Wednesday, July 30, 2008

In The Distance...

In the distance there stands a herd of 7 seven horses grazing peacefully. In the distance I can still see them well enough to pick out the groups they fall into. Sam, Rusty, and Moon together. Bonnie, and Tanner, then Trace and Misty. Individual groups but still one large family together. I stand close to the front of the pasture just watching them. I wonder what she is thinking as she grazes with her new friends.

Finally my curiosity can be held no longer, I have to know what she will do. Since bringing her home she has always been happy to see me. I know it is because I am "she who feeds" but I don't care. So from the front of the 25 acre field I call her name. It was more than I hoped for. Up pops her head with those beautiful ears, and complete with a mouth full of grass; and then I hear it. The whinny back. I called to her again, and the goosebumps rise as she takes her steps. She is coming the distance just because I ask.

She officially has no ribs any longer, well, if she does you can't seeee themmmm and the rest of her is rounding up. (I promise new pictures soon) She is much much more relaxed in her stall now, although she has taken over Moon's stall, oblivious to Moon's obvious disgust. So Moon being the sweet mare that she is lays back the ears and presses her lips as she sulks off to the other stall. See Moon's stall is beside Rusty and if Sam had her way she would share a stall with him. Although I am positive Rusty would be horrified should I allow that. Never the less, she tries to enter with him and after his door is shut she heads straight for Moon's stall. She stands in the doorway and looks out waiting for me to close the door. Moon bless her heart stands in the hall way looking quite put out and gives in. It is almost like there is an unspoken agreement between them even though she doesn't like it she goes along.

All my bruises are gone, and Sam is finally cleaning her bucket again, with her stall door shut. Oh, what a relief that she is finally stopped saving something for later. I really believe she was afraid to eat it all. But now **sigh** I can breath.

Somewhere in the distance is a day when all of this craziness will be behind us. She will be round like the rest of her family. The nightmares will be gone for her forever. Each day the distance gets shorter.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Savage Beast...

They say that music calms the savage beast. I don’t know about all that, but I know it calms me. Over the years of owning horses the ones I have spent the most time with have all had their own song. I would sing to them when we were alone and quiet in the barn. Misty has always been “My Sunshine”, Trace has been “Mr. Sandman”, Annie my other rescue mare was “My Girl”. The song will come to me as my relationship develops and Sam’s came to me Sunday night during her supper feeding. You Are So Beautiful by Joe Cocker.

While standing stroking her neck and shoulder I talk to her. I know this sounds so sappy, but I believe that horses understand what we say to them. I tell her how much she is loved, how she will never be hungry again, how safe she will be for the rest of her life. I tell her that she will always be will me, I tell her that she is wanted and that I have always wanted her, that she is home where she belongs now. I tell her how beautiful she is. That it doesn’t matter to me that she is small, or that she is skinny. She is still beautiful to me. As I was standing there telling her all of these things it suddenly flowed out of my mouth as if I had turned on a radio; the words to that song.

I believe that horses, or any animal, need as people need to feel wanted, loved and needed. Every creature needs to feel like they belong, and are special. I also believe that Sam has never had anyone make her feel special, has never made her feel like she was worth anything. Occasionally I feel like she might believe me. When she nickers at me, I always make a point to smile and call her name. One day the years that she didn’t have the things she needed will not matter any more. One day she will see herself as I see her. Beautiful, strong, wanted, needed, and worthy of love.

A Glimmer...

Just a glimmer of the calm, sweet, trusting horse inside is what I got today. Sam and I are trying a new approach to help her deal with her fear of losing her food. The day we had our horrible train wreck, I had been in the stall with Sam while she was eating. Her stall door had been closed and it was just too much pressure. As I have mentioned before, she is now hanging out in the hallway of the main barn where I have blocked off a space for her until I can build her a new stall. She has more room than a normal stall and can be about 20 feet from me if she wants to be.

So here is the new approach. Instead of hanging her bucket on the wall, I have started holding the bucket. I did this with another mare that I rescued and retrained several years ago. She wanted what I had and knew that taking it from me was the only way she would get it. So she sucked it up and took a chance on me. Sam is doing the same thing. Learning to trust me with her feed. I can pet on her and talk to her while she is eating and she will soon realize that I want her to eat and I am NOT going to take it away from her.

Tonight was as I said a glimmer. She is becoming more relaxed with this idea and tonight she was relaxed enough to sniff me up and down between bites of grain. I admit the thought crossed my mind that she might use her teeth for something else besides the grain, but I chose to give her the trust that she was giving me and let her sniff.

Tomorrow is another day, and you never know from one day to the next with a horse that has been abused what may trigger a fear reaction but today, I will take it. I delight in her small triumphs and heave a deep sigh with her set backs. I know the triumphs will tip the scales one day. Until then I will take the small victories and live on them until the next with pleasure.

A glimmer, a flash, a small spot. There is light at the end of Sam's tunnel. She just has to go to it.

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back...

Three steps forward, two steps back seems to be the mantra for Sam and I. The bruises are almost completely gone, my nerves are getting more steady. On Thursday we hauled hay and while running in and out of the main barn, Sam apparently was upset with my purposeful walk and again turned her butt on me. This time I was ready. Her back arched, and the correction came swiftly. Stopped in her tracks with a seriously stunned look. She knew she had messed up, something was going to happen because I came back with a halter. "Oh no your not catching me!" She didn't have to say it, her message was very clear. However, so was mine. After a few moments the halter was on and Miss Sam went to horsey timeout. This allowed me to have access to the hallway of the barn, and didn't let her get away with acting ugly. My son and I finished unloading the hay and had lunch while Sam was in timeout. She had plenty of time to think about why she was standing there.

After lunch I took Sam to the round-pen. Now that I am moving more at normal speed it was time to revisit the keeping our feet on the ground lessons. This time, I didn't play nice. I didn't give her the benefit of the doubt, I didn't give her space, and I didn't take it easy on her. I'll admit I have been soft. I have felt sorry for Sam, I have felt like I needed to handle her with Kidd gloves, but she took off the gloves and so must I.

We worked on my space in her space. We worked on hide the hinney x10. We worked on yielding her shoulder and backing up. We worked on hide the hinney again. This time she said enough, NO MORE! Then it came the arch in the back, the hiked up foot and the fight was on. I am not a fan of harsh handling of horses, but there is a time and a place for everything. I had come armed with a lunge whip, and a training stick. In a situation like this the training stick wasn't going to do me any good, so the whip which was laying at my feet flew into action. Every time she made the circle and kicked, I popped her on the butt. She started diving at me I threw up blocks and popped her front legs. She finally stopped, nostrils flared, sides heaving and stared at me, clearly angry that I had not retreated YET. I by this point, was more than just a little worked up, but once she stopped and looked at me I knew we had reached the point where she knew I wasn't backing down, and we went back to work.

For the rest of our session, all I had to do was look at her butt and she would move it away and face me. She would pivot 360 degrees if I ask her too. The shoulder yield was allot slower coming but it did come, and we managed to get one circle on request with a stop. That was my stopping point. We made progress.

I don't care how many steps it takes backward as long as we keep getting at least one forward. She is coming around, and I don't think the fear that drives her will stay long. The fear of the unknown is more prevailing. She has never had anyone to count on, no one to believe in or trust to keep her safe. She has made her own way, and from the looks of it has managed as well as can be expected. She will learn to let me carry her fear of the unknown, and then she can learn to deal with the fear of the things she has lived through. I know she can, and she will. I just have to keep reminding myself, "if it is worth having, it is worth waiting for, and it is worth working for".

She is.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Compromise...

Sam and I have come to a compromise. After much deliberation over the events of this week it has become clear that my stall arrangement is not working. Sam needs security, and more companionship. So, we have rearranged the barn a bit and Sam has her choice of five noses. She now resides in the middle hallway of the barn where she is much more relaxed and eats her grain. We are having intervals of gate closed and open so that hopefully by the end of summer she will be more accustomed to being in the barn for longer periods of time.

When all of my wounds have healed, we will begin again trying to work through the flashbacks. Sam will eventually believe she is safe. It will take time, and unless a stronger power has other plans for me, time is something I can surely give her plenty of. Meanwhile she is her normal affectionate self. No pressure to be anything she can't handle. It will be ok, I just have to keep telling myself. It is going to be a long road.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Challenge...

It has become painfully clear that bringing home Sammy was only the first part of the challenge of rescuing Sam from the life she had been thrown into. The honeymoon is apparently over and she is settled and finally starting to deal with some of the issues that developed from her long bought of hunger and isolation.

I naively believed this was going to have a fairy tale ending, she was home and we would live happily ever after. However, that is not going to be the case or at least not that easily. She has some serious issues coming to light. Food aggression, claustrophobia, general lack of coping skills when faced with boundaries and frustration. Alone each of these are not a big deal but when they all crash together the results can be very dangerous.

The other horses that were at the farm where Sam lived for 5 years suffered the same fate and some suffered worse. Some of them were confined to stalls, and in much worse condition than she was. I am beginning to think that Sam at some point may have been locked in one of those stalls.

On Sunday Sam got her wish to go out into the big pasture with the other horses on my farm. With this promotion came another part of the routine at Southern Oaks. Daytime, stall/fan/feed. Where we are in Kentucky, the horse flies, green head flies, and deer flies are vicious. The horses break up their feet stomping, and some of the horses are apparently more at attractive to the flies than others as you will see whelps and bloody bites on some and none of the others. So I have made a practice of bringing the horses in during the day especially on the really hot days. This apparently is a big cause for panic with Sam.

I noticed that she would get excited when I would come out to check on everyone, and it never occurred to me that she was staying agitated like that all the time. I also noticed she hasn't been eating all of her grain, and she has become more and more easily agitated during other activities. All of this has been brought to my attention by a horrible misunderstanding Sam and I had earlier in the week. As it has been my habit to pet, and give friendly scratches while Sam finishes her supper I took my normal place beside her in the stall. Only this time I had closed the stall door. Up until now I hadn't closed the door as you never know what a horse that you don't know well will do in a confined space; but for as long as she has been here and not shown any aggression, I really didn't believe it would be a problem. I was steadily scratching her withers when she became nervous and walked away from her bucket. Thinking that a fly was bothering her I stepped to he wall to give her room. Suddenly the last thing I ever expected happen. Sam lashed out with no obvious warning with both back feet. She connected not once but three times on my way to the door. As I opened the stall door and swung out she ran past me and found the first dusty place she could to drop and roll.

After nursing my wounds, and putting serious thought into the events of the day, I decided an experiment was in order. The next afternoon I again approached Sam in her stall. This time with help of course, and stood in her open door while she was eating. This did not seem to bother her at all if any, but the moment I slid the door shut she was clearly upset. She left her bucket and circled. It was almost like I had her cornered. I slid the door open again and she began to relax just enough for me to realize that she was afraid.

What has she endured? Why do people make horses suffer? Why when they trust us, forgive us, and do what we ask do people still mistreat, starve, and break their minds? It is beyond me. I can say this without reservation. I am so blessed to have Sam, and I will stand by her until she heals from the wounds that I can not see, until she has grown into the horse she was destined to be. And that is a promise. She may never know how deep the devotion goes, but she will never be hungry, she will never be mistreated again. Now she just has to believe.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sammy Has Friends...

Over the last few weeks I have been keeping a different horse in the small pasture with Sammy. This was in an effort to make her transition into the herd easier when the time came. During these weeks we have had some heart touching moments like Rusty resting his neck over Sam for a nap in the shade. Some down right funny moments, and moments of total disbelief.

Some of the funnier moments have been watching Sam's excitement at a new horse for her to get to know. She earnestly wants to be part of the herd so when a new horse is introduced to her she runs to meet them; eager to exchange greetings. This has provided us with one of the biggest laughs. Tanner, my daughters QH, had his turn in the small lot. He went out to check the gate and when he returned to the barn area, I opened Sam's stall door. She excitedly ran out to greet Tanner, her new friend, and his ears came forward. His head perked, and eyes got bright. I thought to myself, wow he is really going to be nice to her, HA! Tanner went directly for her as though he was going to greet her. It was one of those movie moments with two long lost loves are running open armed toward each other for an embrace. But at the last moment Tanner sidestepped, with his ears still perked and bright eyed, he headed straight for her HAY. Past Sam who has stopped and is looking over her shoulder at Tanners butt, and now is wearing a seriously confused look wondering what has happened. Tanner, well, he just digs in to her hay rack, and she stands in obvious disappointment. I had to laugh, it was way to funny for words; but Sam as always took it all in stride. She joined him for the feast.

Finally the time has come for Sam to join the herd. I didn't make the decision however, it was made by Sam herself. I being the "all knowing human" thought I would know the perfect time for her to join, but apparently I was being too cautious and taking to long to make my move. The normal routine is we feed Sam and while she is in her stall the other horses come and go out of the big barn via the small pasture. Sam has become wise to this and decide the only way she would ever get to go out there was to boycott her stall. After several increasingly difficult attempts to get Sam to go eat, I realized what she was telling me. It is "TIME" mom! So, I held my breath, put up the two most aggressive horses, and turned her out with Rusty, Tanner, Bonnie, Moon, and Magic. They accepted her with very little reaction at all. Tanner quickly showed her to her place and the grazing began. After I was sure there were not going to be fireworks, I turned out Trace with the same reaction as before; and then last but not least Misty. Misty is if you remember Sam's Dam. She has not been the most welcoming member of our herd. There were no fireworks for this Independence day, just lots of grass, and some new friends.

It is good to see the excitement Sam exhibits. It is obvious she is happy, when you look out into the big green field to see her running, bucking, and rearing with her new friends. She isn't of course in a field of old horses. They are all ranging in age from 3 to 10 except for Misty who is 24. There is lots of playful energy for her and really this time, she was right. It was time to join the herd. Her human mom was being over protective.

Sam has come so far. She is gaining confidence, and her personality is shining. I am such a blessed and fortunate person to have all of these wonderful horses in my life. With all the trials we as people endure it is us who are the lucky ones to have the love of a horse.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Trim...

Sam's feet were in better shape than I expected them to be. I don't know if they have ever been trimmed or not but were not horrible. The heel was long and the toe was short, she walks a little post legged but I know it will be better.

We have been working on proper foot behavior for a couple of weeks now. Nothing to fast or furious, just the occasional pick up and hold for cleaning. I wanted to learn how to trim her in the bare foot style before she was trimmed the first time. Knowing she has never had shoes on she has to have a tough sole so I didn't want to trim away a good thing. So the time had come for the trim, and I was completely surprised how well she took the strange feelings and pressure. The first three went amazingly well. But the last one, well that a foot of a different story.

She didn't want to give it to me. She pulled it away, she tried to sit on me, she tried to stand in my hand, if you can imagine it she tried it all except kicking me (refer to the feet are used for walking lessons). But she absolutely was not going to give me that foot. I noticed that she was cocking the other hip even when I was not trying to get that foot, so I began feeling the muscles up and down her back and hips. There it was a knot the size of an orange just behind the pelvis. I massaged the best I could and worked on rubbing the knot out of the muscle. At one point Sam was really leaning into me and had her neck stretched out as if it really felt good. I never did get the knot to go completely away but it was much smaller when I quit rubbing.
I ask her to give me the back foot again and she did, but only for a min. I decided I would give her a break and my back one too. While I was resting Sam was standing tied, but suddenly she decided she didn't want to be tied anymore. She began pitching what I would describe as a child's throw your body on the floor temper tantrum. *Sigh* Here we go again. I really thought we had gotten over this but alas I guess not. I can't just unhook her that would only teach her to act bad and she will get what she wants. So I moved her to a different spot where she couldn't hurt herself; and channeled Mugwump. LOL I let her stand tied and throw her fit until she decided that she wasn't going to get anywhere. I closely watched her to make sure she didn't get herself in a bad spot, while I trimmed the feet of her horsey mom.

Misty is 24, and a saint as horses go. She does show the sparks of what she was like at Sam's age occasionally but for the most part she is resigned to acceptable behavior. I always said I wish I had know Misty when she was young. HA HA, that is a lesson in watch what you wish for.

When I finished trimming Misty's feet, Sam had finally decided she wasn't gaining any ground with her antics. She was standing calmly hip shot and nose resting low. I retrieved her and quietly finished the work on that last foot.

Wow! What a day. It is obvious now that Sam needs to be seen by a equine chiropractor and massage therapist. Her tendons have been shortened because her heels were long, but that too will get better. She really has come so far from the timid quiet horse I brought home over a month ago. It won't be long before she can go out to the big field with the other horses.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ahh the horse inside...

The unique thing that I love the most about horses is their individual personalities. Each one is different in their own subtle way but alike in so many others. Occasionally you will run across one that has a huge personality and everyone is drawn to them. I seem to have more than my share of these personalities in my barn. I am not sure why but maybe it is because I allow them to express themselves naturally.

When Sam came home she was so quiet, timid, and stand offish. As she has now been home for a month her true colors are starting to show through. She LOVES company and delights in seeing the other horses in the herd. I have started leaving one at a time up with her in her small pasture so that she can get to know them. The funniest thing about her is the desire to be with people. She is the only horse I have ever been around that acts like a small child when they see a loved one. She nickers and comes running, not walking, or sauntering, but RUNNING. I just have to laugh every time.

Yesterday, when putting the horses up, my daughter was having trouble getting Sam's door to shut on her stall. She had put her feed in the bucket and Sam was happily eating when She decided that Sam would have to go to the other stall. She took her bucket and Sam was like "Wait, I am not finished with that!" You could see it all over her face. Sam followed her to the other stall and was content to eat what was in that bucket. My daughter brought up the other horses, and when they were secure in the big barn Sam's door was opened for her to have free access to the pasture again. Immediately Sam ran into her stall to check the bucket, she just knew there would be more feed in there. For the next several minutes Sam went back and forth between the stalls checking both buckets. It was almost like she thought they were self filling or something.

The curiosity of a horse is as precious as the curiosity of a child. We should all learn to embrace this, and allow our horses to develop and express the individual they truly are. Of course we must set boundaries to prevent harm to us or to them, but we shouldn't be afraid to allow them to express opinions, likes and dislikes. As Mugwump was talking about in yesterdays blog; we have to listen to what our horses are telling us. Have a dialog with them, allow them to tell us they don't like something, and be kind enough to say OK, but we are going to do it like this. We wouldn't be expect to treat each other with less respect than this. Why should we treat or horses with less respect? We shouldn't.

On Sam's training. She has learned that feet are used for walking, not expressing her opinion to "Mom". She has also learned that she gets her feed faster if she keeps her head out of the bucket. She is picking up her feet and allowing me to hold them; and she has learned that letting "Mom" see her tail is a cool thing cause she scratches it. (again related to feet are used for walking) She seems to maybe be gaining weight again, but it is still early. She has come along way, but has more to go. Her feet are starting to look healthy and shiny at the top and I believe she has finally gained enough weight for the vet to come do her teeth.

More later.....