From the Heart

American Competitive Trail Horse Association members and affiliates are discovering places they?ve never ridden, making new friends, and spending quality time with their horses. But that’s not all. ACTHA members and affiliates also help horse-related charities and rescues nationwide.

Susan Anderson. Courtesy ACTHA

?I love ACTHA, because it supports charities that help horses in need.?

That’s the first thing ACTHA affiliate Susan Anderson mentions when she talks about her love of horses. ?Having personally rescued three starving horses only a few years ago, I know the need is there.?

At a yard sale, Anderson found two Arabian horse sisters (Queenie and Darling) and one Quarter Horse (Lucky) in need of rescue. ?They were nothing but skin and bones,? she says.

?It wasn?t an easy time for us,? she continues. ?I was seven months pregnant, and our three horses were sharing a two-stall barn. We were in no position to take on more horses, but they couldn?t stay there.?

The horses? owner told Anderson that if they were still there in a week, they were going to the auction. Without hesitation or any real plan, Anderson bought them all on the spot. ?These horses deserved better,? she recounts.

She and her husband adjusted their barn and their lives to accommodate the new additions. The horses settled in and began a year-long rehabilitation.

?They were all near 20 years old,? says Anderson. ?Lucky had been jumped to the point of breakdown. Queenie and Darling, while well-bred, were totally green. Over the winter, the horses blossomed. Queenie and Darling ate up the attention, and Lucky soon began dropping hints she wanted a job,? she says.

By summer, with a new baby and a frightening diagnosis of breast cancer, it became necessary to seek a new home for three rescues. ?It was one of the toughest decisions I?ve ever had to make, and I didn’t make it lightly.?

Anderson worried about splitting up the trio, especially as the sisters had never been apart. But she was in luck. ?When Connie Erickson of Angel Horse Farms contacted me, I knew within minutes that this would be a wonderful home for them.?

Erickson, who?d raised and showed Arabians for more than 15 years, agreed to adopt them all. Anderson was elated. She and Erickson become great friends. ?Connie keeps me informed about how the horses are doing, their latest antics,? Anderson notes. ?And she includes them in her annual Christmas letter from the farm. Saving those horses was one of the most rewarding things I?ve ever done!?

Anderson then discovered ACTHA. ?Having rescued horses myself, I’m keenly aware of the monetary, legal, and equine management challenges facing horse rescues today,? she notes. The concept of helping horses in need through casual competition with judged obstacles is simply genius!?

When Anderson found no ACTHA ride in her area, she became an ACTHA Affiliate by hosting a Competitive Trail Challenge. She was a member of Iowa Trail Riders Association, so she met with its board of directors to present ACTHA. As luck would have it, ITRA had done a survey that showed members wanted short trail rides. The casual, 6- to 10-mile ACTHA format was a perfect fit.

Next, she needed a place to hold the ride. When Wildwood Hills Ranch in St. Charles, Iowa, was suggested, she knew right away it was the perfect place.

Wildwood ( is a charitable organization that uses horses to teach at-risk youth trust, respect, and responsibility. Usually closed to the public, it opened its gates to ACTHA riders, providing trails, stalls, lodging, and volunteers.

Anderson marvels at how a trip to a yard sale and discovering three troubled horses touched so many lives. ?ACTHA helps equine rescues and charities, ITRA gets to host a CTC, and Wildwood Hills Ranch receives a donation,? she notes.

?And, as an affiliate, I get to support ACTHA?s mission to enable the humane treatment of horses in need, meet great new friends, and hand out great awards and prizes!?

For more information on the American Competitive Trail Horse Association, visit

Dutch Henry is a freelance writer and novelist who resides in Virginia with his wife of 35 years, plus his horse, dogs, cats, and chickens. He?s a staff writer for the American Competitive Trail Horse Association.

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