Love of equines leads Manheim man to establish California horse rescue

By on November 20, 2018


Although he grew up in Manheim, Michael Fahnestock is now very at-home on the range at his equine rescue in Acton, Calif. (Submitted photos)


An introduction to horses via a 4-H club group sparked a passion for horses and humane treatment of these animals in Michael Fahnestock. Today he and his wife, Neiman, are the owners of Fahnestock Ranch in Acton, Calif., a 501(c)(3) horse, donkey and mule rescue.

“As a boy, I was always interested in horses, but it wasn’t until my brother and I joined the 4-H Club that I experienced horses. In 1987, I had my first horse, Tuffy, through the 4-H Club and Mick and Darlene Buller. I trained and cared for him, and I was the only one he let ride him,” the 1995 Manheim Central grad explained, “I didn’t get into riding competitions, just enjoyed caring for and riding Tuffy.”

Michael is the son of Marlin and Sandy Fahnestock, and the eldest of six children; he had a sister and four brothers. He had a paper route to pay for Tuffy’s feed.

“Through 4-H I not only learned about horses, I also learned a lot of life skills; we did a lot of fundraisers like sub sales in 4-H,” Fahnestock recalled. “Tuffy also taught me about patience and showed me to be gentle and kind to horses; he would let me know if I didn’t do something right.”

He also had experience caring for a team of mules. Fahnestock explained that his father knew a gentleman in the Lititz area who had a team of mules that would make appearances at events such as parades.

“By then I was old enough to drive, so I would drive to Lititz and care for the mules. I was also going to school and working at the same time,” he said.

After graduating from high school, he moved from home and got an apartment on Manheim’s Market Square. There he met his neighbors, John and Annetta King. The late John King was a professional photographer, who also served as a technical adviser and had a role in the 1985 movie “Witness” He was also involved in an advisory capacity in several other the films including “For Richer, For Poorer.”

“I began working with John at the photography studio, and he introduced me to people in the movie business,” said Fahnestock. “I began working with a caterer and since I was on the set I met some of actors.”

A young Michael Fahnestock received his his first horse, Tuffy, through a 4-H Club and Mick and Darlene Buller. On Tuffy’s back is Michael’s brother, Matthew. “This photo shows the first time anyone had ever been on his back,” said Michael. “ Just before this photo was taken, both my brother and I had been bucked off a few times.”

That experience was enough to spark an interest in a career in the film industry, so he decided to go to California.

“I loaded my car and drove to California. When I got to the LA area and tried to get into the industry, I struggled at first, but I persevered. I met my wife, Neiman, and we got some good jobs,” he said.

The couple was able to purchase a condo, but Fahnestock began to yearn for something larger. In 2004, the couple bought five acres of land in Acton, an hour north of LA, and slowly began building the ranch. A house was constructed, followed by a barn.

“When we first started the ranch, we were a for-profit business,” he said. “We offered riding lessons and trail rides. But then we started taking in rescue horses and adopting them out.”

The focus shifted, and lessons and trail rides ended in 2014. Today Fahnestock Ranch is a non-profit focusing on locating and taking in all breeds of horses, donkeys, and mules that are abandoned, neglected, abused, unwanted, and in danger of going to slaughter. These equine, which include wild mustangs, are brought to the ranch for TLC and support necessary to rehabilitate them from their past cruel experiences.

Some of the equine that are rehabilitated and trained by volunteers are then placed for adoption. Fahnestock said the ranch has placed horses in mounted patrol units in Santa Barbara and Sacramento. As part of its outreach efforts, the ranch has had equine in local parades and worked with Los Angeles County on its annual trail ride.

“It’s important to care for animals such as horses,” Fahnestock stressed. “They’ve done so much to get us as a society to where we are today; they were pack horses and transportation. We’ve forgotten them, and there are so many horses out there to be looked after.”

Fahnestock’s fathe rknew a gentleman in the Lititz area who had a team of mules that would make appearances at events such as parades. “By then I was old enough to drive, so I would drive to Lititz and care for the mules.”To help fund the cost of care for the animals Fahnestock Ranch offers off-site services such as trail riding, riding lessons, horse training, pony birthday parties, and horse hauling. All donations and proceeds go directly back into the rescuing, training, and rehabilitating, unwanted, starving and neglected horses and re-homing them with happy families.

For more information about Fahnestock Ranch, visit

Fahnestock Ranch is one of the organizations that are participating in Giving Tuesday, a global giving event that takes place the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. This year’s event will be held, Nov. 27. According to the organization’s website,, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.

Rochelle Shenk is a correspondent for the Lititz Record Express. She welcomes your comments and questions at

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