Sunday, January 23, 2011

Week Four: An Exquisitely Sensitive Mare

That's how I would describe Angel: "an exquisitely sensitive mare." Angel arrived in my keeping four weeks ago today. The more I get to know her, the more "exquisitely sensitive" she seems to be. If she ever calms down enough to be predictably safe, she will make an AWESOME therapy horse, because she is so incredibly sensitive to human emotions and states.

How do I know this? Personal experience! When I go out to spend time with her and I am feeling sad, upset, angry, scared or perturbed in any way, Angel will walk away quickly. If I try to make her stay, she will pin her ears and be visibly upset.

But - if I am aware of what is happening and I can stop myself, step back, breathe, check in about what I am feeling and find my center, I can go back to her and she is like a different horse. She is a breathing equine biofeedback machine! Now, truly, many horses have this capacity. But the horses I have always had in my life had enough training, good experiences, self-control and probably kindness that they do/did not react to the degree that Angel does. Because she is so fearful and we are still getting to know each other, any strong negative emotion that I am feeling results in strong negative behaviors from her. I wish I had videotapes of our encounters the past two weeks.

A few days ago I took Angel down to the round pen, to give her a chance to run around a little bit. She has been eating good food and gaining weight for the past four weeks, and she has also been showing a lot more energy. As she was running in the round pen this week, she fired out with both hind legs in a sudden, high, explosive kick that scared me. I was far away from her, in a completely safe location, but the speed and power of that double-barrel kick scared me.

I've never owned a horse that kicks. This is a new experience for me. And not one I'm comfortable with nor pleased about. She kicked at the vet during her first vet exam and kicked three times during her first body work session. She has not yet connected with a human being that I am aware of (since she came to the shelter and subsequently to my house), but I don't like the kicking! She has not yet kicked at me. But I think it is only a matter of time, if I am not very careful.

This week I cleaned all the "boogers" out of Angel's eyes. It was the first time she has let me touch her eyes. I was happy to get them cleaned up and looking prettier. And I was very happy that she trusted me enough to allow me to mess around with her eyes.

She is allowing me to pet her head and poll and ears and head. She drops her head consistently when asked and is keeping it down longer and longer. She really does seem to want to please.

It appears to me that Angel kicks when she is scared or in pain. So the way to be safe around her is to help her feel safe and to not inflict pain. That sounds simple, but is probably not as simple as it sounds.

When I am scared or in pain, I frequently lash out at whoever happens to cross my path. I generally don't kick people physically, but I can deliver a mean verbal kick. Angel and I will both be working on feeling safe and learning to control ourselves when we are upset.

We played around some more with the pedastal, but I am questioning my judgement on that one and may decide not to do it right now. Haven't fully decided yet. You can see the famous purple pedastal in the corner of the photo at right. I'm thinking that since her "default" fear reaction is to fling her head to the sky and rear, it might not be the smartest thing to teach her to step onto a pedastal before we have a stronger relationship. We played around with it today and she has no idea what I want her to do. So she just stands very close to the pedastal and drops her head lower and lower and waits for me to praise her. That may be the best use of the pedastal at this time in Angel's life. :)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Three Week Photo Report

Angel arrived at my house 21 days ago. Today she had her first craniosacral therapy appointment. I will show you photos of that in a minute. But first, here are a few photos from her burst of running yesterday.
This is an excellent photo of how a horse should NOT look when it is running! Among many other things, can you see how muscled the bottom of her neck is and how there is no muscle on top (the "topline" curves the wrong way)? She is a textbook example of an "upside-down horse."
Here she is again, in a frantic burst of out-of-control energy. Not very aesthetically pleasing! Not good for the horse's body or mind, either.
After she had run around a bit, she got her body a little more organized. She looks to have a very smooth trot.
She was showing off for the geldings next door. Angel and the geldings were all very impressed with each other.
Angel had her first craniosacral therapy appointment with Debbie Krimsley, CESMT today. Debbie has offered to work on Angel pro bono, and Angel and the animal shelter staff and I are all grateful to Debbie for her willingness to do that!
Can you see how she is dropping her right hip, resting her rear right hoof and her eyes are half-closed? For part of the session, she was very relaxed and *almost* allowed herself to enjoy the body work.
Let me say first that Deb is a very brave woman! She has a wonderful ability to read horses and a very calm, quiet presence to which Angel responded very well (most of the time). Angel did kick out twice and threatened a third time, probably due to pain from her incredibly tight and poorly functioning muscles. Deb heard her protest, but was not phased. Wow!
Angel did remember her manners when it came to dropping her head. I was SO pleased with the work Debbie could do on her poll, forehead and head. I was thrilled that Angel allowed a new person to work on her, with her head comfortably lowered.
Brigid Wassen, the Shelter Supervisor for the Santa Clara County Animal Shelter in San Martin, stopped by to see how the foster horse was doing. I think she is pleased with Angel's progress.
Here we are at the end of the first craniosacral therapy session. Deb is videotaping "before" and "after" each session, so she can chart the difference in Angel's posture and movement. If you would like more information on Debbie Krimsley and Four Seasons Equine Wellness, she can be reached at 831-402-1340. Many thanks to Gisele Mitsuk, for photographing the session today. Debbie got more work done on Angel today than I had thought would be possible. I was very impressed with Debbie's quiet confidence and her ability to read the horse. Thanks, Debbie!

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Step Up

Today Angel and I walked to the arena at the back of the property. It has mostly dried up from all the rain. I took off her halter and stepped back. She launched herself like a rocket - dead run as fast as she could go. Her stubby, chewed-off tail sprayed over her back like a bad hair piece at the wrong angle. She bolted like a bat out of hell. Did I mention that she ran very, very fast?

I stood back and watched in amazement. My first thought was, "She could turn out to be a lot of horse!" I felt like I was watching Nick all over again. The more food she gets in her and the more weight she gains, the more she looks like an Arabian. She did a beautiful, elevated floating trot around the arena several times. After her explosion had subsided, I walked up to her. She was breathing so hard I was worried about her. It took her about 20 minutes to stop panting! Poor girl, she had a strong desire to run but she is in such poor aerobic condition her body couldn't do what her mind said! I understood that completely!

I put the halter back on her and we walked around and around the arena, with me hoping she wasn't going to die from a heart attack. We walked forwards and backwards and right and left. She is very attentive and very tuned in and honestly, very light on the lead rope (as long as you do not restrain her head!). She learned how to back up a new way today (the wiggle-rope back up). She already knew how to back in response to a pull on the lead rope, but today she learned a new way to back up. She was happy to drop her head almost all the way to the ground. She let me massage her poll and her forehead with her head down.

I feel a little bit limited in working with her, because I have been taught to start a horse (or re-start a horse) by working them in a round pen or on a halter rope. This involves making the horse move (at a trot or canter). Because I want Angel to gain weight and she is in such poor physical condition, I don't want to do that with her yet. So I am trying some things with her out-of-sequence and I don't know if they will work or not.

I have been looking at the wonderful purple pedastal that Garry Stauber made for me about seven years ago. It is located outside Nick's paddock and Nick and the mini's and I used to play around on it. Nick looked very proud of himself when he would stand on the pedastal. Garry was very proud of himself the day he rode Nick up onto the pedastal, bareback! I've been looking at it and wondering how long I should wait before I try it with Angel.

Well, I decided there was no reason to wait. The worst thing that could happen was probably nothing. I *think* I know enough about working with a horse on the pedastal to keep myself in a safe position and not get hurt. I knew I wasn't going to push her at all, so I was confident I could keep Angel comfortable and safe. So why not?

So after she was finally breathing at a normal rate, I pulled the purple pedastal into a safe working place and introduced Angel to it. She was very, very cute. Now, whenever she is confused and doesn't understand what I am asking, she drops her head and waits. If I don't praise her right away, she drops her head lower and waits. I ALWAYS praise her when she is standing calmly with her head down!

Today she did not really understand that I wanted her to put her front feet up on the purple wooden box! She did smell it and several times lifted a front foot, so I could see she was thinking about stepping up. We really don't have enough good ground communication yet to really justify doing this with her, but I figured it wouldn't hurt and she might figure it out.

We ended the day with her standing with her front feet up against the pedastal and her head and neck over the pedastal, dropping lower and lower, until her chin was almost resting on it. I just kept praising her and she kept dropping her head. She is a very smart horse. I say one week and she will have figured it out. It's a little tricky, because I am being so cautious to go slowly and not put any pressure on her. But I think in about one week I will have a photo of Angel on the pedastal. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 10, 2011

She looked like an Arabian today!

Wow! Angel looked like an Arabian! Today I took Angel in the round pen for the first time. This is an "old-fashioned" round pen with solid wooden walls about ten feet high. The horse (and the human) cannot see out at all. Nick used to really freak out in this round pen. He was so anxious in it I did not work him in it very much.

Today I walked Angel down to the round pen (at the back of the property). This was her first walk outside her immediate pen. She was snorting and blowing like a fire-breathing dragon. She was very anxious and concerned about all the new sights around the ranch. I can understand that. If I had been abandoned and left to wander down a road with no human to guide or protect me, I might feel very anxious also, when going to a new place for the first time.

When we got inside the round pen, I had visions of Nick all over again. Angel sure looked like an Arabian today! Head up, stubby chewed-off tail up, beautiful floating trot, snorting and breathing fire. Her canter was not very smooth. I could not tell if this was due to anxiety, poor muscle tone or an injury. She did a lot of "bunny hopping" at the canter, where her hind feet would push off together. I've seen this before in horses that were injured or recovering from an injury, and Nick was a pro at the bunny hop when he was anxious. We stayed in the round pen less than ten minutes. I just wanted to see how she would do in there.

She has a lovely floating trot, very reminiscent of Nick. Her canter was a puzzle. I didn't want her to run around very much, I just wanted to see her move a little, so I let her go at her own pace. As long as she didn't run me over, she could do as she pleased. She was actually much less anxious in there today than Nick ever was. After she finished running a little bit, we worked on leading forwards and backwards and dropping her head.

She was so cute when I went to put her halter on in the round pen. She dropped her head down to her knees as if on cue, so I could put the halter on more easily. When it is time to remove the halter, she actually turns her head and leans the buckle toward me, as if to make it easier to take it off. It's like she is really trying to cooperate! She is becoming much more willing with her head. She was willing to drop it much farther and keep it down longer.
Angel's history is a real puzzle. When she arrived at the shelter and at my house, it was obvious she was afraid and had probably been handled roughly. She was very defensive and afraid of being hurt by a raised hand. Over the past two weeks, it has become apparent to me that someone in her past probably spent good time with her and had a good relationship with her. It makes me wonder if she didn't have a good start in life and have some good human relationship(s) along the way, but the last place she ended up was not good. It's a puzzle. But she is coming around so quickly, I think she must have good memories somewhere in her past.

When she was eating grain at dinner time, I continued to put pressure on her poll. She resisted, but not a lot. She moved her head away about six inches and did not move her feet at all, instead of running away and swinging her butt at me. After a few minutes she allowed me to "massage" her forehead and ears by reaching over the poll from behind her ears. I gave her a firm "massage" on her forehead and she actually seemed to enjoy it. (This is all without a halter - she is free to leave.) Progress!

I am glad that I am writing this blog about her, because it is helping me to keep track of her progress. If I had not written down what she was like at the beginning, I would not realize how far she had come. It is good to acknowledge and keep track of progress, whether our own or someone else's!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Two Week Baby Steps Report

Angel arrived at my house fourteen days ago. She is making baby steps. This is what a baby step looks like. This is the start. Angel's head is high and her neck is braced. This is actually an improvement from how it was when she arrived two weeks ago, but it will give you an idea of our starting point.
Here is the same high-headed brace, looking the other direction. She stands like this a lot. This is the posture of an anxious, worried horse that is ready to run or rear.
Here she is, responding to my request to lower her head. Good girl! She will respond to this request "most of the time" now. This is a baby step toward helping her to relax and trust. A horse that has its head lowered like this is trusting those around it (human or horse) to keep it safe from danger, because it cannot scan the horizon for danger when its head is lowered. When the head is up ("up periscope") the horse can look all around for potential horse-eating mountain lions, bears and T-rexes. This head-down position is the posture of a relaxed and happy horse.
This photo is Angel's biggest accomplishment so far. I am rubbing the top of her head and her poll, rather firmly. Two weeks ago this motion would have sent her into a full-blown rear. Now she is willing to accept petting, stroking and "messing with" both ears, her poll and her forehead. Good girl!
A very legitimate question is, "Why bother with a skinny, abandoned horse with an unknown history and a habit of severe pulling back? Why not just put her down and focus on the many good horses that are available for free these days?" That is a very reasonable question well worth asking, especially in light of today's economic challenges.

Here is my answer to that question. I do not know what Angel's future holds. I do not know how she will respond tomorrow. But here is what I do know today:
1. Angel came along at a time when I had an empty paddock and a broken heart. Working with her makes me realize what a wonderful relationship Nick and I had together. But that relationship was the result of a lot of time and a lot of hard work (and a lot of tears of frustration!). Angel came along when an opening existed in my life.
2. I have limited resources and cannot do much about the suffering of so many, caused by the current economic climate. But this is one horse, found in my neighborhood, that I have the resources to help. I can afford to buy hay and I have time to play with her. I want to do my part to alleviate suffering in the world, however small my part may be.
3. If the situation were reversed, and I was an abandoned horse found walking down a road by a stranger, I would hope that someone would give me a chance to show what I still had to contribute to the world.
4. So far, Angel is doing her part to give herself a good future. I want to respect and honor her efforts. She has been behaving very well (except for her encounters with the vet staff, and she has promised to work on that!). She seems to be very people-oriented and willing to trust humans again. If I had been under-fed, mistreated and abandoned, I am not sure I would be willing to give humans another chance. But so far, she is.
5. The truth is, I like a challenge. I have always liked working with challenging clients and I have the patience to try to put the pieces together and figure out how to reach a challenging human or a challenging horse. And I love to see hidden potential unfold in humans and horses!

Lendon Gray (Olympic and World Championship dressage rider) said, "It is the difficult horses that have the most to give you." Nick taught me the truth of that saying. I think he would tell me to give Angel a chance and see what she can do, just like I gave him a chance many years ago. I will continue to work with her as long as she does her part. And she asked me to let you know that, yes, now she does like carrots!

Thursday, January 6, 2011


One of our DreamPower volunteers today described Angel as "an Angel-in-Training" and I think that is a wonderful description of the new horse outside my window. She is indeed an Angel-in-Training!

In the past 24 hours, I feel like Angel took some major, important baby steps. Yes, a true oxymoron! But she really did accomplish a very significant, tiny achievement.

First, last night Angel allowed me to brush her poll (the sensitive area behind a horse's ears) with my bare hand for the first time. For the first time since we met, she tolerated my petting and stroking her all around both ears, across her poll, messing with her forelock and stroking her face with my bare hand. This is huge. Until last night, if I tried to touch her poll, she would violently fling her head skyward until her chin pointed at the sky. Sometimes her front feet would leave the ground. But while eagerly inhaling grain, she tolerated my attempts at petting and stroking all around the top of her head with my hand, for the first time. Sometimes while she was chewing, she actually moved her head towards me, so that I could stroke her face.

Then today, I got braver. Without the assistance of food, I asked her to lower her head in response to pressure from the lead rope. (Tugging down on the lead rope puts pressure on the top of the halter, across the poll or top of the horse's head.) When she has felt strong pressure there in the past, her head would fly up in pain or panic and she would pull so strongly that her front feet would leave the ground.

Because she was relaxed and comfortable, and had been dropping her head and allowing me to stroke her while she was eating, I decided to try it today, without any food. I just felt like she was ready. It later occurred to me that if she were not ready, this would not have been a helpful thing to do. But I tried it and it worked (more than once!). With a very light and gentle tug on the lead rope, she dropped her head a few inches. That is HUGE! I couldn't believe it. So I tried it again, and she dropped her head again! Good girl! She got lots and lots of praise for that.

Helping a horse learn to drop her head is an important first step in helping a horse to learn to relax, submit, and trust their human partner. A horse with their head in the sky is a nervous, anxious horse that is prepared for fight or flight. A relaxed, trusting horse that has their head down in a submissive posture is a safer horse that is more prepared to think and respond without fear or panic.

I wasn't sure that Angel would ever be able to get her head down. Until today, she has shown such a strong, violent reaction to pressure across her poll, I was not sure she would be able to change. A horse with that kind of reaction is a dangerous horse that is not safe around people. But today, Angel took a gigantic baby step towards become a safer horse. Good girl, Angel!

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Horse Outside My Window

I miss Nick terribly. Those of you who have been owned by a horse for many years know what a huge space they take up in your heart and in your life. Horses are BIG. When a horse lives, it takes up a lot of physical and emotional space. And when a horse dies, it leaves a gaping hole in your heart, your life and your daily schedule.

I loved having Nick outside my window. My mini donkey (also outside my window) brays every morning when she hears my alarm clock ring (and the window is not open!). Nick would hear the front door to the house open and trot over to the gate, to see what good thing I might be bringing him. No horse will ever replace Nick. But the emptiness was so huge, the hole so big, I could not bear not having a horse outside my window.

Today as I exited my car in my driveway (out of view of the horses), Angel nickered to me. She has figured out which sound of the many cars coming and going is mine. Patches (the mini donkey) figured that out long ago and greets me every time I drive in (regardless of the hour of day or night). But today, for the first time, Angel greeted me as I arrived in the driveway. After she had nickered a greeting, I called out to her, just so she would know that she was right. And twice today as I walked out of the front door of my house, she trotted over to the gate and whinnied to me. I would like to think she was saying, "Hi! How are you today?" But I think it was honestly probably, "What's for breakfast?"

I feel so fortunate and blessed to have a horse outside my window. I walked out the front door this morning feeling tired and sad. And the first sound that greeted my day was Angel nickering to me. If the sound of a friendly horse saying hello won't cheer up a sad soul, I don't know what will! My whole day improved after her friendly greeting.

I don't know where this mare came from, or what her story is. I don't know why she was under-fed and found walking loose down a road. I don't know why she has white spots that look like scars down her spine. But I do know she has not given up on the possibility that people might be bringing her something good. Angel has held onto hope.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Building a Relationship - Part 2

This photo (taken by Gisele Mitsuk on New Year's Day) shows how much of my time with Angel is spent. The person in this photo is actually David Haley, one of our DreamPower therapists, introducing himself to Angel. On this day, she was feeling insecure and was not interested in meeting any new friends. She is very, very afraid of people, although it appears to me that she wants to relate to them.

Today, after many long hours of hard rain, I turned her out in the grass next door. She bucked and cantered for about four strides. That was only the second time I have seen her canter. She does not move around very much. Nick, my Arab, was a pacer and in almost constant motion. I'm not used to a horse that stands quietly for most of the day! When I turn her out in the grass, she quietly walks off. No explosion, no drama. But I learned from Forest (a horse that DreamPower rescued from starvation four years ago) that you do not know what a horse's energy level will be like until they are at a good weight and feeling good.

I am having to get used to the idea that she is not pregnant. Her chest and her butt are so narrow and small, compared to her belly, that I previously viewed her as a narrow horse who was pregnant. Now that I know that she is not pregnant, all the parts look like they are put together wrong! When she gains weight and gains muscle, it will be interesting to see if the parts fit together any better. One of the reasons I thought she was pregnant was because we could see things moving around her belly. We thought we were seeing a foal kick. It turns out we were probably seeing food passing through the colon! That is movement you would not be able to see on a horse with normal muscle and fat. But on an underweight horse, you see things (like digesting food!) that you otherwise would not see.

In the meantime, she nickers every time I come to her paddock. She's a smart girl - she knows where the food comes from! She still runs to the gate, waiting to be taken back to her home after grazing. It amazes me that she leaves the green grass so easily and trots straight to the gate without being asked. And she still sometimes allows me to pet her neck while she stands very quietly and rests her head on my shoulder. Inevitably, she will then let out a very deep sigh.

Some horses that have been abused, just like some people who have been abused, are never able to develop trust or a sense of safety. They are so scarred from the abuse that they are forever unable to form healthy relationships. But some horses, and some people, are able to overcome their abuse histories and go on to have wonderful relationships. I am hoping that Angel will be one of those resilient ones. At this time, it looks to me like signs are pointing in that direction.

Building a Relationship - Part 1

From the beginning, it has been clear that Angel has a deep fear and mistrust of people. If you raise your hand to pet her anywhere forward of her shoulder (anywhere near the neck, head or ears) she swings her head and evades the contact. If you press her, she will swing her butt toward you and walk away quickly. She has not yet threatened to kick me, but I think she would, if I did not allow her to leave. She did threaten to kick the vet during her first vet exam.

A breakthrough came when Garry Stauber was brushing her and discovered that she likes to be brushed on her face and around her ears. She will not allow you to pet her face or touch her ears, but she loves being brushed on the forehead, all around her ears and down her nose. She will lower her head and ask for more. But if you raise a hand and try to pet her with a bare hand, she will walk away in fear. On the fifth day, she allowed me to briefly pet her face with a bare hand, for the first time. I think that - among other things - she has been ear-twitched (restrained by holding onto an ear). She is extremely reactive to a hand even brushing across her poll or ears.

I started by giving her grain in her feeder and then petting her and grooming and stroking her while she was eating. She was so involved with her food that she tolerated grooming and petting, as long as she was eating. Every time she ate grain, I would stand beside her and quietly brush and pet her. Motivated to stand still and eat, she gradually accepted more contact with my hand. I have only done this at liberty (without a halter), so she is completely unrestrained and free to leave whenever she wants to. I want her to stay as long as she is comfortable and leave when she is not.

In the past 48 hours, six different "new" people have come by and inter-acted with Angel (the vet staff and friends). Watching her inter-act with people she did not know showed me how deep her fear of people runs. The friendly(er) and calm(er) Angel who was coming out with me over the past few days left in the presence of new people. She became fearful and unwilling to accept treats or be brushed by people she did not know. Those inter-actions showed me how important consistency is going to be with her. She is going to have to learn, one person at a time, that she is not going to be hurt again.

At midnight Friday night (New Year's Eve) many of the neighbors shot off fireworks. I went outside to be with Angel, because I did not know how she would react to the loud noises. When the first round of firecrackers went off, she spooked and ran down her paddock. After that, for the next 15 minutes, she stood perfectly still and appeared to be watching the show. Every New Year's and every Fourth of July, Nick would be frantically running during the fireworks. Angel stood perfectly still, following the loud bursts of noise and color with her head.

On New Year's I traditionally give all the horses carrots. That's when I discovered Angel did not know what a carrot was and would not eat them. I ended up mixing the carrots into her grain and they were gone by morning. Today she was more than happy to accept a carrot from me! I told her that civilized horses eat carrots and she is on her way to becoming a civilized horse.

Three times now I have turned her out in the large grassy paddock next door to where she lives. The first time I did that, it occurred to me (after I had let her go) that I might not be able to catch her again! We did not yet have a relationship and she had no reason to leave all that grass and come with me. The last two times I have turned her loose to graze, when I walked towards her with a halter in hand, to take her back home, she has trotted past me and straight to the gate. She has stood at the gate, waiting for me to come to her and put the halter on her and take her home. She is obviously a smart horse! It only took one time for her to figure out what I wanted and now she is waiting at the gate.

I believe that Angel has great potential because I see a real capacity for relationship. (This is despite the fact that the vet called her "a conformational nightmare.") One of the things I enjoy most in life is seeing the possibilities both in people and in horses and trying to bring out the best in them. I think Angel has a deep desire to please, but she has been badly mistreated and right now, she is a dangerous horse, because of her fear.

Two nights ago I was reaching through the pipe panel, stroking her neck and telling her good-night. She was standing quietly and allowing me to pet her neck. Her head gradually dropped lower and lower, until her chin was resting on my shoulder. When I could feel the full weight of her head on my shoulder, she let out a very deep sigh and I could feel her body relax. That was when I thought this girl might have a chance.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Story of Angel - Part 2

I decided to call the new foster horse "Angel" (short for "Christmas Angel"), because I felt like she was an angel sent from heaven, to comfort me in the loss of Nick. Ann Wimmer, the vet who first looked at Angel at the shelter, laughed loudly when she heard what I was calling her. "Angel" had tried to kick the vet when she tried to listen to her gut sounds, and had injured the vet's shoulder by pulling back, when Ann tried to de-worm her during her first vet exam.

Brigid had told me that Angel could not be tied, because at the slightest pressure on her head, she would violently fling her head skyward and threaten to rear. If the pressure was not released immediately, she would rear up and possibly flip over. Since Nick had come to me with a history of pulling back, and I had seen him pull two hitching posts out of the ground in a panic, I was familiar with this equine problem. I wanted to say, "Come on in, Angel - you will feel quite at home here!"

The first week with Angel was a week of discovery, getting to know her, and starting to build a relationship. On the second day at my house, I noticed that she was starting to "bag up" - her udder was filling. I was convinced she was pregnant, because this is usually a sign of a mare who is in foal. We scheduled a vet exam for New Year's Eve. The previous Friday the vet had been to my house to put down my beloved Nick. One short week later, the vet was out to see if my new foster horse was pregnant! Life is full of unexpected twists and turns!

One of the conditions for fostering this horse was that the animal shelter would pay for her veterinary costs, because I could not afford additional vet bills at this time, especially for a foster horse. However, the county shelter has had budget cuts and has a very limited budget for veterinary care. With three abandoned horses, and two possibly pregnant, bills could mount very rapidly. An appeal was made to the Bay Area Equestrian Network Chat Board, and in 24 hours, more than $275 had been donated for an ultrasound and vet appointment for Angel.

Getting the IV needle in, to sedate her for the vet exam, was a real challenge. It took several tries and more than one needle, as Angel pulled back, reared, and tried to run away. A very talented vet tech, Michelle Moreno, did a wonderful job of handling Angel during this process. An ultrasound showed "no organized pregnancy" although her uterus was enlarged and contained extra fluid. So there was no foal getting ready to pop out! That certainly made the next several months easier for Angel and for me!

Now that we knew she was not pregnant, we knew what vaccinations to give (assuming she had never been vaccinated before) and she could gain weight more slowly, which would be easier on her system. While she was sedated, she got vaccinated for EWET, West Nile and rabies. The vet said her body condition score had improved from a 2 (4 weeks ago) to a 3. We discussed the white hairs go from her withers to her tail bone, all down her spine. They do not appear to be sensitive to touch, but look like scarring. Their cause is unknown.

Now that the question of the possible pregnancy was resolved, we could get on with the work of building a relationship and helping Angel overcome her fear that people are going to hurt her.

The Story of Angel - Part 1

The first week of December 2010, three abandoned and neglected horses were found turned loose on a road in Gilroy, CA. They were taken to the Santa Clara County Animal Shelter in San Martin, CA, where they were found to be seriously underweight and in need of hoof trimming. Community members donated money to buy hay and Linda Cowles donated her hoof trimming services to get their feet in better shape. A call went out to the local community about these horses and their need for foster homes. Nick (my personal horse - a 25-year-old Arabian gelding) was lonely since the horse that lived next to him had moved and there was a lovely, large, empty paddock available next to Nick's paddock. On the morning of Christmas Eve, I spoke with my landlord about the shelter horses and the empty paddock and he gave me permission to bring one of the horses to our property as a "foster horse" for two months.

Four hours later, I came home to check on Nick and found him colicing badly. At first, I thought he was choking, but it soon became apparent he was in serious distress and was experiencing a very bad colic. I called Tri-County Veterinary Hospital and Jodi Chadim, DVM was on call. The hospital was already closed for the Christmas holidays, but Jodi came immediately and was at the barn within twenty minutes.  Less than two hours later, after a sonogram and unsuccessful attempts to control his pain, we put Nick down. It was clear that emergency surgery was the only possibility for saving him and he was a poor candidate for surgery and had a very poor prognosis. An autopsy showed he had a right dorsal displacement of the colon. In a span of two hours, I unexpectedly lost the light of my life, and the best equine friend anyone could ever hope to have. Christmas Eve was unbearably sad and lonely for me.

I was used to seeing Nick's beautiful face and his lovely eyes watching my every move, every time I glanced at his paddock. Nick was so sensitive and neurotic I checked on him very frequently, just to be sure he had not jumped into a pile of lawn furniture and gotten stuck, or run through the fence in a frenzy (both of which he had done). I was used to seeing his beautiful copper coat shining outside my window. Now, when I looked at his empty, lifeless paddock, I would feel overwhelming waves of grief and start sobbing. I could not bear the emptiness.

Christmas Day was terribly sad for me. It did not "feel" like Christmas at all. After helping to clean the DreamPower stalls, I decided to go over to the San Martin Animal Shelter and see the abandoned horses that were in need of foster homes. I was seriously considering bringing a foster horse home, purely for my own benefit, so that there would once again be a horse in Nick's paddock. I knew this horse would not replace Nick - no horse ever will - but I hoped the overwhelming emptiness would be lessened by having a horse outside my window again.

At the shelter, I was surprised to see that all three horses looked remarkably like Nick - bright copper chestnuts with a white star.  They appeared to be quarter horse/Arabian crosses, about Nick's size and shape, except two of them were thought to possibly be pregnant. After thinking about it for a few hours, I called the shelter director and told her that I would take the youngest horse ("young and grumpy") as a foster horse. She had a history of pulling back, just like Nick. So on Christmas Day 2010, a trailer pulled into the driveway and Brigid Wasson, the shelter supervisor, delivered "young and grumpy" to her new foster home.