GREENFIELD — People gamble. Some play cards in casinos. Some put wagers on events. Some try the odds at slot machines in big cities.
Some win a little. Some lose a lot. Sherry Sunden and her father, Don, say they hit the jackpot — not in a big city with bright lights, just a little stretch of land in rural Hancock County.
They took a risk on a barn, plopped in the middle of a flat prairie-like field. They called it 2High Dollar Ranch, and they filled it with state-of-the-art equine therapy equipment. After years of horseback riding and rodeo- roping, they took their passion in a new direction. In 2011, they opened a ranch dedicated to training four-legged athletes. The ranch offers preparation for events and rehabilitation from injury.
The Sundens took a gamble, but they took it together. And so far, they say it has paid off.
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Nearly everything Sherry Sunden knows about horses, she learned from her parents. Don Sunden was a machinist by trade but spent a lot of time in a saddle at a rodeo, either judging or riding himself. Betty Joan Sunden loved to barrel race and regularly competed before she died in 2001.Sherry Sunden followed in her parents’ footsteps and began riding at a young age. She won her first title when she was 2 years old.As time passed, she has developed an unmatched love for the animals. Horses were always part of her world.
While working as a public school teacher, Sherry Sunden took on a few part-time careers giving riding lessons and doing chiropractic work on horses and other large animals. She used skills and training she’d picked up over her years of riding while consulting the veterinarians of the animals in her care.
In the mid-2000s, Sherry Sunden realized her passion for horses outweighed her love of teaching, and she started thinking about making a change. She dreamed of opening a rehabilitation center for rodeo animals, a place that specialized in keeping them in shape and helping them recover from injury.
Her plan would require more space, more stables and more equipment. So, she called her dad.
“I told her she was nuts,” Don Sunden said.
But, like any father eager to please his only daughter, he agreed to help. He moved to Indiana from Iowa, and 2High Dollar Ranch eventually became reality.
The ranch, located in the 6500 block of North County Road 500E in Greenfield, is similar to the training camps professional sports teams attend each year to get in shape for the upcoming season, the Sundens said. The animals they treat are often world-class rodeo rides whose owners are looking to condition them for competition.Clients come from across the country. Darci Chupp came from Illinois.Her horse, Leroy, somehow became wedged on a metal divider inside Chupp’s trailer while she was returning from a barrel-racing contest. The bar nearly gutted the horse near his hind legs, Chupp said. Leroy had a wound more than 11 inches deep, and Chupp said her veterinarian recommended he be put down.
Chupp had met the Sundens at various rodeo events over the years, and when Sherry Sunden heard about Leroy’s condition, she asked Chupp to give her a chance to treat the horse.
Leroy spent two months at 2High Dollar Ranch, where the Sundens put him on their underwater treadmill and vibration plate unit several times a day. The equipment that helps loosen animals’ muscles and promote healthy movement.
Now, the animal a veterinarian would have euthanized is back to barrel-racing, Chupp said.
“If it wasn’t for Sherry, I wouldn’t have my horse,” Chupp said. “He’s running better than he ever has.”
The Sundens converted the barn once used for riding lessons into a kind of spa for animals. They treat all forms of livestock, from horses to bulls — once a potbelly pig. The treatment each animal receives depends on the injury they have or the event they are expected to participate in.
Throughout the years, the client base has expanded, mostly by word of mouth and networks of thousands on social media.
Sometimes, veterinarians refer animals to the Sundens and include instructions on a treatment plan; other times, clients find 2High Dollar Ranch on their own, and the owners develop exercise protocol. The take a very holistic approach, Sherry Sunden said, and only use chemical medicine if a veterinarian has mandated it.
Locals enjoy the facility as well, and many Hancock County residents make regular appointments to use the underwater treadmill, she said. During the peak of the riding season, more than 20 horses will use the machine in one day.
A family thing
For visitors to the ranch, it’s hard to tell where the barn ends and the Sundens’ home begins. She sleeps upstairs while his bedroom in on the main level, but the horse feed is kept in the garage, and there is a large window in the living room that looks into the barn at the business they’ve created.They dedicate almost all of their time to the facility. Sherry said she and her father work more than 17 hours each day caring for the horses left in their charge. Their barns always are filled with young horse-enthusiasts, some of whom are college interns, looking to learn rehab or simply volunteering to help clean horse stalls, wash the animals and works alongside other aspiring veterinarians.
Along the way, Sherry is always happy to share riding tricks, many of which she learned from Don.
They are a team, Sherry Sunden said — a father-daughter duo, eager to expand the family’s legacy, grit and dedication.
It’s a lot of work, Sherry Sunden admitted, but it doesn’t always feel like it. She’s finally doing what she loves, she said, and her already strong relationship with her father is growing stronger with every day.
“I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone else,” she said.