Saturday, December 31, 2011

Angel - One Year Later

Angel's first blog was posted on Jan. 1, 2011. It is now one year later, Dec. 31, 2011. There is no better way to show you how far Angel has come this year than to share a few photos. All the photos in today's blog were taken and generously shared by Lorrine Carrara. These photos were taken on Dec. 29, 2011 as Angel had her feet trimmed by Denise Field of In Balance Equine ( Denise is a wonderful horsewoman and she is so quiet and patient with nervous horses. I am extremely grateful for her assistance with Angel this year, and for her helping Angel to have only positive experiences having her feet trimmed. Here Denise is getting reacquainted with Angel.
This was the first trim where Denise asked Angel to put all four feet on the Hoofjack (hoof stand). When they first started working together, Angel was very fearful of all farrier's tools. Here Denise lets Angel sniff and investigate the Hoofjack. Denise commented that Angel has become "very curious" as she has begun trusting people more.
Left front foot on the Hoofjack. So far, so good.
Right front is trimmed. Angel was not at all worried about the farrier's tools today, so Denise was able to use whatever tools she preferred (this was the first time Angel was relaxed and accepting of all the farrier's tools).
Angel is still curious about the Hoofjack and Denise gave her many opportunities to check it out.
Right front foot on the Hoofjack.
Now came the real test - the hind feet. Denise and I are both well aware of Angel's history of kicking and using her back feet defensively when she was frightened. Denise had not asked for her to rest her back feet on the Hoofjack before. In fact, today was the first substantial trim to her back feet in this first year. You can see in the photos how it went. Left hind foot - check!
Here we go - last hoof. Right hind on the Hoofjack. Lookin' good!
Congratulations, Denise and Angel, on a job very well done! Angel, you have come a long ways during our first year together. Can't wait to see what 2012 will bring!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Nine Month Photo Report - Angel's First Training Clinic

Angel came to live at my house nine months ago, on December 26, 2010. Just to keep it in perspective, this is Angel the day she arrived at the San Martin Animal Shelter on December 9, 2010.

Nine months later, on Sept. 30 and Oct. 2, 2011, Angel attended her first Jerry Tindell natural horsemanship clinic. This was her second trip across the tarp. At this clinic it became obvious that someone had spent some time with her and put a training foundation on her earlier in her life. Most horses do not look like this the first time they walk across a tarp!

For the first nine months, I had never cleaned Angel's back feet. With her history of kicking and defensive posturing at the beginning of our relationship, I was afraid of her back feet. So I had never cleaned them. My goal for the first day of the clinic was to successfully clean her back feet. Just for fun, I am including photos to show that cleaning her back feet is now easy to do. This is the right hind.

This is the left hind. You can see she is calm (bored?) and doesn't seem bothered in the slightest. She has not threatened to kick in about six months. I am hoping she no longer feels the need to protect herself with her back feet. My initial goals for the clinic were low - I only wanted to feel safe enough to clean her back feet!

Jerry worked with her back feet first. He used the rope around her feet and legs, around her belly and girth and flank. She was not bothered by the rope at all. It seemed obvious to me that someone had worked with her before, getting her used to ropes all over the sensitive areas of her body. She was much more competent with the rope than I was.

Angel crossed the tarp both directions, stopped and turned on it, backed across it and did not seem to care. Having previously owned a horse who was terrified of tarps, I was amazed by her incredibly calm response. Again, I do not believe this was the first tarp she had walked across.

I was completely blown away by her non-response to the tarp. This is mostly because getting Nick across the tarp was such an ordeal and literally required hours of work. Looks to me like someone else did the work for me. I just don't know who it is or how to tell them thank you.

Angel shocked me and did so well at the first day of the clinic, I decided to bring her back for a second day and see what else she knew. On the second day, I worked with a plastic bag on the end of a lunge whip. Not her favorite thing in the world. But the worst thing that she did was to trot fast to get away from it.

It did not take her long to accept the plastic bag. She was not thrilled about it, but she did trust me enough to stand still and allow me to rub it on her.

I was truly shocked by how quiet and calm she was at this clinic. It made me wonder if she has been a ranch horse. She stood quietly and patiently while others worked with cattle. She seemed at home on the ranch and not at all concerned about all the other people, horses and cattle.

This is what she looked like for most of two days. Initially, I was afraid she was getting sick or something! But now I don't think so. I think she felt comfortable and at home on a ranch and was glad to have work to do.

In fact, she did so well, I've got a training program in mind to start getting her ready to ride! She needs to develop aerobic stamina and back muscles. And we will continue to work on helping her become quieter, softer and more trusting. But wow! Stay tuned - there's a new horse in town!

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Humbling Day for the Human

Sort of on a whim, I took Angel to her first Jerry Tindell clinic today. Hopefully this will be the first of many natural horsemanship clinics with Jerry. Angel had an awesome day and I (the human) was very humbled.

I was humbled because several things that I thought I "knew" are probably going to end up not being true. In other words, I thought I "knew" something and I am completely, dead wrong.

The most significant falsehood that may turn out to be not true is that I may have completely misjudged and misunderstood Angel's basic personality. The horse that participated in the groundwork clinic today was calm, quiet, content, cooperative and trusting. She was not at all the energetic, worried, fretting horse that I expected her to be. After today I am realizing that I may have been observing the negative effects of past trauma, abuse and neglect - and believing that those negative effects are Angel's true personality. But today, I saw a completely different horse. I saw a quiet, calm, trusting horse who tries very hard to please the humans. Angel was calmer in one day than Nick was in the entire first year (possibly two!) of clinics we attended. I have a strong feeling that the quiet, calm, trusting Angel may be the "real" Angel deep inside, underneath the layer of trauma and neglect.

Today was a real breakthrough for me, and probably for Angel as well. Angel had the opportunity to shine - to show what she is truly capable of in behaviors and in relationship. And I had the opportunity to take off the glasses that no longer fit and see Angel as the horse she is capable of becoming, not as the damaged, pathetic, worthless horse she used to be. The horse I saw today was cute, eager to please and on her way to becoming a horse of value, with something good to offer the world.

At the end of the day today, I looked at Angel and I thought, "Someday, someone is really going to want you. You will no longer be an abandoned, rejected throw-away horse. You are going to have value in someone else's eyes. But they won't be able to have you, because you will be mine!" This is another idea I need to let go of. Today Angel was not a "rescue/shelter" horse. She was not a pathetic, rejected, ugly, dangerous, worthless animal found wandering alone on a country road and sent to the county shelter because no one wanted her. She was a cute, quiet, well-behaved, cooperative horse. She trailered well and travelled well and behaved beautifully. That's just a nice horse!

Another idea I realized today that I will probably choose to let go of, is the idea that I will never ride Angel. Until today, the idea of getting on her back had the same appeal for me as taking up bull riding (and about the same chance of success!). I looked at her in the clinic today, trying so hard to please, trusting me to take care of her, and I thought, "I could ride this horse! I would trust this horse to do the right thing with me on her back!" This was also a very new idea, because until today, I could never imagine trusting her enough to want to get on her back. But after the clinic today, I am looking forward to riding her! I can even visualize myself riding her on trails and having a grand time, like Nick and I used to have. Except I think she has the potential to be a calmer trail horse than Nick ever was!

Angel and I came home from the clinic and I think we were both tired. After everything was put away, we hung out together in her stall for about an hour, just being quiet together and letting the success of the day soak in. This feels like the beginning of a new partnership.

Monday, August 29, 2011

She's a Keeper!

This week-end I decided to adopt Angel. Eight months ago she came to live at my house as a temporary guest, a foster horse from the county animal shelter. Nick (my personal Arabian) had died two days earlier, completely unexpectedly, and I was heartbroken. Angel was invited to live temporarily in his paddock, mostly to keep me from crying every time I looked at it. So she's been living there and we've had fun (well, at least I've had fun) getting to know each other.

But I wasn't sure if she was going to stay or not. I wasn't sure if she was ever going to be a safe horse around humans and I wasn't sure if she had other undiagnosed health problems, especially related to her breathing. She's not exactly an easy horse for a vet to examine! So even though it had been eight months, I was putting off thinking about whether or not she was going to stay. There was no pressure to make a decision and I really did not know what to do.

Well, this week-end, I decided to keep her. I don't know for how long. But at least for now. So today I signed the Adoption Agreement with the county shelter and now she is officially mine. I now own a second high-headed, overly-reactive, chestnut Arabian-type. After owning Nick, I said that I would never own another Arabian. Well, as of today, I do. My first Arabian had champion blood lines and fancy papers. This one was found walking down the middle of a road, starving, abused, abandoned and possibly pregnant.

"Why?" you might be asking yourself. "Why take on an abandoned, starving horse with a history of kicking at people?" That is a question I have been asking myself! The answer is, "Because I like her" and "Because she's fun." Angel is a very expressive, animated, people-oriented horse. I think she would have made a wonderful circus trick pony, because she is so expressive. Every thought that passes through her overly-active mind is expressed in her face or her body. She does not internalize her thoughts or her feelings - she expresses every one of them! She is a true extrovert.

And the other truth is, I enjoy a challenge, as long as I feel like I have a reasonable chance of being successful. I don't like challenges where I think I am doomed to failure. But I don't mind being stretched as long as there is some possibility of success. (I do, after all, run a non-profit therapeutic riding program during the worst economic climate of our lifetimes.)

So today, I invited Angel to stay and become a part of my family. I'm not making any promises except that I will feed her and take care of her and look after her to the best of my ability. I don't know if I or any one will ever ride her - too early to make that decision. I have lots of nice horses I can ride, when I want to ride. So it's not important to me that she be a riding horse. If she continues calming down as she has been, and if I think it can be safely done, I may find a trainer to work with her under saddle at some point in the future. But maybe not, it really doesn't matter at this point.

Here is the deal: I will work with Angel as long as she works with me (and any other humans I ask her to work with). She has to do her part and become a safe, responsible horse and be responsible for her own actions. As long as she does that, I will take care of her. If she ever stops cooperating and stops being a safe horse, I will put her down. No horse is worth a human getting hurt. But I believe she is only dangerous when she is frightened and panicked. I believe that when she feels safe and comfortable, she wants to be with people and would not intentionally hurt anyone.

This week-end I saw her inter-acting with new people, and seeking out attention from people. (OK, I know she was really seeking out cookies, but she does think that people bring cookies, which is better than thinking that people beat you.) She is still very reactive and has obviously been hit on her head. This week-end I was affectionately rubbing her forehead with her head relaxed and down. When I was finished rubbing her, I patted her gently on the forehead and that caused her to rear in fear. I made a note to self to never pat her on the forehead again!

I did see a gait this week-end I had not seen before. It's called a trot. I've seen other horses do it, and even ridden it myself, but I had never seen Angel do it. Before this week-end I had only seen two gaits: panic/bunny-hop/run-for-your-life-crazed-adrenaline-bolt and stop. This week-end I saw a nice, relaxed trot - two days in a row! That showed me she is calming down. After she trotted like a relaxed "normal" horse (that has not been abused), she also breathed like a normal horse (without the strange wheezing strangulation sound after she had almost run herself to death).

She has now had all four feet successfully trimmed (thank you, Denise!). She will stand still for fly spray without holding the lead. I have combed her tail and can handle her back legs. (Huge accomplishments from my point of view!) She will lower her head upon request. I know she likes baths. She is now able to trot in the arena and walk around the ranch without panicking. When she's upset, she generally bobs her head up and down very vigorously, but her front feet rarely leave the ground any more. She's come quite a ways from when she arrived eight months ago. So, Angel, welcome to the family! "The future's so bright we gotta wear shades!"

Monday, August 1, 2011


This past week-end I went to see the movie "Buck" - a documentary about a horse trainer named Buck Brannaman. I loved the movie and plan to see it again. The movie got me thinking about quite a few things and about some horses. One of the horses it got me thinking about is Angel.

Angel has now been living at my house for seven months. As you might be able to see in these photos, she is now fat. Even though she has only been eating one flake of grass hay in the morning and one flake at night, she is now, officially, fat. I gave her the bad news yesterday that I am cutting back on her food even more.

I am so pleased how she completely shedded out her weird, wiry, ugly winter coat. She is now sleek and shiny and dappled and her coat is soft and silky. It's amazing what a little hay will do for a horse! I'm still waiting for her mane and tail to improve a little, but that will take more time.

Angel has a new fly mask with faux fur trim and she now wears a fly mask and fly spray like any other civilized, respectable horse. She is learning that ripping open the velcro while the fly mask is on her face will not hurt her, even though I admit, the sound is a little weird. She has met goals #1 (wear a fly mask) and #2 (accept fly spray) from the last blog. During August, we are going to work on the bath and feet trim goals. Stay tuned for more progress!

By my records, Angel has not kicked at any persons since the end of January. That makes it six months since she has kicked at a person (that I am aware of). Way to go, Angel!

It was her habit of kicking and my concerns about my safety and the safety of other people that got me thinking about her during the movie "Buck." There is a dangerous horse featured in the movie. A very dangerous, aggressive horse that is brought to a Buck Brannaman clinic for training. The horse is removed from the clinic and a participant asks Buck, "What were you thinking?" when he was working with this very dangerous horse.

I am going to see the movie again, mostly so I can get this quote right. But what I remember is Buck said something like, "It would never cross my mind to think about a horse with contempt." That really stuck with me. He went on and said something like, "That horse has a man-made problem. That is not a horse problem. That problem was created by humans." And that reminded me of Angel.

The movie was also interesting to see a truly dangerous horse on the other end of the continuum. Angel may be fearful and nervous, but she so wants to relate and she wants to be friends and she wants to please. I believe that somewhere in her past, someone loved her and treated her well. Then she fell on hard times and almost starved to death and was found, abandoned, walking down a busy road.

Stay tuned: if the weather cooperates, we are going to try the first bath this week-end! I can't wait to see how that is going to go. And any DreamPower volunteers who read this, we are going to have a "movie night" and show "Buck" for all our volunteers, as soon as it is out on DVD.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I Wish She Could Talk

I wish Angel could talk and tell us her story. I wish she could tell us where she has been and what happened to her, so that we could understand her and help her to feel safe more quickly.

Last week I went to my mother's house in Texas for a a few days. I got to hang out with family and enjoy time with my mom and my siblings. I also slept in my childhood bed, surrounded by books from my childhood. One of the books on the shelf was a children's pictorial version of Anna Sewell's classic "Black Beauty." Inside the cover was carefully printed in my childish printing, "This Book Belongs to Martha McNiel."

I pulled that book off the shelf and the cover came apart in my hands. But I sat on the bed and read the children's version of "Black Beauty" in one hour. It made me cry, and it reminded me so much of Angel. How Black Beauty went from home to home and owner to owner. Some good, some bad. Some kind and some harsh. I believe Angel's story is like Black Beauty's. I think she has had one or more owners who loved her and cared for her. And I know she has had at least one owner who beat her and did not feed her. It really made me wish our horses could talk and tell us where they have been and what has made them into the creatures we care for today.

Angel is about 70% shedded out. What is most striking to me - besides the interesting color she is right now and how different parts of her body are different colors - are the markings that appear to be scars. With a short and sleek summer coat growing in, the scars are more visible than when she had a woolly winter coat.

I do not know what has caused these marks, whether injury, accident, illness, or what. But everyone who has looked at them in person seems to agree - they are scars, and very possibly from human abuse. Today I took photos of the three most noticeably scarred areas: her nose, under her eye and her back.

Debbie Krimsley was out today for Angel's craniosacral body work treatment. While she was working around Angel's face, Debbie noticed a scar I had not seen before. This could definitely explain one of the reasons that Angel is so head-shy. Under her left eye you can clearly see the lines of a jagged scar and the face bone is indented more than on the right side.

Since we do not know what happened, it is impossible to know if she was hit in the face intentionally and that is why she is so head-shy, or if she ran into something and injured her face and the pain of that injury made her head-shy. But you can clearly see the lines of a jagged scar and the bone is shaped differently on the left side of her face. It is very fortunate that whatever cut her pretty face missed her eye, although you can see that it came very close.

There are actually quite a few possible old injury scars on her face. On the bridge of her nose are white hairs and an indentation that looks like a halter was left on her face for months or years and it created an indentation on the bridge of her nose. The white hairs and the indentation are permanent. She also looks to have a scar on the right jaw. In the photo you can also see two white dots on her face where white hairs have grown in.

But the most noticeable scars, now that she has shed most of her winter coat, are along her spine. Because of the lighting in the photos, the white scars may be difficult to see. But in person, they stand out on her dark chestnut back. She has ragged, uneven white scarring along her spine from her withers to the tailhead. I wish she could talk and tell us what happened! We will probably never know if she scraped her back going under a trailer door or under a fence or if she was whipped or if she had a skin condition or if she got into some other predicament only a horse could come up with and humans wrongly imagine could never happen.

I must tell you, I do fantasize that some day a stranger will be passing down the street where Angel lives, and they will stop and tell me that they recognize that horse and they will tell me her story. I have a creative imagination!

So while I do not know Angel's past, I can tell you how things are going in the present. Her udder is still bagged up and now she is dripping milk. It appears that the symptoms of ulcers are all gone. I can now brush her sides without a problem. Today Debbie was able to touch her belly and abdomen for the first time. Angel is becoming very expressive and curious.
She is calmer and more trusting, though she is still very wary of people she does not know and she over-reacts to a hand raised around her head. I've had to cut her back to two flakes of hay per day, because she is such an easy keeper. Which makes me realize how long she was under-fed, to end up in the condition she was in when she came to the shelter. Based on her reaction today, it appears that she has never been introduced to fly spray.
So here are Angel's next goals:
1. To become comfortable with fly spray.
2. To agree to wear a fly mask calmly.
3. To become comfortable getting a bath.
4. To get her feet trimmed calmly.

I don't know her history, but those are my goals for Angel's immediate future. And if you haven't read "Black Beauty" recently, it's worth a re-read!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

First Hoof Trim is a Huge Success!

Wow! That's all I can say. Wow! Denise Field has a wonderful way with horses. And wow! Angel has come a long way. Wow!
Today was the first serious attempt at handling Angel's feet, with the eventual hoped-for result being the ability to safely trim her feet. Denise Field of In Balance Equine had offered to work with Angel and trim her feet. I was not sure how this would go and had very low expectations. Angel is still extremely wary of strangers and she takes quite a while to trust someone new. So Denise and I agreed in advance that today would probably be a "get-acquainted" session and the goal would be to handle her feet. Next time we might go for an actual trim.

Denise asked to start the session without a halter, just getting to know Angel. Angel was not sure about relating to a stranger. She frequently walked away and at times, disrespectfully turned her butt to Denise. Denise was quiet, calm and requested that Angel turn her beautiful head towards her and not swing her butt so rudely. Denise just followed her around the paddock, asking Angel to pay attention to her.
After a while, Angel relaxed a bit and seemed to accept that Denise was not intending to hurt her. Angel was still wary, but she did not seem to be so afraid. Then Denise haltered her and asked Angel to move a little bit at her request. Angel complied reasonably well. She actually accepted Denise's invitations much more readily than I expected and behaved herself much better than I expected. Both Denise and Angel exceeded my expectations today!
Denise waited to put the halter on until she thought Angel was ready. You can see by the expression on each of their faces that things were going well. Denise runs a small horse rescue called Horses In Need. She has a lot of experience with abused and rescued horses, and her calm and confident manner showed a lot of experience with horses like Angel. After the halter was on, Denise continued just as she had before, following Angel around the paddock. She began handling her legs and feet more, and asking Angel to lift and hold her feet.
Sometimes Angel did not want to hold her foot up and she swished her tail and expressed her displeasure. But she was no longer afraid, she just didn't like it. There was a very clear difference and Denise treated the attitude differently than she did the fear.
Denise gradually got a better and better response. Angel stopped walking off, stopped pulling her foot and began to agree to stand still while Denise handled her foot. Angel stopped swishing her tail, stopped turning her butt and seemed to agree that it was OK for Denise to hold her foot in the air.
Then Denise brought out the first tool - a hoof pick. She allowed Angel to smell it and touch it with her nose. Denise cleaned both of Angel's front feet. To my amazement, she said Angel did not have thrush, even though her feet had not been picked out in more than four months. We had not planned to actually trim any feet today. But Angel was being so cooperative, Denise decided to try to trim a little bit off the front feet, which were quite long. So she came back with nippers, a rasp and gloves. Angel was a little concerned about these new tools.
But as you can see in the photo, her concerns quickly melted away. By the end of the session, Denise had cleaned and trimmed both front feet. Denise and I were both extremely pleased! She handled Angel's back legs quite a bit, down to the hoof. But we are going to save the back feet for next time, when Angel has had more of a chance to develop trust in Denise. I know from her work with Debbie Krimsley that Angel gets progressively more relaxed, the more times she meets someone. So I think giving her another opportunity to spend time with Denise before lifting the back feet will be safer and more productive.
Here is how the session ended. Two front feet cleaned and trimmed. Two back legs handled safely. And a calm and happy horse. It doesn't get much better than that!

I want to express my very sincere gratitude to Denise, who is donating her services to Angel. Denise has a wonderful, quiet way with wary horses and she really won Angel's trust. And it was wonderful to see how far Angel has come. She has made tremendous progress in her willingness to give human beings another chance. The white scars on her back are more and more visible and I do wonder what gave her those scars. Regardless of her past, Angel seems willing to believe that humans might be trustworthy after all.

You can reach Denise Field at

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Shedding Season!

Angel arrived fifteen weeks ago today. She was skinny, scared, mistrustful and kicked rather often. During the past fifteen weeks, she has gained approximately 300 pounds, has stopped rearing and she has not been observed kicking in over a month. She is becoming friendly and calls out a greeting whenever she thinks it might be time to eat. Yesterday she allowed Debbie Krimsley to handle and work on her forehead, jaw and poll. Now, instead of rearing when she is frightened, she vigorously bobs her head up and down, but her front feet remain solidly on the ground.
Angel is in the middle of shedding season. She looks rather like an old moth-eaten velour jacket at the moment. She still has strange ripples in the hair on her neck, which look like really cheap velvet, in a strange and "wrong" sort of way. She has a coat that I have not seen on a horse before. It is the wrong texture, is dull and coarse and just looks "wrong." Fortunately, she is shedding a lot, and I am eagerly waiting to see if the new summer coat that comes in will look better. I am hoping for a sleek and shiny, healthy copper-penney look. But since I don't know how long a horse must have good nutrition before you can see it in their coat, I don't know if her summer coat will look better or not. At the moment, she just looks like an old velour stuffed animal with half of its fur rubbed off.
The two photos above were both taken on April 9, 2011. The photo at left was taken on Dec. 9, 2010 when Angel had recently arrived at the Animal Shelter in San Martin. I feel like Angel is making good progress. She had another very successful bodywork session with Debbie Krimsley yesterday. Angel was more alert and aware of her surroundings during this session, but she was able to hear sounds and observe sights without feeling the need to move her feet. She stood very quietly and very still while Debbie worked on her, even though her ears and eyes and head were moving a lot, taking in the activities around her. Debbie got to touch and start working on places she had previously not been able to touch (including her forehead and under her jaw).

I am sure that Angel was disappointed to notice that she was receiving less food this week. As I was grooming her and trying to get that yucky old hair off, I realized that I can no longer feel any ribs! And the point of the hip that used to protrude prominently is now soft and rounded. So I cut back her feed to two flakes of alfalfa and about 3 lbs. of grain per day. (For the past four months she has been eating 2-3 flakes of alfalfa and 4-8 pounds of grain per day!) I plan to start exercising her a little bit more, but not a lot. She is still taking very shallow breaths and her breathing doesn't seem "right" when she runs. I am hoping with more time to relax and more of a sense of safety, maybe she will be able to breathe more deeply and use all of her body more properly. We have time, there is no hurry.

One evening last week I was grooming Angel in her pen. It was the end of a long day and I was using a shedding blade to try to hurry up the shedding process. Angel was standing quietly, without a halter and without food, just enjoying being groomed. The night was dark, but the barn lights were on. After I had been grooming her for about thirty minutes, I was a little startled when I looked around and saw that she was standing in front of an open gate! Apparently I had not latched the gate properly. Angel had pushed it open with her nose, and the gate was standing open in front of her. Since I did not have a halter on her, she could have left at any time! But she chose to stay and be groomed. I'd like to think she decided to stay because she enjoys my company. But I think the truth may be that she is as tired of that weird-looking, icky old winter coat as I am, and she just wanted me to get it off of her as soon as possible.