by Free Speech on January 6, 2010

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

Lodi, WI

The thirty equine residents of St Francis Horse Rescue and Retirement Farm in Rosholt, Wisconsin were awakened early Christmas Eve morning by an energetic group of  ‘Santa’s Helpers’ who worked non-stop to muck out stalls, unload hay, and clean out the barn. They did not slow down until late afternoon.

Working to fulfill their commitment to community service, the fifteen ‘helpers’ were students   from nearby Pacelli High School who were fulfilling their commitment to community service, a commitment they had kept with St. Francis for the last four years.

“We truly appreciate the efforts of these students who give up their Christmas Eve day each year to help out with the animals,” said Ms. Hetzel.  “With thirty horses, ponies, donkeys, and mules to care for, the work here is almost non-stop.”

Born and raised in Northern Wisconsin, the Hetzels spent their early years with farm animals and, by 1996, they had married and acquired four horses of their own.

Yet the idea to establish a horse rescue would not be a part of their life plan until Mrs. Hetzel purchased a cookbook from Midwest Horse Rescue in 1996.

“For the first time, I saw pictures of abused and neglected horses, and wanted to start a horse rescue of my own.  Of course, as my husband pointed out, there would be many hoops to jump thru and it would be a costly project.“ she said.  “At the time, we agreed to just think about it for awhile.”

When the Hetzels purchased a 27-acre farm near Rosholt three years later, the idea would come  to fruition.

Students from Stevens Point Pacelli HS helped the Hetzel's St. Francis Horse resuce operation on Christmas Day.

“ I saw a young appaloosa at a riding stable being ridden despite a large open wound in his knee, and at one point, I saw him flip backwards and throw the rider off,” she said. I later heard the owner was going to sell him for horse meat so my husband and I purchased him. His name was Manny.”

The Hetzels soon learned that Manny had broken his leg as a baby, and the temporary plate that had been inserted to stabilize the bone had never been removed. This had caused the hole in his leg as well as extensive ligament damage.  Manny needed immediate surgery to save his life.

“It makes me both sad and angry to think that this horse had been forced to carry a rider on his back with such a serious injury; the pain must have been excrutiating,” said Mrs. Hetzel. “Flipping backwards must have been the only way he had to relieve the pain. “

Although Manny is now fully recovered,  he can never be ridden again, and is a permanent retiree at the farm, an outcome that fulfills St. Francis’ mission.  “While we do try to adopt out as many of the animals as possible, if we detect a serious behavior or medical problem that can’t  be corrected,  that horse will not be put up for adoption, “said Mrs. Hetzel. “Even those that are adopted out often require an extensive period riding and handling time before they can be placed.”

“For the Hetzels, the adoption process is taken seriously with their focus on ensuring that every animal will be properly cared for according to both Wisconsin statutes and St. Francis guidelines.  An important part of the contract every owner signs is the requirement to submit a yearly health report to St. Francis for the remainder of the animal’s life.

“That assures that if we  find that an animal is not being properly cared for, he will be brought back to St Francis.” said Mrs. Hetzel.  “Our focus is always on the proper care and treatment of the animals we place.”

Over the years, the Hetzels have taken in animals from many different situations and circumstances including abused, neglected, and abandoned horses  from the Humane Society as well as horses whose owners could no longer afford to care for them.

“Because of the downturn in the economy and so many people losing their jobs, we  received more calls for help in 2009 than ever before,” said Mrs. Hetzel. As we can only accommodate thirty horses at any one time, we must sometimes refer callers to other resources such as Midwest Horse Welfare.”

In addition to providing a safe haven for the animals that come thru their door, the Hetzels have also been responsive to the needs of the community including Camp Hope, a grief counseling program for children located in nearby Stevens Point.

“In 2005, the founder of Camp Hope, Becky Loy, asked if we would be a their program and, we immediately said yes,” said Mary.  We have never regretted it.”

Twice each year, The Hetzels  open St. Francis to Camp Hope participants for a week-end of  ‘connecting’ with horses and sharing their stories with others.  “It is amazing to see how the children and horses respond to each other’s needs, “ said Mary.  This is definitely one program that will be continuing.”

Yet providing care for thirty horses, ponies, and donkeys is expensive, and with the increasing cost of vet bills, nutritional needs, and emergency care, donations are an important part of the budget.

As Saint Francis is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, all  contributions are tax deductible, and in addition to cash donations, they accept donations of medical supplies including dewormers, probiotic  joint supplements, salt blocks, and fly masks. “Plus, we have an on-line gift shop at where we sell shirts, sweats, hats and gifts.” said Mrs. Hertzel.  “ As we pay no overhead we receive $5.00 for each item purchased for  the care of the animals, she said. “

Since starting St. Francis rescue over ten years ago, Bill and Mary Hetzel have successfully placed over 100 animals to forever homes, and as a new decade begins, they have no plans to retire.  For Wisconsin horses in need of a forever home, this is indeed good news.

NOTE:  Visitors are welcome at St Francis, however, the Hetzels ask that you please call for an appointment first at (715) 592-6622 , or email Mary Hetzel at

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