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East County Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020 2 months ago

Heaven for horses in Lakewood Ranch

Sarasota County Sheriff's Office horses enjoy retired life at the Polo Club in Lakewood Ranch.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

She was on her fifth call to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.

Perhaps those answering dismissed her earlier four attempts because Robin Ruhnke wasn't calling her help.

She wanted to help them. She wanted to give a home to a retired horse.

"It is not common that someone calls and asks for a mounted patrol horse," said Deputy Ben Kern, who oversees the Sarasota County Sheriff's Mounted Patrol Unit. "When it comes time for our horses to retire, the No. 1 choice is to look for the best home, so we try to give our current members of our (mounted patrol) unit the chance to take the horse. After that, we reach out to other law enforcement contacts."

Matthew Marquez feeds Major and Valor, the two former Sheriff's Office horses, some carrots.

If that is not successful, a ranch in Ocala takes mounted patrol unit horses.

All that was explained to Ruhnke, who had just moved to the Polo Club in Lakewood Ranch and who had an empty barn.

"I like the police and I like that the horses worked for them," Ruhnke said. "It is hard to keep a community safe."

Kern, who knew his department was about seek a home for two retiring horses — 28-year-old Valor and 20-year-old Major — explained to Ruhnke the Sheriff's Office never lets a horse go into the community.

"But I have 7 1/2 beautiful acres," Ruhnke told them. "I can give them green fields the rest of their lives. They will be spoiled rotten. They deserve it."

Finding homes for horses after they have become old or unwanted has been a nationwide problem, mostly because horses can be expensive when it comes to feeding and care. Ruhnke's offer was unusual.

Kern said the Sheriff's Office decided to check out Ruhnke and her offer. They visited her home at the Polo Club and liked what they saw.

"They will be more than well taken care of," Kern said. "They are going to be doted on, spoiled. It's very comforting."

On Dec. 12, Valor and Major were grazing inside a corral on Ruhnke's property.

Valor is a thoroughbred, donated to the Sheriff's Office 17 years ago from Texas. He was known for being the horse who was ridden by deputies who were beginner riders. Kern said he is a calm horse who has a very mild manner. Over the years, he was sent to work the Super Bowl in Tampa (2003), to serve in Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (2005), and to handle crowd control at the Republican National Convention (2012).

"Valor was the first horse I rode here," Kern said. "He was so relaxed, even in the big events. He can close his eyes and fall asleep with a rider on him. But I know he also has chased down many an individual."

Despite being 16 1/2 hands tall, considered large for most horses, he was the department's smallest horse.

Major, a Hanoverian thoroughbred at 17 hands, has impressive size, and Kern said he does better with skilled riders. Kern said he will slow down and let riders know if they are doing something incorrectly.

"But if you have to go into a trot, he is one of the strongest we have," Kern said.

Ruhnke has a different view now that she has given them a home for the past two weeks.

"Major is like a puppy dog," she said. "Valor is my teddy bear."

The two Sheriff's Office horses have joined CoCo Chanel, an Oldenburg mare she purchased to show.

Robin Ruhnke says Major likes Peppermint. Her grandson, Matthew Marquez has been taking care of Major.

It has been more than four decades since Ruhnke rode show horses, from the ages of 12 to 18 in Ridgefield, Conn. Years after moving to Florida and working as a nurse, she began to seek another home, possibly a ranch. Realtor Wanda Martinetto suggested Runke check out a property in the Polo Club.

In September, Ruhnke, who had lived in Sarasota's Deer Creek neighborhood for the past eight years, purchased the ranch.

"I love this place," she said. "I had missed horses. I thought I was destined to have another horse."

Her daughter, Sarasota's Cara Ruhnke, suggested she call the Sheriff's Office to find out whether they had any retiring horses. They did.

Robin Ruhnke also thought it was an opportunity to teach her 16-year-old grandson, Matthew Marquez, responsibility. He has been taking care of Major every day.

"These horses are amazing to start out on," Marquez said.

Ruhnke said the horses won't do anything but walk the trails.

"They are my babies," she said. "They are everything I thought they would be."

Robin Ruhnke says she was destined to have more horses.


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