the ringer and exposed," she said.
Perkins took the horse to shows and trail rides to give him practice and experience, but he came up lame, so she missed the Kiwanis Ogeechee fair parade, an event she enjoys every year. She wanted Ranger to rest and heal before the challenge, she said.
But Oct. 21, the pair arrived at the University of Georgia arena in Athens, and got ready to show. Perkins set up a booth advertising her business, Star K Equine Enterprises, and soon, it was time to hit the ring.
Trainers each had three minutes to introduce themselves and their horses. Then, there were three classes; in hand, where horses were shown in halter, judged by "ground manners" and how they behaved; under saddle, where they encountered obstacles such as log mazes, water bridges, jumps, and were asked to pick up certain leads; and free style.
For the free style class, Perkins rode to Taylor Swift's song "Shake it Off" and performed reining maneuvers, including a display of riding without a bridle, and then stood on Ranger's rump and slid off his back end. She received a standing ovation, she said.
The judges agreed. Perkins held her breath as a third place $750 prize was awarded; then a $1,500 second place prize.
Then, Ranger and Perkins were in the spotlight as judges announced she won the $3,000 prize, along with a trophy buckle.
Perkins said a great deal of credit goes to her parents and family for support, and for Jackson.
"If it was not for Sharon Jackson, I wouldn't be where I am today," she said.
Strong work ethic
Jackson gave credit to Perkins herself, for having a strong work ethic and for going after what she wanted. She said Perkins and Ranger outclassed the other competitors by far.
"She smoked them," she said. "She made them look like they were playing cards." Jackson said since Perkins didn't grow up in a horse show family, she gladly took the young horse lover to shows and competitions. Perkins is a board member for the Bulloch County Horseman's Association, of which Jackson is currently president.
Ranger doesn't belong to Perkins, although he holds a special place in her heart. He is up for adoption through Equine Rescue, but Perkins, like other foster trainers, has a say in who gets to own the plucky little gelding. Trainers are compensated for expenses while training and boarding the foster horses.
She wants to see him in a home where his training will be put to use, and he will be used for competitions, she said.
Perkins plans to expand her business, and she and fiancée Jake Fordham recently purchased 18 acres near her family's farm on Old River Road near Clito, where she will soon be taking in new clients, she said.
Jackson said Perkins will "go far" in her endeavors. "She is the real deal. She is willing to work for what she wants."
Anyone interested in adopting Ranger; fostering or adopting another rescued horse or needing additional information about the Georgia Equine Rescue League, may access the group's website online at http://gerlltd.org/.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.