Breaking News
More () »

Providing a home for unwanted horses | Pay It Forward

After falling in love with the animals over the course of her childhood, Julie Wondergem went on to create a home for old, beautiful and forgotten horses.

LYNN CENTER, Ill. — Julie Wondergem is the Founder and President of WonderRidge Equine Sanctuary and Rescue in Lynn Center, Il, a family-owned sanctuary she runs husband, Noah, who's also the Director of Operations.

Julie had horses as a teenager as she grew up. Noah didn't grow up with the animals in Los Angeles, but he got involved with them later in life because of his wife and daughter. Originally, he thought horses were just for riding, but now, he loves them.

Julie’s family thought the same way. When she was younger, if a horse got sick, the family would get a new horse instead of nursing the original back to health.

When she started taking in horses, she made sure to take in the ones that would cause her parents to ask, "Why would you want that broken-down old horse?"

The horses and ponies they have saved all come from different situations.

There are racehorses, like Surf and Truman. Surf was put into racing too early and, as a result, suffers from ringbone, a progressive arthritic condition that affects the pastern and coffin joints. Truman started racing too early as well and suffers from a condition called kissing spine, where the vertebrae in the spine are placed too close together rather than being correctly spaced apart.

There's Chico, who worked at the border between Texas and Mexico as a cattle horse. During his time down there, he somehow lost an eye.

There's RJ, who was severely malnourished, weighing about 300 pounds. An average horse weighs somewhere between 900 to 2,000 pounds. When she first came, she was isolated from the other horses because she was so small and could barely run or even stand on her own.

There are some horses whose owners couldn’t take care of the horses anymore and surrendered them to the sanctuary. Julie and Noah have also taken in horses who were going to be put down because they were diagnosed with cancer.

Julie has struggled with mental health across her life, specifically CPTSD and severe anxiety. She formed a special bond with a horse named Toronto, who was starved and malnourished. Through their relationship, Julie was able to heal and alleviate stress over time.

She said that the equine sanctuary has brought her so much joy and peace, and she wants to share that with people. Her goal is to eventually match horses with people and help people heal just like she did.

In order to adopt a horse from WonderRidge, you must go through an arduous process the sanctuary said ensures the horses go to good homes. Julie's niece adopted two horses from them this spring, and they still made her sign a contract saying that if she is not going to keep the horses, they have to be returned to the sanctuary.

The reason why they have such a tough process is that Julie doesn’t want to see the horses that have come through the sanctuary ever end up in the auction pipeline because of how hard and stressful it is. Many horses do not make it out of the process and end up dying.

Julie and Noah spent about $25,000 to $30,000 out-of-pocket last year running WonderRidge. Julie has taken on a part-time job and Noah works full time, donating a big chunk of his paycheck to help run the sanctuary.

In order to help with cost, the pair does monthly fundraisers on Facebook and take their two ponies around town to do events, such as the visit they paid to the New Windsor Rodeo in August.

Right now, the sanctuary is working on creating a volunteer program.

Do you know someone that goes above and beyond for his or her community? News 8 and Ascentra Credit Union would like to help you Pay it Forward to them. Click here to nominate someone you know.

See previous Pay It Forward award winners:

Before You Leave, Check This Out