For the Horses


Equine Rescue, Continued...

In my short lifetime, I’ve been called a lot of things -- not all of them complimentary. But one thing I have never been accused of is being someone who doesn’t care about horses. But that’s just what happened recently on another blog in which commenters were trying to come up with solutions for the growing neglect and abuse of horses. In offering an alternative viewpoint to the prevailing discussion, I was summarily told to leave the discussion and told I clearly didn’t love horses. It took me by surprise to say the least.

And it hurt.

I’ve dedicated my life to the welfare of horses. I’ve ruined my health over it. But if all of this has been done in less visible ways, well, I’ve never wanted to be a hero or be applauded for what I consider to be my responsibility as a horse owner and a human being, not an altruistic display for the world. But now I’m left in the position of feeling like I have to defend myself against such an attack, when I suppose I know I should just ignore it.

As far as equine rescue goes, I think my views on this have been pretty well spelled out in my previous post. That said, I have not only rescued horses myself, I have also contributed time, training, physical therapy, feed, blankets, tack and stable necessities to local rescues - and of course the thing most rescues really care about – my hard earned money. My tack room walls are lined with plaques and awards from rescues for these efforts, but again, it has never been about the recognition. It’s been about the horses, and, like most, I do what I can afford.

It all started when I was in college. I had transferred to a school closer to home because I missed my horse while I was away. He was boarded at a local facility which was shared with several trainers. One of the other trainers got in a shipment of potential school horses from a notorious dealer. Among them was Norman. Though under 15hh, he appeared to be a draft or cob of some sort; black, with a white stripe and sock, feathers and big, floppy, “kissable” lips. He was adorable and sweet and everyone fell in love with him instantly. But he also had a nasty wound on his hind leg that had never been treated properly and was overgrown with proud flesh, and had huge cracks in his feet that went deep into the coronet band, causing abscesses. He was lame, and it was decided that he would be sent back, knowing full well that the dealer would send him off to slaughter. I couldn’t let that happen.

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My mother called me while I was at school to tell me that the van had arrived for Norman and they were about to load him on it. I had been saving my own meager earnings from cleaning stalls, etc. for a long dreamt-of trip to Europe that summer. But instead, I raided my piggy bank to buy Norman, even though I had no idea how I was going to take care of him. In a panic, I sent my mom down there with my money, and she caught the van just before it drove off. Norman was safe.

I set about caring for his feet and his leg and eventually got him fit, sound and ready to ride. He remains one of my favorite horses in the world, because, despite all of his issues, he had so much heart and so much enthusiasm for life.

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I moved into a dilapidated, rat infested shack on the same farm, with no heat or hot water in the winter, in order to be closer to the horses. I fed them each morning, mucked stalls, trained all day, stacked hay, and put them all to bed at night. Needless to say, my studies suffered… but I didn’t mind that either. Even though it was a miserable place, I loved being there for the mornings when I’d sleep through my alarm and find that Norm had gently removed the fence boards on his paddock and, with his pony friend, had come up to my front door to call me and tell me he wanted his breakfast! Or to watch him work his charm on lesson kids who would come with carrots for the horses they were going to ride, but would never get out of the parking lot without giving them all away to Norman.

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But the truth was I couldn’t really afford to keep him, so when one day the right person came along, I knew I’d have to say goodbye to him. Luckily, the girl he went to fell in love with Norman and he with her, and despite all of the money he had cost me over the years and the fact that I might have sold him to recoup some of that, I gave him to her for nothing because I knew she would love him and take care of him for the rest of his life. Norman is now living his life out in New Hampshire on a farm with lots of love and grass. I never have been any good at selling horses, anyway.

But, Norman’s rescue led me to many others. Once I knew I could take care of horses in need, I volunteered to help many others, including a racehorse with a catastrophic injury that I rehabbed for two years until sound, including a trip to the veterinary surgeon, which cost more than I care to remember, and gave free to a wonderful home,

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and a half-wild Trakehner who, after being abandoned twice and locked in a stall for 2 years, became my best jumper... and best friend, to a draft-cross gelding who couldn’t be haltered and would stand cowering and shaking at the back of his stall when humans were about, who now is the first to poke his head out of his stall to have his ears scratched.

I’ve dedicated myself to horses like these, sometimes at great personal expense. In my 30 years, I’ve broken bones, fused vertebrae in my back and neck, damaged nerves in my spine, contracted neuroborreliosis which damaged my central nervous system, have chronic Lyme and fibromyalgia, arthritis, and have had frostbite and watched huge chunks of my skin turn black and fall off – I could go on. The point is, through all of this, I’ve never taken a day off from working, caring for the animals, training and providing instruction to other horse enthusiasts in the hopes that my efforts would make the lives of the horses that much better.

To that end, I continue to donate my time, knowledge and resources to helping local horses and owners. I’ve contributed articles to magazines, offered clinics and seminars, given training and instruction, physical therapy and rehabilitation services, etc. here and abroad, free of charge.

And while I’m happy to volunteer my services in training and consultation, therapy equipment, spare tack or even direct donations, I still think the most effective assistance comes in the form of education. This is my niche and where I choose to focus my energies in the battle against abuse and neglect. If this differs from the priorities of others, that’s fine. We all have something to contribute to the welfare of the animals we love, and we all have our unique talents that we can put to work for the horses. I’d never question another’s level of commitment or love of the animals just because they chose a different way to help, but I hope that, in return, people show me the same courtesy. After all, we’re on the same team! We all want what’s best for the horses, and if we pool our resources, share our ideas and combine our efforts, we might actually get somewhere! No one method is going to do it all – but a combination of approaches, contributed from all of the different perspectives, gives us a much more comprehensive plan of action. I’m willing to put aside my personal differences, because it’s the horses, and not our personal agendas and egos, that matter.

Equine Rescuejm elliott