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Horse thrives under care of Two Harbors teen after rough start

The speckled gray horse with the dark mane was a walking skeleton when Jackie Ostman first saw her nearly five years ago. Koko's mouth had sores and her intestinal tract was damaged from trying to eat trees to survive. She didn't have enough fles...

The speckled gray horse with the dark mane was a walking skeleton when Jackie Ostman first saw her nearly five years ago.

Koko's mouth had sores and her intestinal tract was damaged from trying to eat trees to survive. She didn't have enough flesh on her bones for a veterinarian to give her immunizations. "She was so weak she could barely hold her head up," said the 13-year-old Two Harbors girl.

With loving care, Koko not only survived, but became a winner. Now, as Jackie rides Koko in gaming competitions, the small horse zips around obstacle courses of poles and barrels.

Two laundry baskets hold the ribbons that Jackie and Koko have won over the past two years at local horse shows. They've even picked up a couple of grand championship trophies for winning the most points at competitions and a couple of grand reserve awards for second place.

Jackie beams with pride when she talks about Koko. The two have grown up together and forged a deep bond.

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GROWING CLOSE

A family friend, Wendy Willow of Two Harbors, nursed Koko and another horse back to health with loving care. The horses came from a humane society in southern Minnesota that had rescued them.

Jackie grew fond of the horse whose growth was stunted by malnutrition. At 6 years old, Koko is full-grown at 13.3 hands tall and is considered a pony because of her small size.

When Jackie was 10, she convinced her parents to buy her the horse so she eventually could ride her in competitions. "I saw something in her," Jackie said.

Jackie and her mother, Gayle Ostman, share a love of horses. Jackie started riding at age 3 with her mom's help and has been competing in local horse shows since she was about 7 or 8. She had three horses before Koko that didn't work out.

After the Ostmans bought Koko, they had a trainer break the horse and teach her the basics. Jackie did the finishing work so the horse would learn to respond to her.

"I had to imprint her with me instead of [the trainer]," Jackie said.

It took about a year of riding before Jackie felt confident on Koko and the two of them clicked. They have become close, Jackie said, to the point where Koko knows what she wants her to do. Koko can be stubborn at times. "She has a mysterious side, but she's a good partner," the young rider said.

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Koko is a mixture of Arabian quarterhorse and Welsh pony. "Arabians are a one-person horse," Jackie said. "She loves me."

Jackie and Koko have done well in gaming competitions, in which they weave around poles and barrels while being timed. They also compete in Western pleasure riding, where they are judged on how well they fit together as the horse goes through different gaits.

When horse and rider do well in a competition, "we go out of the arena with great pride," Jackie said. Then she takes Koko back to her stall and rewards her with a treat of sweet grain and affection.

Jackie and her mother compete with a horse group called the Renegade Riders Saddle Club, which is open to all ages. Although they compete in different age groups, Jackie has beaten her mom's time on the same event last year and this year. "I swear she saw it coming," Jackie said with a grin.

The Renegade Riders have a show about once a month from spring through fall and each show features six or seven events. Jackie also competes in 4-H horse shows, which are held two or three times a year.

LEARNING RESPONSIBLITY

Willow, who nursed Koko to good health, said Koko has come a long way from being almost dead. Jackie has done an exceptional job in working with the horse, she said. She's learned you need patience when you train a horse and she has the pride of knowing that her work has paid off, Willow said.

"To be 13 years old and finish a horse who is now winning blue ribbons and grand championship trophies is amazing," she said.

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Koko is a great horse with a great master, Willow said.

"They work great together. They bonded exceptionally well," she said. "They love each other immensely."

Shouldering the responsibility for feeding, grooming and exercising her horse and being successful in competitions has made an impact on Jackie.

"I've got a lot more confidence in what I do," she said.

While Koko is her full size, Jackie still is growing. She expects she will outgrow Koko within a year. She has a new 1-year-old horse, Thunder, but they don't click yet.

It will be sad to compete with a horse other than Koko, Jackie said.

"I'll still keep her," she said. "I'll never sell her."

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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