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The Flentje Family Finds Hope & Love Through Adoption of 13-Year-Old Daughter Ellie

We have often discussed how the horse show world is smaller than one may think, and we are all bound together by our mutual love for the sport and the animals. Through this bond with our trainers, friends, and competitors, we have all learned a family is often defined by love and not by blood. This is true far beyond our horse world. Kara Flentje and her family are experiencing this firsthand as they have recently traveled to Colombia to adopt their new daughter, Ellie.

You may have heard of Flentje as she shows the AQHA gelding Im Simply Southern (Grover) under the guidance of Bruce Vickery and Anthony Montes with Vickery Performance Horses.

According to Flentje, “Being an animal lover of almost all living creatures has worn a soft spot in my heart for animals and people in need. I wouldn’t say I like seeing people struggle for reasons beyond their control. The door is always open, and I want to help in any way that I can, whether that be providing food, clothes, donations, or just something to make a difference in someone’s day.”

The Flentje family was forever changed at the Quarter Horse Congress in 2019. They received a call from a friend who works with Project 143, a non-profit orphan hosting program, to apply to host a Colombian child for a temporary stay in the United States. Flentje and her husband decided to apply to be a host family and were almost immediately approved for a child to stay with them in November of that year. They ended up choosing a twelve-year-old girl named Luz Mila (now “Ellie”) to come to stay with them while still at the Congress.

According to Flentje, they decided to host Ellie on a social worker’s advice who informed them that older children like her (then age twelve) often fall through the cracks, with families selecting younger children to host and often adopt. The older children typically remain in the orphanages until they are sixteen, at which point they are sent out on their own – often into poverty.

They were told, “Ellie wanted a family with no children, a family that celebrated the holidays as she had never celebrated Christmas, that she wanted to be loved and wanted, and ‘wouldn’t mind if they had a cat or dog.’”

The Flentjes were excited but admittedly clueless about what to expect when Ellie, who did not speak English, would arrive at their home on November 26, 2019, with just a small backpack and the clothes on her back. Ellie was initially a shy, sweet girl who was looking for love and affection. She’d been under the care of an orphanage for six years at that time and was desperately in need of a family.

According to Flentje, “When Ellie first arrived, I didn’t have the faintest idea what to expect. She met the soft spot in my heart way sooner than I ever thought. The more of her story she told, the softer my heart got. I couldn’t imagine ever experiencing what she did at such a young age, and I couldn’t let her go. When she said, ‘I want a family and a chance at life,’ my heart broke in half, and I knew we had to get custody of her.”

Ellie had to return to Colombia on December 28, 2019, and the Flentjes immediately initiated the process for adopting Ellie and returning her to the United States.

The Flentjes used Holt Adoption Agency, which came highly recommended to them for international adoption. Flentje admits that the process was not easy and involved an extensive review of her family.

While every country has a different process, Colombia required multiple home visits with a social worker, home study approval, submission of an adoption proposal along with a lengthy proposal approval process, mountains of paperwork, and international government cooperation.

While it certainly is not a process for the faint of heart, it was a process that made the desire to bring Ellie home even stronger. The process also reinforced how blessed we Americans are for the Flentjes.

“We didn’t realize how we, as Americans, take so many things for granted and how spoiled we all are, until we got deeper into the process, as well as being completely naive to orphanage life. Ellie’s story is unreal and hard to believe. It makes you take a few steps back and think. She’s the happiest, most positive little girl despite the complete hell of a life she had for thirteen years.”

Ellie became an official member of the Flentje family on March 29, 2021, under the name Ashly Elaine Shortreed Flentje, after a lengthy process that began fatefully at the 2019 Quarter Horse Congress.

There is a long journey ahead of Ellie. It is a journey that will require her learning English, adapting to her new country and family, learning to make choices for herself (she was in an orphanage so long that she is not accustomed to making basic life choices like what to wear and eat), and possibly even learning how to ride horses (that will be one of her many new choices).

However, it is a journey that the Flentjes are excited to take hand-in-hand with their new daughter and a new outlook on life.

Flentje encourages those reading this article who have a heart for underprivileged orphans or abandoned children to consider domestic and international adoption. She highly recommends getting involved in nonprofit organizations like Project 143, which allows hosting opportunities for international orphans (there are an estimated 143 million orphans worldwide).

“It took us years to decide to orphan host, and we tell people, even if they can’t adopt, if they would share a Christmas with a child, that exposure to the United States provides hope, inspiration, and awareness to others who may want to adopt,” she says.

Flentje reminds us, “There will be work, challenges, frustrations, and obstacles along the way, but holding your child when the adoption process is complete and seeing the look in their eyes when you tell them ‘we’re a family’ is priceless.”

The Flentjes demonstrate that, no matter how parenthood comes to you, it is a miracle worth celebrating. Congrats to the Flentje family, and welcome home beautiful Ellie from your extended horse family here at GoHorseShow.

About the Author: Megan Rechberg has been riding horses on-and-off since she was in sixth grade. Megan is currently taking a break from practicing law to raise her kids (Jackson and Sterling), and she spends her free time riding her APHA all-around mare HOOs From Heaven under the guidance of Katie Wagner Show Horses.