Not long after Janine Guido founded Speranza Animal Rescue on her parents’ 17.5-acre Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania farm in 2011, she found herself at a crossroads. A lifelong horse lover who had ridden since age 5 and showed and trained hunters into her 20s, Guido needed to take a step back from riding. By her late 20s, she was plagued by knee injuries, and with most of her attention now focused on managing Speranza (which means “hope” in Italian), she decided to hang up her spurs for a little bit. As tends to happen, “a little bit” turned into weeks, then months, then years. By 2021, Guido had been out of the saddle for almost a decade—and she realized she was ready to change that.
“Once you’re a rider, you’re always a rider,” said Guido, 38. “Something was missing from my life, and I knew I had to get back into it. The rescue is wonderful, and it is very therapeutic for me, but I needed something outside of the rescue to enjoy as well.”
Although Speranza is home to 130 animals, including goats, sheep, cows, pigs, assorted birds, donkeys, horses, a camel, two zebras and 50 dogs (they specialize in the bully breeds), most are enjoying lifetime sanctuary on the property. Most of the horses are older or have medical needs that preclude them from being ridden. But in July 2021, a friend sent Guido information about a branded warmblood located in a kill pen in Alabama that she thought had the potential to be ridden.
“She said, ‘He’s really skinny, his coat is faded, and he looks depressed, like he’s given up on life,’ ” Guido recalled. “So I said, ‘Let’s pull him.’ ”
When the 16.2-hand bay Holsteiner gelding arrived in Pennsylvania, Guido determined he was older—perhaps in his early 20s—with a healed bowed tendon on his left foreleg. He was missing nearly half of his incisors thanks to periodontal disease, and as the friend had warned, he was underweight. But despite all this, the gelding seemed to be in generally good health considering his situation. She named him Murphy, and given his issues, assumed he would simply join her sanctuary herd.
“So we fattened him up, got him shiny and healthy and all that,” Guido said. “But he did not like to be retired. Murphy likes to work, and he was absolutely miserable. He was bored and anxiety filled.
“One day in October, I decided, ‘I’m going to get on this horse, even though I haven’t ridden in over 10 years,’ ” Guido continued. “There was something about him that made me decide to get on him. I figured we’d just see how it goes.”
Although their first ride together consisted only of about two minutes of walking and trotting, it was a success—and Guido was intrigued.
“My legs were like rubber, but he was a perfect gentleman,” she said. “Our relationship was just good from the get-go. From the first time I sat on him, I was like, ‘This is absolutely wonderful.’ ”
Not long after, Guido began taking Murphy for lessons with Emily Jefferson, a trainer at Megghan Michaud-Watts’ Heritage Acres Stables, just a few miles up the road in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania. With Jefferson’s help, Guido learned more about her new mount, and her faith in him grew quickly.
“I had never sat on a horse that was that broke,” Guido said. “He’s not spooky. He counter bends, does his lead changes. He collects, he extends. He jumps anything you point him at. This horse is made, to a T. He is just amazing. And I got him for nothing.”
Guido was having so much fun working with Murphy that she moved him to Heritage Acres for the winter, and even started to make plans to return to the show ring in 2022. But in February, her progress was derailed by a back injury that necessitated spinal fusion surgery. She anxiously counted down the days until August, when she was finally cleared to ride.
“Murphy was obviously the same wonderful horse,” Guido said of her first rides post-surgery. “He’s been a huge confidence builder for me. He’s absolutely amazing, and one of the saddest things to me is that it is obvious that, at one point, he was a really loved horse. He knows how to beg for treats. If you say, ‘Murphy, do you want a treat?’ he’ll lift his leg up until you give him one.
“We see a lot of horses that have obviously been abused or neglected or what not,” she continued. “The fact he knew how to beg for treats, and he’s an ‘in your pocket’ type personality—he wasn’t a horse that’s been abused. Sometimes, for me that’s worse than the ones that have been neglected their whole lives. He used to know a good life, and then he was dumped, to where it wasn’t.”
In December 2022, Guido and Murphy, showing under the name “Simple Man,” finally made their show ring debut, competing in the modified hunter division at two U.S. Equestrian Federation shows held at Heritage Acres. After so many years away from the show scene, Guido’s nerves had her stomach in knots—but Murphy took care of her.
“I was so scared,” she said with a laugh. “Murphy was perfect. He was totally calm. He did his job and didn’t care how nervous I was up there on his back. He made it fun and made me feel good about my return to the show ring.
“We are not jumping 3 feet or anything—I do like the 2’3”, and he’s OK with that,” she added. “He’s an older guy.”
Although Guido wasn’t able to find out anything concrete about Murphy’s past, she has reason to believe he may have been trained as a jumper.
“We’re just jumping little stuff, but he is very handy, and he can turn on a dime,” she said. “I’ve always, always wanted to do the jumpers, but I’ve never had the right horse for it. I think we are going to try dabbling in that, and see what happens.”
The pair competed a few more times into early 2023, and in late February at Heritage Acres Winter IV, they won all three of their fences classes and pinned fourth in the hack—earning them the baby green hunter championship.
“That was out of professionals, too,” Guido said a laugh. “Growing up, we always bought the expensive warmbloods. Now, I have a horse that’s a branded warmblood that I found in a kill lot, and he does things a lot of expensive horses can’t do.”
Inspired by both her return to the saddle and her success with Murphy, Guido has gone on to rescue two other horses with the potential to become her future mounts. They are currently in training at Heritage Acres, but she knows she has something special in her relationship with Murphy.
“Someday, Murphy will retire, and I’ll need something that can take his place,” she said. “But he stays with me forever. He is definitely a diamond in the rough, and I was so lucky to find him. He is legit my heart horse. I just had a feeling about him, the moment he stepped off that trailer.
“But there are a lot of horses overlooked because they are stuck in pens or crappy auctions,” Guido continued. “Rescuing Murphy opened my eyes. He was in a kill lot, and he was going to ship to Mexico. He’s taught me, personally, that I don’t have to buy an expensive horse to get what I want.”
Do you know a horse or pony who has been rescued from a dangerous situation to become a healthy, trusted competition partner today? If you think you have a good candidate for “From Rescue To Ribbons,” let us know by emailing email@example.com.