Feature Story: Remembering Kleng

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Exceptional Therapy Horse Made a Positive Difference for Decades

by Julia Bozzo

We have all been lucky enough to know certain exceptional individuals who make huge differences in people’s lives. In this case the individual is a horse. Kleng, a Norwegian Fjord, was born on October 11, 1991 in Sooke, British Columbia, and passed away on May 2, 2024. 

When Kleng was 3 years old he was gelded, which abruptly ended his future career as a breeding stallion, and he was in search of a new home and job. He boarded (in a trailer) the Tsawwassen Ferry bound for the mainland and proceeded to enter Washington State as a new U.S. citizen. Little did we know at the time what a special horse he was and the impact he would have on so many lives.

It was early days at the NorthWest Therapeutic Riding Center (NWTRC) in Bellingham, Washington and Kleng was one of the first horses to come to the program. Kleng seemed to have been born already trained. Nothing fazed him: kids, dogs, balloons… all were just things to be observed and enjoyed. He proved himself to be unflappable and had a delightful demeanor—gentle, calm, and with a keen sense of humor. 

At a young age he was brought into the program as a school horse—and so much more. Kleng was strong, kind, athletic, and versatile. He wore multiple hats, and along with his main job of helping teach horsemanship and riding to people with disabilities, he also took several riders through Pony Club. His ability to adjust his behavior to the individual was astonishing. “Never underestimate or disrespect me,” was one of Kleng’s mantras. One day, during a pony club camp, Kleng surprised us all when a competent but presumptuous teenager hopped on him for a ride and gave him a big kick. Kleng promptly bucked this rider off, something he would never dream of doing in his therapeutic job. 

When being introduced, we would often tell people that Kleng was the most famous horse they would ever meet. Kleng’s personality, his versatility, his delightful attitude, and the number of riders he carried on his back over the years earned him the Region 9 Horse of the Year award, quickly followed by his winning of the 2009 National Therapeutic Horse of the Year award, presented by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, now known as PATH International. In 2013 he was inducted into the Equus Foundation Horse Stars Hall of Fame and in 2019 won the Platinum Performance Horse Welfare award. 

At 19 years old, tragedy struck. Kleng had a bout of severe colic (the number one killer of horses). After a short debate and despite his age, the cost, and the uncertain outcome, Kleng was transported to a veterinary hospital for surgery. It was a long recovery, but he came back strong to cheerfully work another 12 years at the riding center. 

For 29 years Kleng was a friend to all. Kleng was NWTRC’s go-to lesson horse for people of all abilities. Kleng happily gave a leg up to NWTRC participants, helping people feel joyful, included, and hopeful. “I have been graced with Kleng for longer than any other horse I have ever had. He was my treasured coworker, friend, and family member,” says Julia Bozzo, founder of NWTRC.

Kleng was predeceased by NorthWest Therapeutic Riding Center herd members Babe, Sam, Cloudy, DT and his doppelganger Kurt. Kleng is survived by Gina, Deanna, Julia, and Mike Bozzo (his human family and program founders) and the NWTRC herd: Vincent, Leo, Bruce, Henry, Spotticus, and Oakley. 

We will miss you in so many ways, Kleng, and will be listening for your hoofbeats in our dreams.

Donations in honor of Kleng to help carry on his legacy can be made to the NorthWest Therapeutic Riding Center, 1884 Kelly Road, Bellingham WA, 98226, or online at www.nwtrc.org.

See this article in the June 2024 online edition:

June 2024


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