Standing 30-inches tall, Banks was hitched to a pony ride at a traveling petting zoo in Arkansas most of his 18 years, carrying the heavy weight of child riders that nearly broke his back. Most of his white hair was chewed off by other horses.
Chloe, a malnourished pony, was so grossly neglected that her mane was full of burrs and tangles and her feet looked like elf shoes.
Emma and Stanley, mother and son, were up for grabs at an auction outside of Kansas City. Stanley, only four months old at the time, suffered liver issues, and Emma had rotting teeth and was almost blind.
And Martha, a dwarf miniature horse the size of a Golden Retriever, was found on Craigslist, advertised as a Christmas present. She was a 10-week-old foal, way too young to be separated from her mother. The genetic mutation caused her legs to be splay out from her chest and looked like she would never walk.
These are some of the abused and neglected miniature horses that have found a safe haven at R&R Ranch in Chesterfield. This 30-acre wooded wonderland is home to 24 horses, including 17 miniatures, two miniature donkeys, three dwarfs and two full size horses, plus five dogs, one cat, five birds and a loveable four-pound bunny named Franklin who blends into a fluffy white rug on the marble floor.
“R&R Ranch is a busy place. We don’t keep it to ourselves,” said Stacy Rolfe, the head wrangler, who never set out to run a mini-horse sanctuary. “We like to share our barn with our local community and with fans all around the world. Our barn is special because of our horses. It is a place where horses come, in many cases, from very broken backgrounds, and they are lifted up. We provide hope to the hopeless and they return our love in spades.”
A black wrought iron gate embossed with the family namesake R&R welcomes visitors. The letters stand for the last names of Stacy (Rothberg) Rolfe and her husband Dave Rolfe, who built their dream home off Wildhorse Creek Road in 2015. Horses and dogs playfully chase each other in the paddock, and a sprawling Cape Cod style home matches a big white barn that is appointed with chandeliers, rich dark paneling and spacious stalls engraved with each horse’s name. Chloe’s VIP suite has padded flooring underneath piles of pine shavings to relieve her inflammatory foot condition.
Both Parkway High School grads, the Rolfes have been married for 33 years and are parents to Spencer, 26, Belle, 25, and Oliver, 20. Belle, her mom’s sidekick, has long blonde hair that matches Martha’s mane blowing in the wind as they sprint down a long dirt road. They recently launched a podcast and co-authored a book, “Martha, the Perfectly Imperfect Little Horse.” Martha wore a garland of hydrangeas as flower girl at Belle’s wedding last summer that took place on the family homestead. The Rolfes may be empty nesters, but their house is full, and so is their heart.
Dressed in a bright floral Lilly Pulitzer skort and muddy cowboy boots, Rolfe is a workhorse. Up at 5:30 a.m., she cleans stalls, feeds horses, administers medication and snuggles her fur babies. In her spare time, she teaches fitness classes at the Jewish Community Center and manages multiple social media platforms that document the equestrian escapades.
“Our mission is to increase public awareness in miniature horses and educate people on the proper treatment and care required when owning one,” she explained. “Quite often, owners buy a miniature horse thinking they are cute and will be fun. However, there is an awful lot of work that goes into them, too, and that, along with their expenses, is what causes people to sell them, trade them, give them away or leave them completely abandoned and neglected.”
When it comes to community outreach and education, there’s no horsing around. Rolfe leads hundreds of tours, helps scouts earn their pets merit badges and hosts many community events to spread awareness and share her blessings. As a board member of United Hebrew, she threw an outdoor fundraising gala at her home for 200 guests and continues to give back any chance she gets. During the pandemic, she started a weekly virtual children’s story time and reads aloud books about animals.
"Judaism has many laws regarding tza'ar ba'alei chayim (the prevention of cruelty to animals), such that we are obligated to help when we see an animal in need or one being mistreated,” said United Hebrew’s Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg, who officiated Belle’s wedding at the ranch last year. “What Stacy does for the animals, she, too, would do for people, as our tradition recognizes that there is a link between the way a person treats animals and the way they treat other human beings. Through the R&R Ranch, Stacy may be focused on the animals, but by taking the ranch public and sharing it with the world, she has shown everyone the value and the power of kindness.”
No matter how many public and private tours Rolfe leads, she still tears up when she shares stories about horses like Emma, whom she calls “the sweetest soul in the barn.”
“Emma was old and frail and required blankets to keep warm in the cold winter months and extra feedings to maintain her weight after bouts of colic. She also had moon blindness, which means she was only able to see shadows and spent a lot of time alone. Sadly, when Emma recently passed away, Stanley cried out for her in his stall that they shared together.”
From heartbreaking to heartwarming, Rolfe squeals with laughter when it comes to “Miss Martha Mae,” whose viral video of her dancing the moonwalk in the barn garnered 17 million views. This is the same disabled horse that Rolfe rescued in January 2019 in the middle of a polar vortex, driving seven hours each way, to give this animal a second chance in life.
“Martha has an aura that resonates with millions worldwide. Her can-do attitude gives people hope, strength, and comfort. Every single day I receive hundreds of messages that touch my heart.”
For more information, go to www.randrranchminis.com.