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Woodbury teen will compete in Trainer’s Challenge of Unwanted Horse with new horse, Bug

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Bug, a 5-year-old Spanish mustang mare, had a rough start to life having been malnourished at a farm in southern Minnesota before being seized, at 3 months old, along with her mother by the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation (MHARF). 

“Her mom was malnourished throughout her pregnancy and for the first three months after Bug was born,” said 2015 Woodbury High School graduate Maddie Kanda, who is training Bug. “Mom had to be euthanized and Bug was taken into foster care where she was bottle-fed for the next three months.” 

Bug has eventually blossomed into a beautiful butterfly thanks to the time and dedication of Kanda. 

Kanda and Bug will be competing in the Trainer’s Challenge of the Unwanted Horse, a competition that challenges young horse trainers to showcase untrained rescue horses in hopes of becoming adopted, this September at the University of Minnesota. 

“It’s just such a rewarding experience,” Kanda said. “They have a such better chance of being adopted after they’ve been worked with for a while.” 

This will be the second time that Kanda has competed in the Trainer’s Challenge of the Unwanted Horse. She competed last year with an Arabian named Raayna and took fourth place overall. 

“It was really fun to see all the horses and how they progressed,” she said of last year’s challenge.

Kanda is a nationally rated Pony Club member and riding instructor at This Old Horse in Hastings. 

She also trains horses for clients. 

It was back in April that Kanda, who will be studying criminology in the fall at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, was first paired with Bug after having spent time getting to know the horses rescued by MHARF, which sponsors the Trainer’s Challenge of the Unwanted Horse. 

“Last year I just asked for something small and I got Raayna,” Kanda said. “This year we actually went out and saw some of the horses beforehand so I got to kind of see their personalities, then based off of that they recommended Bug to me – she was my first choice.” 

Kanda said she was drawn to Bug initially because she was personable, curious, innocent and level-headed. 

“She just loves everybody,” she said. 

Kanda said Bug immediately came up to her during their first meeting, so it proved to be a match made in heaven. 

Not much is known about Bug’s upbringing, since she was only 3 months at the time of her rescue. 

“(MHARF) don’t want to tell you a whole lot, so you can start with a clean slate,” said Maddie’s mother, Debbie. “You don’t need to know all the baggage that your horse came with.” 

Having competed last year, Maddie went into this year’s challenge with a better understanding of what is expected of trainers and their horses. 

“I feel a lot more prepared this year,” she said. 

Time to train

The Trainer’s Challenge of the Unwanted Horse is divided into five classes – halter, pleasure, trail, veterinarian/farrier and freestyle. 

Basic skills that a horse should learn include: stand quietly for a farrier and veterinarian; load and unload quietly into a trailer; stand patiently for tack and untacking; walk, trot and canter; and be able to be ridden on the rail and on the trail.

Bug’s training, which has been occurring at Majestic Pines Farm in Afton, has been progressing quite well, Maddie said, since she picks up on things relatively quickly. 

“She’s very easy to work with,” she said. “She’s very smart.” 

Working with Bug does have its challenges also, Maddie said, specifically in regard to water. 

“She doesn’t like water, she’d never had a bath before,” she said. “We had to work on that.” 

Additionally, Maddie said she has had to take extra care to loosen up Bug’s stiff joints, which are the result of malnourishment, through the use of chiropractic and nutrition supplements. 

The biggest challenge, however, Maddie said, is just working with a young horse. 

“She’s still a baby so she’s learning,” she said. “She can be a little sassy sometimes – you don’t tell her what to do, you ask.” 

Debbie compares working with a young horse to that of a toddler. 

“If they don’t want to do something, they’re not going to do it,” she said. 

Maddie said she and Bug are getting close to being ready for the Trainer’s Challenge of the Unwanted Horse, which will take place on Sept. 19 at the Leatherdale Equine Center at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in St. Paul. 

“I think she’ll do really well,” she said. “I’m really excited to bring her out and show her off, she’s such a cool horse.” 

Now, even though Maddie will be competing for $10,000 in cash and prizes, the true reward is seeing the rescue horses adopted. 

The silent auction at the Trainer’s Challenge of the Unwanted Horse is specifically reserved for pre-approved owners. 

“It is really eye opening to work with all the rescue horses because they are so different than any other horse who has had all of the necessities in life and never had to worry,” she said. “It’s really rewarding to see them come so far and see how you can influence their lives.” 


Visit to follow Maddie Kanda and Bug’s progress. 


Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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