Professional Partners: Heart of Phoenix and Sunni Bell Stables are changing what rescue means in the pony world

A story of Professional Partnership and Changing what “rescue” means in the Horse World from Professional Partner, Sonya, owner of Sunni Bell Stables in PA
“When people think about becoming horse trainers, they normally aspire to train expensive horses with amazing blood lines and confirmation. Over three years ago, I gave up my original aspirations as a horse trainer and began solely volunteering to training ponies for Heart of the Phoenix Rescue.
With a very large and successful Children’s lesson program in the outskirts of Pittsburgh, PA, I liked to do side projects training horses, when time allowed. Often times, I was independently training ponies and horses for my lesson program to make them child safe.
In 2015, after training a lesson pony named Tater Tot that I had adopted from Heart of the Phoenix Rescue, the founder, Tinia, contacted me inquiring if I would like to continue to train ponies for HOP after seeing the progress Tater Tot had made in such a short time under my training. She explained that ponies are often looked over because they did not have access to a trainer small enough to train them.
I cautiously accepted the challenge and our partnership began. I believed that the Pittsburgh horse market needed more cost effective ponies for kids, and HOP needed a trainer and area to market these ponies for adoption.
We began working together looking at each pony HOP had at their rescue, one at the time. HOP would send me videos and pictures of potential training ponies, and we would discuss the pros and cons to each pony and if I thought the pony would be adoptable as a hunter pony.
My first HOP training pony after Tater Tot was Rhett. A rescue born, paint pony that just needed some saddle time. I began to put Rhett through the daily training routine that I had done dozen of times before with other training horses, and we soon realized that Rhett loved to jump! After several weeks training at my farm, I began adverting Rhett for adoption, and he was quickly adopted and continues his career as a hunter/ evening pony. After Rhett was adopted, the process began again between HOP and myself looking for the next hunter pony to bring up for training.
Since 2015, we have brought almost a dozen ponies up to Pittsburgh for training and HOP has become very good at picking out what qualities I am looking for when training Hunter ponies.
I have gotten such a joy out of volunteering with this program because it allows me to continue my education as a trainer with ponies that all have different training and emotional needs.
It also allows me to not be rushed to get these ponies trained. I can take my time, and I am not under any time restraints to get them adopted.
Along with those mentioned above, I am not stuck with one of these ponies if they are not going to be able to be adopted out as hunter show ponies. Not every pony is meant to be a hunter and if the jumping world is not their calling, they will get several weeks of training with myself and evaluated to help HOP find them a more appropriate home with a different discipline.
I look forward to continue my partnership with HOP and see what the next few years will bring!”
We cannot tell Sonya and her barn Thank you enough for this partnership!
Sonya hopes, as do we, that by spreading the work about HOP’s Professional Partners program, MORE barns join!
We will change the outlook for horses in transition one horse, one facility, one trainer and one adopter at a time!

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