Rescue: Not for the Faint of Heart.


RRHR Rubio

Do you ever wonder if a rescue horse would be good enough to be your next horse? They have a different question—are you good enough for a rescue horse?

Lots of people say they have a rescue horse these days. It’s a term we use when we think we’re a better home than where the horse was before. We feel special doing a good deed and there’s no crime in bragging. People who take good care of horses should be proud of it.

It’s also an easier way to get a rescue horse. One of the counter-inutitive things about getting a horse from an actual rescue is that there are some hoops to jump through to adopt. It might seem that since no one else wants them, rescue horses should be free and easy to obtain, but the opposite is true. Once a horse is saved from a bad situation, the rescue tries to guarantee that the same thing doesn’t happen again. The new home has to be a little better than good.

There is an application to fill out that’s careful to ask all the right questions about your experience and references. Ongoing vet care is crucial. There’s a home check and if all that goes well, an adoption contract (sample here), with the condition that the rescue will be able to check on the horse. Adoptions don’t become final for a few months. Rescues ask for a serious commitment–these special horses have seen the bad side of our species. It isn’t that they need more, they just deserve better.

Most adoptions have happy endings, like the adopter who gets her elderly and unride-able gelding massage. The last time I saw him, he was frolicking around like a 2 year old. It’s a forever home.

And there are sad endings in rescue, too. Some horses come in starved and begin the re-feeding process, but their organs are too damaged and they don’t make it back. The best that can be done is give them some kindness and a better passing. Each life is valued, each loss mourned.

Some are adopted out as sound and well-trained riding horses, and like a gelding a couple of years back, then returned used-up and lame after over-jumping him against recommendation. His rescue home crippled him and then had the nerve to complain. So the rescue set about helping the horse again.

It’s hard work. No one is happy to relinquish horses, it’s always sad and emotional. Trying to discern good matches between the horses and potential homes isn’t easy, it’s a decision made with due deliberation. And usually it’s a great match, with photos shared every year, along with positive updates, and gratitude all around.

Sometimes things don’t work out. Sometimes a rescued horse needs a second rescue–like the two minis adopted to a home over a year ago. On a later visit, the horses appeared thin. Their long coats were deceptive, but bones were easy to palpate. No one had bad intent, but the adults didn’t pay attention. The minis were worse than they appeared. The smaller of the two had lost just over 100 pounds–one third of her body weight. Her eyes were dead.

*Pause* Readers who have ponies or minis will need a moment to pick up their chins. Hard to imagine what would have to happen for a pony to lose a pound, much less a hundred.

Required vet care had not been done, the little mare’s teeth were bad enough to limit her digestion. The second horse was equally thin, but being young enough to withstand the neglect never makes it okay.

The rescue came with a trailer the next day and a very sad young girl loaded her ponies. They would need special feeding with supervision several times a day. With a huge storm due that week, the rescue took no chances with their precious lives.

Then the human side came apart. The adopters felt insulted; they denied the obvious and made excuses. There were angry emails and name calling toward the rescue, threats of attorneys and bad mouthing of all of the professionals involved. A young girl was devastated, she had done her best. Emotions ran hot and outsiders were dragged into the debate. The adopter was hurt because her ego was challenged. She wanted to be thought of as the sort who took in rescues, but actions spoke louder than words–even shouted words.

I noticed that through the bickerfest, the adopter never asked how the horses were doing.

And finally, I get to my real point. The rescue did their job, they held to their purpose. The thing to absolutely love about horse rescue is that, even when it’s hard: Horses come first. It isn’t always true in competition, not always true in youth programs, or even in your neighbor’s pasture.

This is where I start to sound like an ad for the Marines. If you are strong enough to do the right thing, committed enough to follow through, and just generally a cut above the average horse owner, please consider adopting. Put horses first. If you have ever been rescued by a horse, and most of us have, return the favor. Make some room in the barn, please adopt or foster.

And please, if you see neglect or abuse, report it today. The longer it goes on, the harder the rehab is for the horse and the rescue.

And in this season of giving, instead of one more foreign-made trinket, consider sending a donation to your local rescue, in the name of your friends and family. My choice is always Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue. They are heroes, you can be proud to stand with them.

“My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.”
-Anna Sewell, (1820-1878) Author of Black Beauty

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Twinkle

WMcorgiTwinkleRescue Corgis, DBA The Little Men: Walter and the Preacher Man.

This twinkle inspired by true love. Or maybe leftover turkey. Hard to say.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

And P.S. If you like my blog, please consider hitting the follow button. I’m trying to impress publishers. Thank you.

WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo- I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.

Seasonal Training Aids.

snow14 011I’ll speak for myself. It’s only the middle of December and I’m a bit tired of this holiday season already. It probably has something to do with the days being so short. The noon sun is so low in the southern sky that a habitual twilight-squint has settled in between my eye brows.  It’s hard to find rhythm in all the hurry and fuss. Taking a nap on your nose might pass as an elite act of rebellion!

As Christmas music blasts in every public place, it would be generous for the majority group to remember that not everyone celebrates this holiday. Not everyone has family. Not everyone can keep up. If the holiday was a trail ride, it would be good manners to slow up so it was comfortable for those with less wherewithal, rather than galloping off and abandoning them in our wake.

Even if you love the holiday, it can be an exhausting, stressful time of the year out in the real world. Not that stress is necessarily bad. Some of the stress is fun; annual parties, people speaking the universal language of cookies, Christmas lights strung everywhere, and family dinners. Some of the stress is not so fun; budget breaking expenses, time pressures so huge that you can already be late before dawn, the need to be endlessly cheerful, and…family dinners.

Humans like routines as much as horses, but during this month our usual routines are especially uprooted. We are torn between barn time and holiday obligations. The pressure of the outside world puts speed requirement on every moment and life can feel like a total runaway, only the wrong direction–away from the barn.

At the same time, it’s our daily routines and rituals are truly what keep us polite and reasonably sane. As we have less time and more demands- our healthy routines are usually the first to go, taking along our patience and humor.

Horses display stress in a million ways, including stiff necks, upset digestion, wild eyes and flattened ears. Eating and drinking habits can change. Horses under stress can be moody, cranky and irritable. Do you notice any of these symptoms when you look in the mirror?

Dressage has an exercise called a half-halt. Its purpose is to improve the horse’s balance and attention. In the best application, it is a near Zen-like experience of beginning fresh.

Maybe a human half-halt would help right now–just a pause to catch your balance. You don’t have to gallop along with the herd. You can ride your own path.

If you are really busy, you could choose to just skip the barn visit. Christmas isn’t really their kind of holiday. Horses will wear that stupid Santa hat to please you, but their heart isn’t in it. And if your mind is on everything you haven’t gotten done, you aren’t such great company anyway.

If you do go to the barn, give your ambition a break. This isn’t the time to work on cleaning up that canter depart or beginning half pass work. It’s the season to expect less–some days it’s an achievement to stand in his stall. There is that warm place under his mane and just resting a hand there is a healing. If you are working on listening–and you should be–then let his aid to you be peace. Take the cue. Breathe. Let be. It’s enough.

In the arena, walking can be plenty. Set the clock to horse time. Let the ride be a slow dance. Let your horse’s hips sway you. Resistance melts and warms you from the bottom up. Saunter around until your brain gets soft.

Then take a few minutes and remember. Sometimes in the effort to improve and move ahead, we forget to look at the big picture. You have a pony. The rest is decoration.

*The horses also want me to mention that the holidays are a good time for a rider to take up equine massage.*

However you feel about the holidays, they are here. Lit up with all the usual blessings and challenges. And like every other day, you are a rider.  You can half-halt, and then take the season at your own pace.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Weekly Photo Challenge- Gone, But Not Forgotten

WM HowdyHowdy

dogs 020 (2)Hero

WMNighttime WindyThe Wild Texas Wind (Windy)

Gone within days of each other, two years ago this month.

Still family–dearly loved and profoundly missed.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo- I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.

Vet Visit! Breathing is Connection.

WMAndanteEyeEmergency vet call! One of my boarded horses is sick. He’s a draft cross, timid but kind. He likes things to move in horse time. When the vet and his tech arrived, they hurried into his run. He remembers vets and tries to be good, but needles scare him. Intruders moving fast scare him. By moving fast, I mean at a normal walk.

The tech was new, she didn’t know us here. She immediately took a firm hold on the lead rope. No one around here holds a rope tight. It can cue a horse to pull back. “He’ll be fine, go slow,” I say. She flashes me the “I’m a professional” look. That’s fair.

So by now, the horse’s eyes are wide and he is a bit taller than his usual 17 hands–tense and barely breathing. And the vet is taking vital signs as the tech tries to stabilize his huge head. The horse is slightly alarmed–he’s used to doing that himself.

Disclaimer: I love vet techs. I’ve done time in her shoes. It’s hard work with miserable hours, and job one is to manage the horse in such a way that the vet is safe. No one wants techs or vets injured and sick horses are not predictable. To tell the truth, lots of the horses they work on are dangerous because of little or no training. It’s a very challenging job and I appreciate her.

So the tech grips the lead rope right at the clip and is holding fast. The horse is resisting her resistance. And one other small detail; the circumference of his neck is twice her waist size. This isn’t a fair fight–he could launch her over the barn.

She is facing the horse’s hind, toward the vet, who’s prepping an injection now. The good horse is wide-eyed and electric. This makes the vet a bit tense; he might be remembering this horse in the past. The tech trying to do her best, responds by taking an even tighter hold on the horse. She’s not quite on her tip-toes yet.

I am standing about 3 feet in front of the horse, behind the tech’s back. I take a deep breath through my open mouth, counting to three silently. I hold it an instant and then exhale it through my mouth, slow and audible like a sigh–again counting one-two-three. In the middle of this breath, the tech glances over her shoulder at me with brows furrowed. Like I’m crazy or something. I bet she runs into a lot of weird gray-haired women in her day, so I give her the benefit of the doubt and smile mid-exhale.

Breath is how we all connect, but especially horses. It’s just that simple.

I take a second deep slow inhale and this time the tech doesn’t glance at me, the vet is close to giving the shot but seems to have paused maybe.

(As I’m writing this, the thought crosses my mind that I yammer on about breathing in every post I write, in every riding lesson I give. Even as the words are in the air, I can see the rider blowing me off. She wants a real cue that will make a difference. Not some bliss-ninny suggestion to breathe. Readers probably do the same.)

As I began my third deep breath, the horse dropped his head like a rock. And by drop his head, I mean 12 or 18 inches. The vet tech turned, looking at me full on, like I stole the cake, and began reconsidering gray-haired women. The vet gave the shot with almost no one noticing, finishing the syringe with the end of my exhale.

I’m no genius, it’s common sense. If breathing is the most important thing in the saddle, and it is, then it must be twice that important during stress on the ground. It’s an anchor for a horse under sedation, essential for a horse in a bit of shock from an injury, and I believe it absolutely saves lives during a colic.

Breathing is one of those things that is its own reward. Meaning as you are breathing for your horse, deep to the bottom of your lungs, it is the anti-panic drug for you, too. And you need to be calm for your horse. He doesn’t want to hear you hysterically shrieking, either out loud or inside your mind. It never helps. Sure, it’s hard to see a horse in pain. We might be stuck on the spot, but even if we can’t move our feet, we can be strong in our breath.

The meaning of breath is much deeper than words. The thread of his life began with a first inhale and his dam and herd answered him. So, we share our horse/human breath back and forth every day, in ancient horse language, to let him know he is safe.

And if you are very lucky, if you are the very best partner, when the time comes to say goodbye, you can help him. In that precious moment you can breathe with him, the same breath you shared in a lifetime of laughter and tears and warm sun on his neck. There is no finer salute for a good horse than to share that last breath. Because just like all the other times, breath is how we connect.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Weekly Photo Challenge -Converge


A barn is a place of meeting and joining. We come from all different directions, all different experiences and all different potentials. No one knows how it will be; who will shine brightest, who will leave us too soon. We live in horse time, we live in the moment. All we have is this twinkling when humans, horses, and peace converge. And that will do us just fine.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo- I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. My photos are taken with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high tech.

Being Grateful for Things You Don’t Like.

WMDodgerRideMy favorite training mentor had a habit that drove me nuts. She would be working with a horse who spooked or flipped his head or had some other issue that made him a disaster and when she climbed on, if you were close, you could hear her say in a low and quiet voice, “Goody, goody.” She would have a small smile and be cheerful.

The woman was nuts. It was like she couldn’t tell right from wrong. She loved a bad ride. It wasn’t that she wanted the adrenaline thrill of trying to stay on, and she didn’t pick fights. She just thought a conversation with a horse got more interesting once some resistance showed up.

I was a novice rider just beginning to compete a young horse and neither of us was very confident. One of us was trying way too hard. And it was so important that he was perfect. We hated problems. Okay it was me, I hated it when he was bad.

So I was a conditional rider. I did well if my horse was confident and in a good mood, but if something went sideways, I couldn’t cope. I didn’t act out and jerk on his mouth or use a whip. Instead I got quietly resistant. Every cue started with the disciplinary word don’t. Don’t spook, don’t run off, don’t quit. If I could just try to control his every breath, just not allow him to come apart… I was totally focused on resisting my horse’s resistance.

So naturally, my trainer ruined my Zen by celebrating the bad like she did.

Let me be clear: She was right. I was wrong and being a judgmental jerk, the kind of person who discriminates against imperfection. The kind of person that I don’t like much.

There is a tiny moment. It’s wedged right between the point where everything is going well and you love your ride, and that point where both you and your horse start to come apart. This tiny moment is when we stop listening and start ordering. And when a confused or frightened horse gets told that he’s wrong. Understanding gets sacrificed for external appearances. We become bullies, jerking and kicking, or just holding on for dear life. We become part of the problem.

But in that tiny moment, when you just start to feel him tense, you have a choice. You don’t have to flinch and take the bait. In that tiny moment, you could confound nay-sayers and defy common sense and choose to get happy. What possible good can come out of making your horse wrong?

Instead, you can take a breath and discipline yourself. You can do something totally crazy, you can smile and let your hands breathe out some reins. You can embrace the moment, leave the criticizing to others and get on about helping your horse. Less correction, more direction.

Amazingly, in that same tiny moment, he is right there wanting to hear from you. Horses live in the present and because horses don’t get stuck using right or wrong labels, they are more fluid. Their minds are capable of change, at least to the degree their rider’s are. In that instant you can turn things around with a pat. You can change who you are and how your horse responds.

I rode with this genius trainer for five years. I learned some fancy party tricks and by the end, people thought I had a great horse. The truth was even better than that, but first I had to learn to see my horse as perfect and willing, especially when appearances were deceiving. I held to that truth and it made all the difference.

At this time of Thanksgiving, I am so grateful for horses in my life, but even more than that, I am grateful for this bit of knowledge, passed down from my mentor. It’s enough to make you laugh at its simplicity–this awareness that it’s all good, if you approach it that way.

Too Pollyanna-ish for you? It’s true there are some big ugly issues in the horse world, like slaughter and abuse. Things so nasty that it’s easier to look away and ignore them. It can take some strength to look that kind of darkness in the face and not flinch. To take a breath and start to work on a positive solution. My perfect horses taught me that keeping an open mind and expecting the best beats name-calling and whining about what is wrong–every. single. time.

“My horse has a problem with his canter depart.” “You can’t save them all.”

Now I’m the trainer and with a nod to my mentor, I say, “Goody, goody.” Because I know the one the rider thinks has the problem, is not really the one with the problem at all. Because this is a chance for something good to happen.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.