Chi stuck out among the mix of underweight horses.

Unwanted, the Arabian was skin and bones. Her stomach bulged out because it was full of parasites.

It all tugged at Heather Chermak’s heart.

“She was terrible-looking,” the Buhler High School senior said. “But I knew that in the future I wanted to rescue horses and rehabilitate them.

“So I decided to try it now.”

On Oct. 18, Heather brought Chi home. She treated her for parasites and began to accustom her to receiving two meals a day, so that she wouldn’t have to gobble her food down because another meal was coming.

Equine rescue is Heather’s supervised agriculture experience for FFA. She hopes, after she gets Chi back to a healthy weight and adopted out, to find other horses to save.

Some people don’t realize the cost it takes to feed a horse, Heather said. That is why some auction markets get inundated with underweight horses.

In 2007, the Unwanted Horse Coalition estimated there were 170,000 unwanted horses in the United States, which includes those in the Bureau of Land Management adoption pipeline and unadopted feral animals housed at BLM facilities.

Yet, for Heather, rehabilitating horses is just one effort. She has worked with horses most of her life. Both she and her mother, Danette, volunteer at Reins of Hope, a therapeutic horse center near Hutchinson. Heather’s mother is an instructor teaching clients. Heather helps her and also works with the center’s horses.

Heather continues to educate herself about horses, reading all she can get her hands on. She plans to eventually attend Texas Tech, which is known for its equine assisted therapy degree, which will help her someday be a director of a therapeutic riding center like Reins of Hope.

“What that program does for riders, students, it is amazing,” Heather said. “The temperament of the horses, what they will do for these riders, is amazing.”

She is just one of several students John Clark has in his agriculture and FFA chapter trying to make an impact in their community.

Heather has taken her skills and abilities to another level, Clark said.

“Her purchase of a mare last fall and the additional training with this mare will definitely provide added value and pleasure when she finds a new home for this rescue horse,” he said.

That’s what Heather is hoping – to find someone who loves and cares for Chi as much as she does. Already Chi has gained back 200 pounds of the 350 she was down. She’s eating better and Heather continues to train her.

“Now she is a high-strung Arabian like she should be,” Heather said. “I want to place her in a good forever home where she won’t end up back in an auction.”

Heather is the daughter of Andrew and Danette Chermak.