DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - The Teiken farm just north of Detroit Lakes is somewhat of a home for rescues. The Teikens rescue animals in need, like one of their cats they nursed back to health after finding him nearly frozen to death or another feline who was nearly roadkill. Recently, though, the Teikens took on a much larger animal in need: a horse named Stella. After she recovered, Stella went on to perform well at a state horse competition.
Val Teiken said they were in the market for a new horse after her daughter Julia's horse died just before Christmas a couple of years ago, leaving the family heartbroken.
"This friend of ours, he goes to a lot of auctions, and he tries to find good-quality horses," said Val, adding that he invited them to look at a horse he had acquired. The family didn't just leave with one horse that day. They went home with three. One was Stella, who wasn't in very good shape.
"She was headed for a kill truck," Val said. "She wasn't much to love. When we first got her, she didn't look like a whole lot."
Stella had a bad case of worms, which caused her to be rail-thin. Her teeth were sharp and her hooves were cracked from poor care, but there was something about her that caught Val's eye.
While they were checking out the prospective horses, they went on a trail ride, and Stella, though she was in tough shape, was "a perfect angel," Val said.
"At the beginning of this ride, at the end of the driveway, a dump truck went by with a huge trailer, and it had trees on it, but they weren't tied down," she said. The noise and movement was enough to scare any well-trained horse. "Stella's standing there like, ya, I see that all the time."
Val said that wasn't the only obstacle they experienced on their two-hour trail ride. They came up against numerous plastic bags - the noise and color again commonly causes fear for most horses - but Stella just kept trekking past barking dogs, wild turkeys, a grouse and deer. Nothing fazed her.
"We had a McDonald's cup holder come scooting across the road, and she just stepped on it and kept going," Val said with a laugh.
The Teikens fell in love her sweet demeanor and decided to take her home, expecting her to make a good trail horse after she was back in shape.But they were shocked when they started working with Stella.
"We started to figure out this horse knew some stuff," Val said. "With her cues, we just started asking more and more of her, and she knew what we wanted."
Julia worked with her, finding her "buttons," or command cues, and Stella responded positively. Stella was willing to work, and she never got feisty when they pushed her to see what she could do.
"We put her to work in the arena. We set up obstacles that they do for trail class in shows, and she knew a bunch of that," Val said.
Julia eventually decided Stella was the horse she wanted to show at the Becker County Fair, where she qualified for state competition. At state, Julia placed eighth in trail riding.
"I did all the work with her," Julia said. "You know, tried to bring her back from basically death, and then find where her buttons are and kind of critique them. You know, you get to state, and there's some people who just pay for that, and she did excellent for not probably being anywhere near that. She was an angel."
The Teikens are now using their "angel" as a training horse on trail rides. She so easygoing she doesn't care who rides her. The Teikens can't believe how far she's come in the past year since they got her. They estimate Stella's about 18 years old.
"Our expectations of Stella were minimal at best," said Val, adding that even though she was in tough shape, they knew she would at least be a gentle horse to ride. "I mean, you can just see it in her eyes ... but a state show? Not even close to the picture - that wasn't our intent."