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Equine inspiration

As kids crowded around to brush her soft, white coat, Fancy was in horse heaven with all the attention. "They're lovin' on her," said Wendy Krook, who, along with her husband, Russ, founded Seeds of Hope Youth Ranch in the French River area of Du...

As kids crowded around to brush her soft, white coat, Fancy was in horse heaven with all the attention.

"They're lovin' on her," said Wendy Krook, who, along with her husband, Russ, founded Seeds of Hope Youth Ranch in the French River area of Duluth Township.

Fancy, a purebred Arabian, is one of 10 horses the Krooks have taken in. Some were in extremely poor health and were underweight, anemic or full of parasites, while others -- like Fancy -- just needed a home and attention.

The Krooks want their ranch to be a place where youths in need will be able to work with horses in need. In that way, both will benefit. Wendy Krook believes operating the ranch is her God-given purpose in life.

"It's God's ranch -- not Russ and Wendy's ranch," she said. "We are his hands. I feel honored he asked me to do this."

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The ranch's name, Seeds of Hope, came from an image Wendy had when she was praying -- of God holding a dandelion and blowing its seeds in the air.

The couple has big dreams for the ranch. They bought the nearly 40-acre parcel northeast of Duluth in 2004 and have spent the past couple of years turning it into a ranch and starting the nonprofit. They don't plan to charge fees to the youths.

The biggest need is an indoor arena so the horses can train year-round. Russ Krook said he puts about a third of his income from being a machinist into the ranch and eventually would like to see it become self-sustaining through grants and donations.

Next week, there will be an open house and a fundraiser. The woman who inspired the Krooks to start their ranch, Kim Meeder, will be in town and will make several appearances.

Meeder and her husband, Troy, operate Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch in Bend, Ore. As a child, Meeder found comfort with horses after the murder-suicide of her parents. As an adult, she helps rescue neglected horses and works with children in need at Crystal Peaks. The Krooks heard about her ranch by listening to a radio interview with her. Wendy Krook later attended a workshop at Crystal Peaks to learn how to start a similar ranch.

The Krooks haven't done much work yet with youths in need, but have started making contact with area social service agencies to let them know about the ranch. Until they get referrals, the couple has been reaching out to children and teens they know through friends and their church, Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Duluth.

On Monday, several kids came to the ranch to help out. The kids who work at the ranch help with chores -- such as grooming the horses and cleaning up after them -- and train the horses through a series of games. Adult volunteers skilled in training horses also help.

Wendy Krook called Megan Matheson a "prayer warrior" for the horses. In a quiet voice, the 10-year-old Duluth girl said she prays to God "to let them heal." Fancy is her favorite, and Krook said the horse "listens to Megan really well."

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The youths learn confidence while working with the horses, Krook said.

"You respect the horses and they respect you," she said.

Jeremy Ahlfield, 15, of Duluth, started helping out last summer. He said he has come to have a greater respect for the horses.

Jeremy is a home-schooled student, and his mother, Janice Ahlfield, said she's always looking for hands-on educational experiences for him. By helping on the ranch he has learned to be a leader and part of a community, she said, and it gives him a sense that he's important and valuable. "At this age, you're trying to find your place," she said.

Janice Ahlfield is excited about the Krooks' vision for the ranch and how they want to help the community. "It's little now, but has big potential," she said.

Jenna Lutzka, 17, of Duluth, had never worked with horses before she started helping out at the ranch a couple of years ago. Before she can ride the horses she has to do chores, such as clear brush or put wood chips in the horse barn. Lutzka doesn't like doing chores, but said she's learned that you can't get them done any faster if you complain. If you want to be with the horses, you have to pay the price -- and the price is doing chores, she said.

Lutzka is learning to train the horses and has found that you have to be gentle with horses that have been neglected or injured. Working with the horses has taught her patience -- something shedidn't have before, she said.

"You can't rush training. You've got to be patient," Lutzka said. "And you can't get angry. It just doesn't work."

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Grace Nesgoda, 14, of Duluth, has loved horses since she was 3. She said she thinks they are amazing and sweet.

"It's a great experience to be out here and help take care of the horses," she said.

Nesgoda has learned how to saddle a horse and ride, take care of equipment, care for the horses' feet and play training games. She likes to help the Krooks and said the ranch is a special place.

"People feel God's presence here," Nesgoda said.

LINDA HANSON covers family issues and religion. She can be reached weekdays at (218) 723-5335 or by e-mail at lhanson@duluthnews.com .

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