I am in the process of buying (or, as I call it, the $2500 rescue) a 6 y/o Walker mare. She's about 16.2hh, most gorgeous bay you've ever seen, and she reminds me of a VERY tall teddy bear. Unfortunately, her last two owners have not been kind to her. The man who owned her before the guy I'm buying her from was feeding her one small alfalfa flake and some low grade pellets once a day or every other day, while she was constantly stalled with water that sometimes worked, sometimes not. She was about 150lbs underweight or more, and was never brought out of the stall or touched other than at feedings. Her current owner has used soring, weighted chains, and various other "aids" to get he to pick up her front feet. She is a versatility mare with a gorgeous natural gait that is being forced to work as a performance mare. Her trainer flat out told me that she was being treated this way and that she was the only horse in the barn he "had to do it to" because she wouldn't "relax" enough to perform. As I was preparing to leave the place, they almost put a kerosene mix on her legs right in front of me, and it took all manner of BS and lying about being interested in buying her and leaving it be a few days and blah blah to convince the guy to stop.
She has not been in a pasture since she was two years old, probably since she was weaned if that, and other than in passing hardly has contact with other horses. She has been living in a 10x10 stall for two years, never leaving except to train an hour a day. What amazes me is that she has been through all this, be retains a grace that I have seen in very few horses and amazing disposition. She found me, and now it's my turn to give her a helping hand.
I have dealt with horses that have been neglected before, my other Walker mare was rescued by a friend before she came to live with me, and she was dangerously underweight. My Anglo-Arab gelding was also neglected before he found me. But I haven't dealt with an abuse horse before, or an abuse performance horse. My farrier is coming the day she is being delivered to work on her hooves, and my vet the next day to make sure all is alright.
My questions are these: Is there anything I can do to help her with the transition from pads to flatshod/barefoot again? I know they have been soaking her legs in chemicals, should I leave them alone or try to wash them? What is the best way to help her adjust in general to being in a pasture with other horses? Should I corral her off by herself? Is there anything I can do to help her psychologically or should I let her figure it out?
Please consider going and buying one of these horses. Any other breed would not be gentle enough to put up with this, these horses know exactly what is going on and have no out of this sport. They start calling them old somewhere before 15, that's halfway through a typical horses life. These are sweet, gentle horses that will win your heart over! If you do know a trainer or barn that does this, please report them to the USDA. As soon as this mare is legally mine and I have her safe I am filing a report/complaint.
My specialty at my barn was to retrain and recondition severely abused horses.
In this horses case what I would do first is keep her corraled by herself and spend a lot of time with her to build a bond with her, so that she will trust you. As far as going from pads to barefoot ur farrier can help with that and adv you of some topical ointments you can put on her feet.
As far as her legs I would soak them in warm water with some epsom salt, that will help to relax her and her legs and wash out all the chemicals. Do that for half an hr everday and that will pull any chemical out of her leg and hooves that they have put in her.
But mostly time and patience will be the key with this mare, once you build that she will do anything for you. And after she feels comfortable you can introduce her one at a time to ur other horses and when she feels comfortable with that then she can go out with all of them.. but keep in mind all of this will take a long time and she will let you know when she is ready for each new step bc the key is not rushing these types of situations or u'll just make them worse.
If you have any other questions feel free to ask, and just as a side note, every abused horse we've ever received has fully recovered and been placed in a loving home and were completely revived from the abuse!
Thank you! I've actually had conflicting answers from friends and a couple of sane trainers about the water and epsom salts. Some suggest just what you said, while others refuse to even get those horses around water for a month or more. They tell this story about water reacting with some chemical and turning into a strong corrosive substance that can do a pretty good bit of damage. Now normally, I'm not one to listen to the crazy stuff, but is this something I have to worry about? I'm pretty sure it's an old wives tale, but I figured I'd ask anyway.
It is official, Jube (now Harper) is coming home with me this coming Friday or Saturday. They went ahead and took her pads off, which it turns out only decreased her size to 16.3hh. She looked to be about 17.1 or 2 with them on. I went to go see her today, spending as much time with her as possible, and I noticed a few things.
I can get her to do anything I want to in the barn. She will bend over backwards to accommodate me and do what I ask. Today I brought her out of the barn to eat some grass (expecting a few problems, but nothing major) and as soon as a butterfly went within 5 feet of her, she mildly spooked. The same thing happened with a car, cat, wind in a tree, her stepping on a small stick, the vibration of my cell in my pocket (how she heard it, I don't know), other horses talking to each other, birds calling and flying overhead, etc. Everything caused a small spook. She calmed down and returned to an even temper after a few seconds of me talking to her and letting her do her thing, but it made me wonder.
I asked the asst trainer when was the last time she'd been turned out. This guy has known her since she was a few weeks old, and was the one that brought her to the guy who owns the place, so he knows this. He told me that to his knowledge, she's only been turned out a few times, but not once since she was weaned (she's now 6). As he was telling me this, I was calming her down from the appearance of the butterfly again.
So here rises my challenge. I am in the process of building a barn, I have no stall for her to become slowly accustomed to being in a pasture with. Every single thing is new to her, and and she has no herd skills at all. She is completely social with me, but cannot "speak" well to the other horses. I can see her trying, but it's almost like there's a language barrier.
How do I help her get through this? I have a very gentle herd of horses, one old anglo-arab gelding who I'll probably put her with was raised in a similar fashion, so I'll put her near him. But right now, everything causes a fight or flight reaction. She trusts me as much as you can a person who you've met only a few times, mostly because I'm not trying to be dominant with her as her trainers do, I try to make my relationships with horses an equal partnership. I don't know how I can introduce her to these things in a positive light.
But you guys should see her natural gait. I ran with her in hand in the barn earlier today, and all I could see was the way she looked out of the corner of my eye. She was GORGEOUS!
I'll have pictures of her up later on my blog, the link is in my profile.
To be entirely honest, I have never seen a happier horse. We've discovered that she LOVES to jump more than anything else, and that drive has speeded her recovery. She likes to cross ditches and is begging me to let her play in a stream on our land, but with those long legs I'm a bit wary. She is so human! People laugh at me when I say "Harper asked" or "Well, she said (whatever)". We converse way above a verbal level, and I've let her tell me what she wants and needs to do. Sometimes I don't listen (see former statement on the creek) but most of the time she's right. She has these amazing forward facing eyes so she can look straight at you, rather than the normal side facing eyes of most horses.
The day before we brought her home, my mom came to see her for the first time. Harper was rearing, acting terrified of all of the things going on around her. It was then I took this picture:
That, my friends, is one of the first mouthfulls of grass she has ever had. It's such a good pic because she sat there for a moment, not chewing, just tasting it. Then the wind started to blow, and she rose her head up, closing her eyes and sighing. It was at that moment her name (Harper) popped into my head. There is this line in a song, "The Soul of a Harper," by the Brobdingnagian Bards that says "And the Soul of a Harper, No mortal can kill." She opened her eyes and looked behind me to where my mom was trying to convince my dad that I was nuts, this horse was going to kill me. Harper turned to me and said "Do not give up. I am not going to get another chance." I managed to convince my mom that I was (at least partially) sane, and if nothing else we were getting a horse out of a soring barn.
The next day about 2pm, Harper arrived home. She was standing like her good self very quietly in the trailer, despite her head bumping it with each bump in the road. We had built a very small corral for her, thinking she would grass colic. The asst trainer unloaded her, walking her into the corral and letting her go. I'm standing close to the fence, terrified of how she was going to react to being outside for the first time.
Harper's first action? Run over and flirt/harass my geldings like there was no tomorrow. She cared for nothing else than my three guys, who were completely confused by all of this. No spooking over trees. No spooking over grass. It was as if she had been out her whole life. That evening, I felt confident enough in her to let her out in the field. This mare who was born in a 14x18 stall, had grown the rest of her time in a 10x10 stall, cantered and galloped across the field with my Anglo Arab gelding. I have never, ever cried that hard from being happy for someone in my life. She walked up to me afterwords as I was putting up her halter and rested that big head against my chest.
Back in July, I thought I would be teaching her how to walk still in October. I thought she would be so shell shocked there would be no change in only a few months. Right now, she is jumping 6" and 1' poles like they are nothing, despite having never jumped a thing in her life. She loves playing with my 4 month old filly, and is learning how to be a horse. We are very close, and she will walk around behind me asking "Can I help?" or "Can I eat that?" with anything I'm doing. She's absolutely bombproof. I'm having a hard time convincing her that treats are OK to eat, she seems to think she'll get in trouble if she takes food from my hand.
Her only issue? She gets grumpy when she's hungry. As far as I am concerned, she is perfectly entitled to be grumpy.
She still has a bit of mental stuff to work through. When I was first teaching her to longe, she kept wanting to go the same direction. Once, when she started off on the one I hadn't aske for, I said "No, do (whatever)" as I do with everyone else, meaning to follow it up with "There we go, good girl" when she took even a step in the right direction. She reacted like I had hit her. She stopped what she was doing, ran over to me and started "apologizing," loving all over me, licking my arms, etc. It took me a bit to figure out what she was doing, but once I did I thought it was the saddest thing I'd ever seen. I can only use positive reinforcement, but most of the time she does everything perfectly, so there's really no need. I cannot even correct another horse around her. She also gets very depressed when another horse chases her, be it because she is being annoying (she likes to be right up close to the other horses) or is getting near their food. She will hang her head and go stand near the trailer or in the corner of a pasture. But most of the time she runs straight to me with the equivalent of "Moooommy! He was mean to me again! Do something about it!"
We are going to compete in the Three Phase event in April, I think. If not this year, next year. She has so much potential, sometimes I have a hard time keeping my head on straight.
Wanted to give you a before and after comparison. This is the same side, and that is my brother in the second one. She develops mysterious bouts of gas when people that annoy her are near .
On the After one, the dark bit on her rump is where my filly was licking her. Don't ask me why she feels the need to do that, she just does. I've been considering cross breeding way down the road with Harper. I have a hard time convincing stallion owners she's not a ottb. Is that a compliment? Lol
The reason that her name is so important to me is that no matter how much they beat this horse up, physically, mentally, or emotionally, she is still the best horse (yes, I am playing favourites) I have ever met. She has every single reason in the world to be wild as a buck, and not one to be as she is. Sweet, loving, affectionate, cooperative, and willing. "And the Soul of a Harper, No mortal can kill." They tried everything to kill it. This is one horse is would not let that happen. Instead she has inspired everyone she meets with her grace through tough times.
When I saw this horse for the first time, I knew she was special. This, though, I never could have imagined.
I just wanted to say that what you did is truely awesome and I applaud you for it. Giving a horse another chance is a really noble thing to do. I also admire that you were able to deal with the prior owners the way you did. I don't think I could have kept myself together. People like that shouldn't be allowed to be anywhere near horses! Or any animal for that matter! Harper is so inspiring! Again, applause, applause, applause!!! Please keep the updates going, this story is so great and inspirational!