A client and I went to see a horse this week. He belonged to her in the past, but I have known him through 5 owners, each time given up reluctantly. This horse is 10 years old. Our Boy is a sensitive, athletic horse, smart and honest. In other words, a wonderful horse. In other words, a horse not just anyone can ride.
He was donated to a riding program. They had lots of older horses that give kids a good safe start, but the program also had young riders wanting to compete, and in need of a different sort of horse. Enter Our Boy, elite by their standards, healthy, strong and solid in training. The program had a dressage trainer to help, and it was a perfect match. There were grateful, happy emails exchanged, everyone cheered. Then the young rider graduated and went to college. Our boy got left behind.
Now, there is no longer a young rider dressage program there and the economy is hitting the entire riding program extra hard. This horse, who was a wonderful asset, has somehow become a liability and he must go. He isn’t the first good worker to get laid off in a hard economy. My client has right of first refusal, so we went to see him. It was a farewell visit, the circumstances that forced my client to part with this horse still exist and she knew she couldn’t bring him home.
When we got to the barn, we met the kind rider who has been working with him. She’s new to the program. As she walks us to his pen, the rider tells us that it has been a slow process; he was very nervous, much too dangerous for other riders. What?
As we get near, Our Boy recognizes us. It’s obvious, there’s an undeniable look on his face. His eyes don’t blink, he stands stock still. And we recognize him just as clearly, but the shiny, well muscled horse we knew is skin and bones now, his back seems dropped, his hooves are horribly over grown and uneven. And yes, absolutely no doubt that he knows us.
Our Boy is nervous as the kind rider tacks him up. In the arena, he jigs a bit for her mounting, and walks off tense. After a few steps, our boy rears up. Twice. She says that it’s unusual, that he hasn’t reared in a couple of months. The rider cares and is doing her very best for him. We are shell-shocked.
We thank her and ask if we can do some ground work. My client begins their special work, his responsiveness gives them both confidence and when my client climbs on, and it isn’t immediate, but he slowly comes round and soft, just breathing. He blows cautiously. How long has he been waiting?
There is such a thin line between a wonderful, well owned and loved horse and a rescue horse. This is how it happens. A horse might misbehave, out of pain and loss, and he might get unstuck in his job. Change is hard, things fall apart. Even if people do their very best for him, it can feel like abandonment. Once he loses confidence he becomes undependable. A few months of feed costs later, there are no good answers and the bad options start to look good.
Sometimes a horse becomes a rescue because he is just a little too good for his owner. Or maybe he loses touch with his human, (5 owners in 10 years), and ceases to be who he was. Now he’s in free fall, and he knows it. In the end, good horsemanship always means not blaming the horse. Our Boy did nothing wrong. How many horses are in just this place?
How did he go from the program’s elite horse to this sad place? There were contradicting stories, defensive moments, hurt feelings, all stirred up with the passion that we all feel for horses. Does any of that actually matter? In the perfect world, things would look much rosier than this, but the perfect world is not visible from here.
My client and I left him there, and drove home in a car packed with dark emotions. We plotted the what if of our situation, of his situation. We are not naïve horse owners. Yesterday we drove back up and brought him home, it’s bittersweet.
Please don’t go all hearts and flowers on us. Long term for this horse is uncertain. This is what we know for sure: We can give him the care he needs. We can remind him who he is.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.
22 thoughts on “A Very Thin Line.”
I’m glad you went back and got him. At least one horse will be understood. There is a horse on my ranch with much the same story.
I’m glad you went back and got him. He’ll be understood, at least. There is a horse on my ranch who has a similar story.
welcome home big boy!
I trained my little Arab for ME. So he was light on the bit and sensitive to aids. Homing him was difficult until I found excellent performance trainers who took him as an advanced class horse then gave him to their granddaughter. Happy endings are so very rare these days for those special horses
Our Boy’s sad saga is one that haunts the fears of any horse lover who has ever sold a horse. To learn of a real life example of that nightmare feels like a knife to the heart. Once recovered in mind, body, and spirit, Our Boy has many useful years left to give to the right human partner. I pray that the perfect one enters his life soon. “Bless the beasts and the children”, because both are at the mercy of adult humans.
i am sobbing and applauding you- thank you for giving him another chance, the best chance, as someone who understands him, anna. i see this way too much as a veterinarian.
Sobbing here, too, because everything you said is so right. Thank you … both of you. Knowing there are people in this world like you makes life …. bearable.
Leslie infomred me of the situation yesterday. Wishing the best for him even if none of us know exactly what that looks like at this point!
Anna, I’m so glad it was arranged that they call you guys first. I’m hoping everything will work out even though the future now is uncertain.
Thank you for shining a light on this issue – I have seen it before. So sad. I would be interested in updates on his progress.
Free fall. Describes this situation perfectly. I’ve seen this situation too many times to count, and felt so helpless. Some horses can bounce through changes/situations without questioning themselves, but I think that’s pretty rare. Hudson had huge difficulty transitioning from his former owner to me, though I’d been riding him for three years along with his owner, and she continued to ride him after I got him. Same barn, same paddock, same roommates, same people: changed people percentages and being retired from roping almost undid him. Everyone was there to catch him, and we had to, because of who he is. I feel for the wonderful horses who do not get caught out of their free fall. Heart breaking, and so wonderful that you two did, even if its for a period of time, until something more tenable can be structured. Beautiful, tough, post.
It’s heartwarming to read these comments and know that there are people out there who have never met this sweet boy yet care about his future and have been touched by his story. Thank you for that, and thank you Anna for believing in him and sacrificing to help give him a second chance
so hard 🙁 The absolute opposite of what anyone wants to believe happens after the tough decision to let a horse go to someone else.
We can’t save them all, but sometimes when the moon is full and the wind blows just right, we can save the one that is in front of us.
I don’t know the reasons he was given up, and goodness knows I don’t have a lot, but let us know if there is some small donation that will help you keep helping your guy.
I see a lot of these horses in my world. A lot of people call to donate their horses to our program and many of them are just like Big Boy. It’s heartbreaking and it haunts me. I’ve thought about rehoming my husband’s gelding, but the thought of where he might end up stops me every time. After this post I’m going to quit thinking about it. Great post, thought provoking as always. Let me know if I can do anything to help.
I am so touched by all of these kind comments and the outpouring of good will. This is more positive thought than he has had in a long time, and I know its impact will be felt. Thank you so much.
Thank you, Anna, for giving this horse a chance once again.
A superbly written tearjerker with an ending that made me feel fuzzy inside. With you and your client guiding his fate he has a darn good chance of becoming the Phoenix and rising from the ashes, God bless …
My heart ached reading this post, I probably wouldn’t have been able to read to the end if I had come across it anywhere else… but this is you writing Anna, and of course you went back for him. Thank you. Wishing strength and solidarity to you all on this journey.
THANK YOU for bringing Our Boy home. I went through a very similar situation many years ago, with a young Saddlebred. Fixed him after a “trainer” badly abused him, then donated him to a very reputable school for their riding program a couple of years later. He ended up getting sold to a “less than reputable trainer” who was notorious for her level of abuse. Got a phone call a few months later, to “come and get him or we’re going to put him down”. My Aunt paid for the shipping to get him home, and I paid for him. He was a disaster on four legs when he arrived. My Aunt was in tears when he recognized her when she went to visit him; he never forgot who bred and raised him. I kept him, fixed him once again (Bless my years of dressage training!), and kept him until he died as on older horse. Your story so reminded me of Boo’s story so many years ago, and I’m incredibly grateful that you went and got this horse and brought him home. Please, give him a hug from someone who understands what he’s been through; I know that Boo is looking down on him and will watch over him. Godspeed to all of you!
Reblogged this on Eremophila's Musings and commented:
I confess, I became quite emotional while reading this. But it does show the goodness that can and does still exist in small pockets in this world.