Sunday, August 23, 2015

My Life with Horses - Part 2 - Horse Rescues

Previously I talked about my early years with horses.  My path to where I am now took an important turn in 2009.  On the first day of work at a new job, our IT guy picked me up from orientation and took me back to his cube.  I noticed pictures of a few horses at his desk so I asked him about them.  He told me about his horses, one of which is totally blind.  His other horse became almost a guide pony for the blind one, helping him around the field, protecting him etc.  When I asked him where he got the blind horse he told me how his wife was on the staff of a large local horse rescue.  Being new to the area, I didn't know about any horse rescues or riding lesson places or anything.  My coworker told me I should visit and attend orientation so I could volunteer there.  4 days later I attended their monthly orientation and started volunteering as soon as it was over.

A horse rescue can have a few different missions.  Some specialize in mostly animal control seizures stemming from cases of neglect, malnourishment, mistreatment, abuse, etc.  Others specialize in rescuing unwanted horses from kill buyers at auctions.  Others still will take in unwanted horses from owners who are no longer able to care for them.  Regardless of what situation a horse might be in, the general mission is the same, I'll borrow it from Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue's logo: Rescue, Rehab, Retrain, Rehome.

The rescue I started volunteering with was Days End Farm Horse Rescue (DEFHR).  They specialized in animal control seizures, as described above.  The first couple of times I volunteered were very emotionally difficult.  I generally don't display much in the way of emotion outwardly, but it was difficult to maintain a stoic poise when confronted with the dark reality of animal abuse and neglect.  Some of the horses were no more than skeletons with skin stretched over them.  It is quite hard to take when one first encounters it, but the knowledge you are helping them helps sooth that emotional anguish.  Honestly though, the mental pain pales in comparison to the physical pain and trauma some of these horses endure.

I was lucky enough to work with a number of horses while I was at DEFHR.  As part of their "Training team" I helped to give horses consistent training that would allow them to be more suitable for adoption.  The horse I had the good fortune to work with the longest was an big, older Appaloosa mare named Harper.  I called her an old mare that didn't know she was old.  She had such a fire in her.  She loved to run.  Many times we would forego training to just go run in one of the larger fields.

Harper out in the field.  She was an awesome horse.

The face of a mare that's tired of her human's bullshit.
Terrible rider position, but a nice shot of Harper!
Harper and I did a lot of basic work.  I didn't really see the need to train her for any specific discipline.  I just wanted to give her consistent work and fix a few minor things like really leaning on the bit, etc. 

After volunteering at Days End for a while I decided to start volunteering at a smaller horse rescue right down the road called Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue (GG).  They were a smaller organization at the time without as big a volunteer base as DEFHR so I felt like I could be more useful there.  The first time I went there I really liked it.  I enjoyed meeting the people who worked there and volunteered there, and I really liked the horses, so I ended up staying!

One of the first horses I worked with At Gentle Giants was a big Percheron draft horse named Trooper.  He was relatively green and would barely accept a bit.  I trained him for a number of months, getting him to accept a bit and be more responsive to my leg aids.  Eventually he was adopted by a couple that trained him to be a jousting horse.
For the record, I'm 6 feet tall.  And wow that saddle looks small.

A side note: Trooper had no real tail to speak of.  This is because of a practice called docking.  Trooper's tail was docked by the Amish who used him as a work horse.  Docking means you cut the tail bone very short to prevent the tail from growing out.  This is done, they say, to prevent a horse's tail from getting caught in farm equipment.  Personally, I think it shows that whoever did it is incredibly lazy because honestly, how hard is it to tie a horse's tail up or bag it to prevent it from getting caught?  Not very.  In today's world it's a cruel practice that needs to end.  It prevents a horse from defending itself from flies.  Thankfully a number of countries and breed registries have banned the practice.

Three's a crowd!  Trooper is in the back.
After Trooper was adopted I found myself without a project horse to work on.  That is, until the director of the rescue asked me to go to a trainer's barn and take a look at a horse named Chase.  But that's a story for another time.  :-)

Horse rescues have been a central part of my life for 6 years now.  (Less so now because I have my own horse that takes up most of my time.  But I still try to get out when I can.)  Volunteering my time at horse rescues provided me with a chance to do something good with my time, be outside, and help raise awareness about horse abuse and neglect.  But it did more than that.  It gave me a chance to connect with a number of horses, all very special, and make a positive impact on their lives.  Horses can understand your intentions through your body language and how you approach them.  Kind, gentle hands can go a long way toward breaking a horse's learned fear of people.  Showing them that someone cares and wants to help them can completely change their personality.  It's the ability to have that impact that makes me happy and made me keep volunteering.

This this takes us up to Fall of 2011.  I'll stop here for now.  Next up?  I'll start a long retrospective on my life with horses since late 2011.  That time can be summed up in one word: Chase.  But in the meantime, I'm sure Equus Silvermane has some things to say!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You're an amazing person. It's so good to read all the good things you did for these horses. I can feel how much you like and undestand them.

    One of my life goals is save some horses of my city. Here, in Brazil, in most of the cities is very comon to use horse cart to carry weight. But in most of the cases these horse cart are overload and the horses are underfeeding and mistreated. Most of them are skeletons.
    Unfortunately, today i can't do anything to help some of them.