For the Horses

Equine Rescue, Continued...

In my short lifetime, I’ve been called a lot of things -- not all of them complimentary. But one thing I have never been accused of is being someone who doesn’t care about horses. But that’s just what happened recently on another blog in which commenters were trying to come up with solutions for the growing neglect and abuse of horses. In offering an alternative viewpoint to the prevailing discussion, I was summarily told to leave the discussion and told I clearly didn’t love horses. It took me by surprise to say the least.

And it hurt.

I’ve dedicated my life to the welfare of horses. I’ve ruined my health over it. But if all of this has been done in less visible ways, well, I’ve never wanted to be a hero or be applauded for what I consider to be my responsibility as a horse owner and a human being, not an altruistic display for the world. But now I’m left in the position of feeling like I have to defend myself against such an attack, when I suppose I know I should just ignore it.

As far as equine rescue goes, I think my views on this have been pretty well spelled out in my previous post. That said, I have not only rescued horses myself, I have also contributed time, training, physical therapy, feed, blankets, tack and stable necessities to local rescues - and of course the thing most rescues really care about – my hard earned money. My tack room walls are lined with plaques and awards from rescues for these efforts, but again, it has never been about the recognition. It’s been about the horses, and, like most, I do what I can afford.

It all started when I was in college. I had transferred to a school closer to home because I missed my horse while I was away. He was boarded at a local facility which was shared with several trainers. One of the other trainers got in a shipment of potential school horses from a notorious dealer. Among them was Norman. Though under 15hh, he appeared to be a draft or cob of some sort; black, with a white stripe and sock, feathers and big, floppy, “kissable” lips. He was adorable and sweet and everyone fell in love with him instantly. But he also had a nasty wound on his hind leg that had never been treated properly and was overgrown with proud flesh, and had huge cracks in his feet that went deep into the coronet band, causing abscesses. He was lame, and it was decided that he would be sent back, knowing full well that the dealer would send him off to slaughter. I couldn’t let that happen.

My mother called me while I was at school to tell me that the van had arrived for Norman and they were about to load him on it. I had been saving my own meager earnings from cleaning stalls, etc. for a long dreamt-of trip to Europe that summer. But instead, I raided my piggy bank to buy Norman, even though I had no idea how I was going to take care of him. In a panic, I sent my mom down there with my money, and she caught the van just before it drove off. Norman was safe.

I set about caring for his feet and his leg and eventually got him fit, sound and ready to ride. He remains one of my favorite horses in the world, because, despite all of his issues, he had so much heart and so much enthusiasm for life.

I moved into a dilapidated, rat infested shack on the same farm, with no heat or hot water in the winter, in order to be closer to the horses. I fed them each morning, mucked stalls, trained all day, stacked hay, and put them all to bed at night. Needless to say, my studies suffered… but I didn’t mind that either. Even though it was a miserable place, I loved being there for the mornings when I’d sleep through my alarm and find that Norm had gently removed the fence boards on his paddock and, with his pony friend, had come up to my front door to call me and tell me he wanted his breakfast! Or to watch him work his charm on lesson kids who would come with carrots for the horses they were going to ride, but would never get out of the parking lot without giving them all away to Norman.

But the truth was I couldn’t really afford to keep him, so when one day the right person came along, I knew I’d have to say goodbye to him. Luckily, the girl he went to fell in love with Norman and he with her, and despite all of the money he had cost me over the years and the fact that I might have sold him to recoup some of that, I gave him to her for nothing because I knew she would love him and take care of him for the rest of his life. Norman is now living his life out in New Hampshire on a farm with lots of love and grass. I never have been any good at selling horses, anyway.

But, Norman’s rescue led me to many others. Once I knew I could take care of horses in need, I volunteered to help many others, including a racehorse with a catastrophic injury that I rehabbed for two years until sound, including a trip to the veterinary surgeon, which cost more than I care to remember, and gave free to a wonderful home,

and a half-wild, violent Trakehner who, after being abandoned twice and locked in a stall for 2 years, became my best jumper... and best friend,

to a draft-cross gelding who couldn’t be haltered and would stand cowering and shaking at the back of his stall when humans were about, who now is the first to poke his head out of his stall to have his ears scratched.

I’ve dedicated myself to horses like these, sometimes at great personal expense. In my 30 years, I’ve broken bones, fused vertebrae in my back and neck, damaged nerves in my spine, contracted neuroborreliosis which damaged my central nervous system, have chronic Lyme and fibromyalgia, arthritis, and have had frostbite and watched huge chunks of my skin turn black and fall off – I could go on. The point is, through all of this, I’ve never taken a day off from working, caring for the animals, training and providing instruction to other horse enthusiasts in the hopes that my efforts would make the lives of the horses that much better.

To that end, I continue to donate my time, knowledge and resources to helping local horses and owners. I’ve contributed articles to magazines, offered clinics and seminars, given training and instruction, physical therapy and rehabilitation services, etc. here and abroad, free of charge. And while I’m happy to volunteer my services in training and consultation, therapy equipment, spare tack or even direct donations, I still think the most effective assistance comes in the form of education. This is my niche and where I choose to focus my energies in the battle against abuse and neglect. If this differs from the priorities of others, that’s fine. We all have something to contribute to the welfare of the animals we love, and we all have our unique talents that we can put to work for the horses. I’d never question another’s level of commitment or love of the animals just because they chose a different way to help, but I hope that, in return, people show me the same courtesy. After all, we’re on the same team! We all want what’s best for the horses, and if we pool our resources, share our ideas and combine our efforts, we might actually get somewhere! No one method is going to do it all – but a combination of approaches, contributed from all of the different perspectives, gives us a much more comprehensive plan of action. I’m willing to put aside my personal differences, because it’s the horses, and not our personal agendas and egos, that matter.


  1. Well said. I was very surprised to see you attacked on the other blog. It doesn't seem fair that one person who doesn't agree with you should be on the attack and accusing you of not caring for horses. Particularly when they don't even know you, what you do, or what you stand for.
    We all tried to contribute to the discussion in our own way. Everyone wants to help or we wouldn't have commented. Unfortunately, some folks can't see any further than their own opinions. I prefer to keep an open mind and discuss things rationally to perhaps find a permanent solution,not just the immediate temporary feel-good solutions.
    Keep up the good work you do, and take care of yourself.I'm sure all the horses and people you have helped(and saved) over the years appreciate your commitment to their welfare.

  2. JME,
    Hi, you've got an award waiting for you over at my blog!Stop by when you get the chance and pick it up.

  3. Thanks, GHM. It's much appreciated!

  4. You've obviously spent much time and resources rescuing horses and the photos say it all. I'm glad you took the time to write this up and post it - it's a wonderful reminder that with time and care, even the "throw-away" horses can be amazing partners.

    My daughter's pony (not a rescue pony, but he has had his moments over the 4 years we've lived with him) has been a wonderful challenge for her. We've seen a few fellow Pony Clubbers "buying up" and it would be so easy to just go out and buy a BTDT eventing pony that could push-button her right up the ratings. But everything she does on this little pony she earns, and I believe that the success is sweeter and the knowledge and experience she's gaining is so much more valuable.

    I imagine the work with rescue horses is exponentially rewarding.

    I'm looking forward to more from you here - you must be incredibly busy but you have so much to share!

  5. hi billie - thanks for stopping by!

    some of the best horses i've encountered have been throw-aways or horses others simply turned their noses up at. so many trainers during my career have pushed me to sell horses and 'buy up,' and at the same time i watched my fellow competitors get fancier, more push button horses while i held onto mine and worked with what i had.

    i don't regret it for a minute.

    my eq horse was paint (at the time very unfashionable when everyone was getting warmbloods) that i retrained from western. he could not physically do a lead change, and had a sticky left shoulder which required he stand off his jumps to give him time to get his leg out of the way. my trainers suggested i get a fancier, easier horse. but i loved my horse, so instead, i learned to ride him better - to place him at his jumps accurately and ask for the leads in mid-air so he wouldn't need to change. we won several finals and year-end awards right up until we retired him.

    as you say, you EARN those rides and those ribbons through hard work and hard lessons, and you learn how to ride through anything. and mostly it's not about the ribbons anyway. some of my best show efforts have been the ones where we didn't win, but achieved some personal milestone in our training that made it all worthwhile! (the jumper pictured above was, among other things, a notorious dirty stopper. there was a show where we finished 10th out of 130+, which was an accomplishment in itself, but what i remember more than how we placed was that i found a bad distance to a big square oxer off a short turn and for the first time he bailed ME out when he had every right to refuse - THAT moment was better than any ribbon or check could have been!)

    congratulations to you and your daughter for sticking it out with her pony. she'll be a better rider and horseman for it, and maybe have a better appreciation for those 'other' horses less committed riders might have thrown away :-)

    sorry, i know that was a long response! once i get going...

    best of luck to you all!

  6. I guess I missed the attack but them sometimes I only scan the comments. Sorry to hear it came to that, some people just can't see beyond the end of their own noses.

    Keeping an open mind while trying to find solutions is my preference. I don't think there are easy answers for this problem and I doubt it's going to get solved here but I think we each need to be aware and do what we can.

  7. hi rising rainbow - thanks for stopping by. i agree there are no easy answers. it's a complex issue with a lot of factors. but i'm with you, keeping an open mind, encouraging awareness and doing what we can may not solve the problem, but it can help :-)

  8. Hmmm....very intriguing. I am currently a social work/psychology major,and a "returning" horseman, and I can't help but think that you sound like a social worker for horses! Good, horses need advocates too! I will have to read further, to see what sparked this invigorating discussion in the first place :)

  9. welcome knutsons! thanks for stopping by. good for you going back to school. i've always had an interest in social work, so maybe that's what's coming out with all of this equine welfare stuff ;-)

  10. I just wanted to let you know, that I whole-heartedly agree with your postings on natural horsemanship. Having been somewhat out of the horse loop, for the past eight years, I was surprised to find the amount of awe people reserve for natural horsmanship trainers. While they can--and some do!!--inspire people to train their horses in a kinder and/or gentler manner, I agree that they are not really teaching those of us who were/are already of that mindset, anything new! I live in an area that is inundated with western riding and natural horsemanship, but that is because the people primarily ride horses that are known for their laid back personalities, such as QH, Paints, or Appaloosas. How come you never really see any of the "big" trainers attempt to work with a hotter horse, such as an Arab or a TB? Occasionally I have seen them start to, but then put them away, saying that the horse "..just isn't responsive."
    Hmmm...maybe it's YOUR methods!
    Similar to you, I am NOT bad mouthing natural horsemanship, I just agree that it is really nothing new :)

  11. Bravo to you for your dedication and care of horses. There should be many more like you that are willing to take on these poor creatures that so badly need help.

    The world would certainly be a better place!

  12. You may not have received my earlier post but there are idiots everywhere on the web and you are not one of them. Working with these horses, as you have, takes skill and compassion. I’d love to know how you worked with the your difficult horse.

  13. simplymarvelous - thanks! :-)

    bhm - thanks for your comment - i'm planning on writing some training related posts, and i'll be sure to include more detailed info on what i've picked up over the years with regard to difficult horses and how i've handled my own.


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