UPDATE:  The Tribune-Review ran a story on Saturday, March 1.  CLICK HERE to read.

On Friday night, February 28, the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association hosted a special event to benefit the Washington Area Humane Society.  The last time the groups worked together, it was the beginning of a journey that has taken a horse and a young girl to places no one could have imagined.

The MSOA and The Meadows Racing each donated its commission, doubling the benefit for the WAHS.  Combined with private donations, more than $2,500 was raised.

Racing fans were encouraged to join in by not only wagering on the race, but also by bringing an item from the WAHS “Wish List”, which includes dry cat food, clay cat litter, Purina One dry and canned dog food, dog treats and more.   Fans donating an item from the “Wish List” received a $2 betting voucher, courtesy of the MSOA and The Meadows.

Donations are always accepted.  For the full “Wish List,” CLICK HERE.

The MSOA and Meadows horsemen are quite familiar with the work of the Washington Area Humane Society.  Five years ago, the groups got together when nearly two dozen horses were found in extremely poor health on a nearby farm.

Several local trainers stepped up and worked together with the Meadows race office and the WAHS to donate whatever items they could.  Leslie Zendt, a trainer/driver, was one of several that took the extra step to help.

“Word got around the backstretch at The Meadows, and so I got in touch with the Humane Society,” said Zendt.  “The horses were having trouble getting to fresh water, so the first thing I did was buy some water troughs.  The next day, more people got involved and a bunch of us went over to see firsthand.  In my lifetime I never thought I would see anything like that.”

What Zendt saw were more than 20 horses, mostly Quarterhorses, all emaciated and very ill.

Zendt stepped up and began the process immediately to adopt a young horse that she thought was a gelding, but turned out to simply be an underdeveloped two-year-old colt.  “We loaded him up and brought him back to my farm,” says Zendt. “

After consulting with veterinarians Barry Betts and Larry Smith, Zendt started, giving the horse, which she discovered was a registered Quarterhorse, small amounts of feed and brushing him, trying to get him comfortable.

He eventually began to gain strength, but remained small in stature due to his early malnutrition.  After Dr. Betts gelded the colt free of charge, Zendt began looking for a home for the horse, now named “Junior.”

“I’m busy enough with my racehorses, and didn’t have use for another riding horse.  Dave Palone and I threw the saddle on him one day and started breaking him.  I talked to (husband) Bill’s son Brian.  He and his wife Dawn were looking for a riding horse that could eventually be used for their daughter, Lexi.

Dawn Zendt then picks up the story.  “The horse was so young.  We kept trying to work with him, but he was just so immature.  Physically and mentally it took him a while to catch up.

Dawn rode the horse during the summer of 2012, when Junior was five years old, but he just wasn’t aggressive enough for barrel racing at her level.  “He was just so laid back, and I realized he would be a great horse for our daughter, Lexi.”

Lexi Zendt, at age 10 last summer, was coming back to barrel racing after an incident with her pony left her with a broken arm the previous year.  “She needed to get her confidence back,” said Dawn.  “We started her with Junior this past September, and she quickly realized that the horse will take care of her.  He has helped her to gain so much confidence.  He is just so trustworthy and eager to please.  He will only go as fast as Lexi wants him to go.”

Together, Lexi Zendt and Junior are learning together, and succeeding.  “They are already top-five in the youth class in the West Virginia region of the International Barrel Racing Association,” said Dawn.  “Lexi is in love with him.”

The entire Zendt family has had a hand in bringing Junior from a very difficult beginning to where he is today.  Their story shows how horsemen at The Meadows have made a difference while working with the Washington Area Humane Society, and they are happy to see that the partnership will continue with this Friday’s event.  “I think that a lot of people are quick to think that horses like that are too much trouble,” said Dawn Zendt.  “But that’s not the case.  They can turn out to be the most caring, forgiving animals.  I was happy that The Meadows’ horsemen stepped up last time.  None of the horses were Standardbreds, yet our community did what we could to help.  Lexi’s story is just one of many from what took place five years ago.  We’re happy to see the two groups work together again.”