Mel-O-Dee Stables is now home to This Old Horse. 

Mel-O-Dee Stables, located at 13151 Elmcrest Ave. N. in Hugo, has operated as a full-service equine facility since 1971. The 40-acre farm has indoor/outdoor boarding options as well as indoor and outdoor riding arenas. The past 13 months has seen a number of changes at the facility.

Last December, Reins of Love founder Cynthia Marx moved her operation from Isanti to Mel-O-Dee Stables. Reins of Love provides refuge and rehabilitation for abused equine, as well as riding lessons and therapy services. 

In March, Mel-O-Dee Stables owner Donna Meline passed away at the age of 90. The property was given to Jeff Carpenter, a Forest Lake Building contractor who had worked for Meline and her husband Howard as a youth and, as co-manager, had helped her keep the stables afloat during the recent recession.

After Meline’s death, Carpenter listed the property for sale. Marx and fellow supporters of Reins of Love had hoped to raise enough money through crowdfunding to purchase the property but were unsuccessful; the organization’s lease ended Nov. 30. Reins of Love will continue its mission in Isanti. 

Carpenter explained, “My intent was and is to continue on the Melines’ wish for the property to remain an equine facility. I had several interested buyers and met with them all.” He added, “In the end, I felt This Old Horse was a quality nonprofit organization and the best fit for the Mel-O-Dee Stables property. There is no doubt in my mind Nancy (Turner) and her staff will be excellent curators of the property. Their passion for horses and people is genuine, and I am proud to be a part of the change.”

This Old Horse 

Founded in 2012 by Turner, This Old Horse is a volunteer-based, nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide support and sanctuary to retired, rescued and recovering horses while they continue to serve as ambassadors to the positive effect of "horse power" in the lives of people.​ The mission of the retirement refuge is to create a sanctuary for aged or unwanted horses who have worked hard for a living. 

This Old Horse’s lease began Dec. 1. The organization plans ultimately to purchase the property. The Hugo site, called Phoenix Farms, is the organization’s 11th barn. Turner explained that This Old Horse has been interested in the property for quite some time and had actually tried to purchase it back in 2016, but Meline did not want to sell. 

Turner said the property was a natural fit for another location because This Old Horse already operates a few of its programs in the St. Croix Valley area, and many volunteers have expressed interest in volunteering closer to home rather than driving to the south metro. 

“It's already kind of a little jewel in Hugo that people love, and they want to see it there. People have a real love for (horses) there,” she said. “It feels like such a good fit for us to have that sense of being welcomed and that our farm will be welcoming.” 

The main program at Phoenix Farms will be Racehorse Reimagined, which is a new collaboration with the Minnesota racehorse industry. 

“Retiring horses that have served are discarded and that makes them vulnerable. It doesn't matter what discipline, it's not just racehorses, it's show horses, therapy horses … Horses that have served are vulnerable at the point when they probably needed the most support and the most reverence, frankly, for the life of service. They are not like cars; you can't just park them, you still have to feed them and take care of them,” Turner explained. 

This Old Horse has seven programs, some of which will also operate at the new location. 

“One of the things that we think we can offer is that people can experience horses in a certain way. Most of our horses are unridable because of the fact that they are older or (have) special needs. But there's so many ways that we find that we can engage with a horse and love a horse from the ground,” Turner said. “So, most of our programs are having the horse and the humans interact in ways that the humans can learn and the horses can be the teacher.” 

Johanne Gentlebread, of Minneapolis, has been involved with the organization for a little over a year. “I was a social worker for 14 years and I decided that I wanted to find my soul again after a soul-sucking job,” she explained. She started looking for volunteer opportunities involving animals and stumbled across This Old Horse. 

Gentlebread has helped with barn chores as well as This Little Horse and a new pilot program called This Teaching Horse. This Little Horse is where miniature horses are used therapeutically to visit health care facilities, schools and libraries. This Teaching Horse is all about equine-facilitated learning for grades K-5. 

Gentlebread now not only owns eight horses herself, but she is the barn manager for Phoenix Farms.

The entire operation, excepting barn managers and stable hands, is completely volunteer-based. Volunteers are primarily needed to help with barn chores, but also needed for things like adoptions and fundraising. “If someone has an interest in helping, we can find something for them to do,” Turner explained. Since 2012, the organization has had 3,000 volunteers. It is almost exclusively funded by private donations, but does receive some grants. 

“We love that for decades this has been open to the community up there as a place to come and love horses. That's really an important thing for us, and the fact that we can take that on and continue it,” Turner said. 


Lead Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or

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