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.