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Abused pony retrained with love and patience

By Ed DuBois

Not very long ago, Echo the pony would "throw his head all over" when Mary Knack touched his ear. But now a complete stranger can walk up and stroke Echo's nose. It doesn't bother him a bit.

Mary shares a passion for horse training with her mother, Colene McClard. As Mary works with Echo, Colene likes to watch, and every so often she offers a suggestion.

For example, when Mary was being interviewed for this story, she touched the side of the pony that she normally hadn't touched much. Echo reacted with a little kick, and Colene told Mary to immediately work with him and have him perform some of the movements they had been practicing.

Colene grew up working with horses in Excelsior. More recently, she was a member of the Three Rivers Park District's mounted patrol for eight years. She knows the importance of correcting an unwanted behavior as soon as it happens.


BHS freshman

Colene moved from Buffalo to Maple Plain in recent times, but she wanted Mary to continue in the Buffalo Hanover Montrose School District. She is a freshman at Buffalo High School this year.

Echo is a rescued pony. Colene said he was among starving horses that were seized in a Fillmore County animal abuse case. Mary became Echo's trainer through TruHaven Ranch of Winsted and the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescuers' Trainers Challenge. She is in the first annual Amateur/Youth Diamond in the Rough Trainers Challenge.

This summer and fall, Mary has been working with Echo and hopes he will be adopted by a kind family next month.


Feed and care

A kind neighbor has been providing a place to pasture and train Echo.

At 14 years old, Mary doesn't have a job to help pay for Echo's feed and care.

"But that didn't stop her," Colene said.

Mary makes and sells rope halters with unique colors. She shares photos of them on Instagram.

Mary mentioned that besides horse training, another favorite pastime is photography. Her camera is the same model used by the reporter who wrote this story. Some of the photos she takes at high school activities and horse shows are sold to make some money for taking care of Echo.

"Not only is she dedicated to giving Echo a second chance in life, Mary problem solved how to make it happen herself," Colene commented.


Showed at the fair

By Wright County Fair time, Mary had Echo's ground work nearly completed. In fact, Mary had ridden Echo ten times.

She brought Echo to the fair, along with her 4-H horse, and entered Echo in a few of the horse show classes.

"Echo placed in some of the classes and did an amazing job," Colene happily reported.

She added that Mary has taught Echo to trust people, and that not all people will starve and hurt him. Echo also learned that both little people and big people like to pet him. He found out that weird noises, such as the tractor next door, air breaks of trucks and barking dogs are OK. Braying mules, beer garden bands and crowds at the fair were OK, too.

"Seeing Echo's transformation and the relationship between Mary and Echo has been beautiful," Colene stated.

Echo has learned Mary is trustworthy. Once in a while, he looks to her for direction and is reassured that he is safe, loved and part of the family.


Yawns a lot

Colene said it has been fun to see Mary train Echo to be ridden. The pony is 48 inches tall, and Mary is 5 feet, 7 inches.

"It's fun to see what Mary does with her long legs when she is riding Echo," she laughed.

She added that both Mary and Echo have been learning along the way.

Mary has discovered some idiosyncrasies that make Echo unique. Things that often bother other horses, such as an umbrella opening suddenly, do not seem to bother Echo. But the sight of a cattle prod or someone carrying a stick is bothersome for him.

Some of his fun characteristics include "putting his mouth on everything" and, "He yawns all the time," Mary said.

One of her favorite pictures shows her and Echo yawning together.


Brother and sister

The youngest of three children, Mary has a big brother, Jeff Knack, who is studying law enforcement at the University of Minnesota, Crookston. A big sister, Sarah Knack, is enrolled at the University of St. Thomas and thinking about a career that involves helping children with brain injuries.

College could be in Mary's future, too. In the meantime, she has high school to finish and probably more horse training to enjoy.


Taking it slow

Training Echo has involved plenty of patience and making progress in "baby steps."

Mary has been "setting him up for success" as she began with leading him with a rope. She tried to make it as pleasurable as possible.

After about a month, she began to get Echo accustomed to a saddle. After two months, Mary began to ride him.

The process of riding Echo started with placing just one leg on his back for a while. Mary eventually rode him bareback, and then she rode him with a saddle.

She remembers Echo walked funny the first time he wore a saddle.

"He was trying to get used to balancing the extra weight. His legs were spread out," Colene recalled.

Daily training sessions start with getting Echo warmed up and "getting him thinking." It involves lunging, a technique using a rope and walking the horse in a circle. This has helped teach Echo to walk, trot and canter.


Bittersweet adoption

Echo has been performing well, and it appears he will be ready for an adoption event involving silent auction bidding at TruHaven Ranch on Saturday, Oct. 4.

Various people have shown interest in possibly bidding on Echo. Some have kept track of his progress and have come to see him at events such as the county fair.

For Mary, the culmination of her training efforts will be bittersweet.

"I will probably be crying," she said.

But she will also likely be happy and proud.

Her goal has been to get Echo ready for a new happy home.

It appears she is completing her task very well. Not too long ago, Echo would "throw his head all over" when his ear was touched.

Now a complete stranger can walk up to him and stroke his nose.

It doesn't bother him one bit.


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