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post #1 of 15 Old 02-06-2020, 07:05 PM Thread Starter
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Bay, Hot, & Sweet

Hot cocoa! Swiss Miss, to be exact - my first and current horse. This is a dedicated journal for April, aka Swiss Miss. April and hot cocoa have quite a bit in common, hence the title (if you can let me call hot cocoa "bay")!

People who have seen a few of my posts around have probably pieced together a bit of her story already, but I figured it's about time I put it all down somewhere. There's a lot to it, so I'm planning to break up everything that's happened before now into a few different posts on this thread, and I'm going to try my best to keep it chronological.

I know very little about April's history before 2015. I know that she was surrendered to the MSSPA (Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals) as a foal after some kind of abdomen injury, and that she was born in 2008. I've heard "wild cat attack" a lot - I'm assuming only a bobcat would be brave enough to attack a foal but not capable of killing it - and the mention of her being emaciated at the time. As found on a news post on the MSSPA's website by the Wayback machine: "Skeletal, recovering from wounds to her abdomen, April spent her first month after rescue living at a veterinary clinic. Eventually transported to the MSSPA’s River Road farm, she wasn’t even a year old when she stepped off the trailer with her filly friend Nutmeg."

Given the rescue knows she is half Arabian and half Standardbred, I hunted down who her sire is: Infidels Design, the only Arabian stallion at stud in Maine of which April is a spitting image of. This makes me think someone decided to breed their backyard Standardbred mare to him, but then were not able to sustain their care - thus the MSSPA stepped in.

Will continue in further posts!
First photo is April, 2nd is Infidels Design, 3rd and 4th pictures show her scars from her wounds as a foal.
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post #2 of 15 Old 02-06-2020, 07:34 PM Thread Starter
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Now, where it all started: October of 2014. My neighbor, knowing I had been riding horses since I was 9, asked me (I was 15 years old at the time) if I was interested in coming along with her to see her new horse, Noah. For anonymity, let's call my neighbor Susan. Susan had recently gotten back into horses, 30 years and 7 kids later. She adopted Noah from the MSSPA. Interestingly, Susan's sister who had never done anything with horses in her whole life, copied her sister and adopted April from the MSSPA at the same time. I was told that Susan's sister had intentions of adopting April and training her to become a top dressage horse (LOL!) because she thought April was pretty and that alone would make her a good dressage horse, and she clearly had the skills to train a green horse. She also changed April's name to Missy, because it was obviously superior to "April."

On October 25th 2014, Susan and I went to visit Noah and "Missy." This was the first time I ever met her (1st photo). She gave off a sweet and curious but high-energy vibe, if you can't tell from her eyes and ears in the photo.

The next day, we went back, and Susan gave me permission to ride Missy (2nd and 3rd photos). I never did meet Susan's sister. Missy was sweet and attention-seeking, but so fast. She was incredibly speedy around the round pen - not in a dangerous way, just clearly unbalanced and green. If I remember correctly, I was told she had less than a dozen rides on her at the time, but she was very accepting of the saddle and bridle so I'm not sure about how accurate that is. It is in her nature, however, to just be fine with anything someone asks of her.
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post #3 of 15 Old 02-06-2020, 09:45 PM Thread Starter
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Very quickly, Susan started building her own little two-stall stable in her back yard. By that point, her sister had decided she no longer wanted Missy (just a couple weeks after adopting - big shocker!!) so Susan decided to adopt her as a companion for Noah. She was so eager that she moved them both in on November 15, less than a month after adopting them, while there still wasn't even a roof or complete siding on the stable. Noah loaded no problem - Missy took two hours. Trailering was definitely not her favorite thing - she started to show her feisty side!

When we got there, the horses settled in just fine into their new makeshift stalls. We took them for a walk through their new pasture, which also was not complete, as you can tell by the single-strand electric fencing in the background. From that day on, I was so happy - for the first time in my life, I could look out my window and see horses!
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post #4 of 15 Old 02-06-2020, 09:54 PM Thread Starter
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Starting late November and into December, I started riding Missy at least a few times a week. Susan let me have free-range to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted with Missy, since she had no interest in training a green horse. I was absolutely thrilled to have a project! I had projects before, but never right in my back yard, and often those horses would be trained for a month and then be sold often to my dismay.

She was an amazingly sweet and friendly horse - she always wanted attention. This sometimes translated into pushiness, but she was often just fine. I could take her out of the pasture and ride her in the very large, open sandy area of my back yard. By that time of the year, there was a bit of snow on the ground, but not enough to stop us. She was very responsive - still fast, but never did anything bad. Unbalanced at the canter, but we worked through it, and we got along very well.
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post #5 of 15 Old 02-06-2020, 10:21 PM Thread Starter
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As most everything gets sooner or later, things got bumpy in an unfortunate series of events. First, in January, Missy busted through her frozen-jammed stall door with so much force that she split open her shoulder. The vet was called out and, since at that point she was in theory "my" horse, I was going over there twice a day to clean her wound and re-administer antibiotic cream. I'd never seen a horse so good for vet treatment - I would go out there and clean it up and apply it without even having to put a lead rope on her. In this time, I got to just sit and spend time with her, over which we bonded. If she saw me walking down the path, she'd come running to the front gate and wait for me.

In the meantime, Noah began bucking Susan off during just about every ride, to the point she lost all confidence and was afraid of riding him. She asked me to ride him since I was not currently riding Missy, which I happily obliged. I had no problem with him myself, with or without a saddle, so I believe he was testing Susan and continued to buck her off once he realized he could once. She still got a chiropractor and saddle fitter out for him, which didn't improve his bucking, so she got a vet out to send out his blood for a broad panel of testing - the result was "cancer."

Not wanting to/having the capacity to treat him, Susan sent Noah back to the MSSPA. In exchange, she brought home two mini donkeys to be Missy's companions. Missy absolutely adored them, and so did Susan. So much so that she got a third by the end of January, and then another in early February. If someone tied twine (looking back, I don't know why we did this) to Missy's halter like a lead rope and handed the twine to a mini donkey's mouth, Missy would follow them around and let them lead her anywhere!

It turned out, as Susan found out after sending Noah back to the MSSPA, the testing company the vet had sent out Noah's blood samples to had mixed up their samples and Noah actually did not have cancer, nor anything wrong with his bloodwork. At that point, though, Susan was very happy with her donkeys and saw no point in changing what was working for her.
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post #6 of 15 Old 02-11-2020, 11:39 AM Thread Starter
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In March, Susan built a division in the pasture to keep the mini donkeys and Missy separated. The mini donkeys had access to one stall, and Missy had access to the other. This was particularly because one of the mini donkeys was pregnant when Susan bought her (foal born in April - photo at the end!), so she didn't want to worry about Missy inadvertently harming the new foal whenever it was born. Missy was not a fan of this setup at all, since she couldn't spend time with her mini donkey buddies anymore, and spent nearly the whole day, every day, pacing the fence line. After not riding Missy for a couple of months because of her healing shoulder and the incredibly deep snow, Susan asked me if I could continue riding Missy so she would maybe be a little less high-strung.

As you might imagine, taking an already-anxious horse out of the pasture was enough of a task, let alone exercising her - especially when there was still snow and ice on the ground. For the first few days, leading her out was impossible without getting run over or the lead line getting pulled clear out of my hands. She would take a step forward, then shoulder her way in front of me, turn around and bolt for the stable. For a couple weeks, all I practiced was walking down the driveway and back. After that discussion was settled to the point I could accomplish an in-hand walk with only a few backward glances, I started putting her on the lunge line in our makeshift "arena," which was really just an extension of the pasture with the entry point closed off. She would seem fine until she wasn't: she'd hear one of the donkeys bray and then all hell would break loose. For example, the first picture was when she was relaxed enough to roll in the snow after a short lunge. Then as soon as she stood up and shook it off, she bolted straight for the stable and ripped the lunge line clear out of my hands. I was just lucky that she has always been highly respectful of fences, so all she did was run around the arena screaming with the lunge line flying out behind her. Eventually she was alright on the lunge line as well, without any bolting.

In April, I mustered up the courage to get back on and ride for the first time since December. There was still snow on the ground. I don't know why, but I figured I would ride her in the same open, unfenced area as I did in November/December. I barely had the chance to get on before she bolted straight for the stable. With only one foot in a stirrup, I eventually came off at a full gallop and (thankfully) hit and slid on snow. I slid a good distance, as you can see in picture 2. When I caught up with her at the stable, which really wasn't that far away - maybe 500 feet, she had obliterated her bridle by snapping the leather in multiple places. Well, so much for that. I texted Susan, who was more than understanding and was just grateful I was making an effort to get her exercised.

In my mess of irrational teenage hormones, I swore to myself that I'd never sit on another green horse again (lol). I had no motivation to continue her training. It felt like two steps forward and fifty steps back. Not to mention the fear of causing injury to myself.
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post #7 of 15 Old 02-11-2020, 11:55 AM Thread Starter
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Back to square 1. After a week or so, I got back to working with Missy in-hand and on the lunge line in late April. No snow on the ground anymore made this an easier task. For a while, that's all I did: practiced getting and keeping her attention on the lunge line without a massive upset. She started to do really well, even better than she was before I got thrown.

In May, lots and lots of groundwork and a new bridle later, I was confident enough to get back on. This time, though, in our makeshift arena. The experience was like riding an entirely different horse. For the first time (not just in the new year, but ever), I was able to walk her on the buckle. We got some light trotting in, too, which was also phenomenal, comparatively speaking. Second photo was taken during this first ride.

Although with many more hardships ahead of us, this was the first major breakthrough that made me feel like I was doing something right. She taught me a lot just in those few months. The first of which being the helpfulness of establishing a relationship without any other expectations, like I did when I was over every day just to visit and hang out with her. The second of which was the importance of groundwork, which I had never been formally taught, since up until that point, I had only ever ridden under a trainer. And often, trainers teach you to ride, not to dilly dally on ground work. The third of which was to keep looking forward even when everything felt like it was crashing in reverse. And overall, I felt for the first time what it meant to have a heart horse: despite all the moments that were downright dangerous, she taught me just as much, if not more, than I taught her, and at the end of every day, still offered her affection no matter how much explosive crashing had happened just hours before.
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post #8 of 15 Old 02-11-2020, 12:06 PM
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post #9 of 15 Old 03-03-2020, 11:04 AM Thread Starter
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June through August was full of assorted experiences, learning about ourselves and each other, getting in lots of good exercise, and just being plain silly. I was riding her every day unless the weather did not permit. If too hot, I'd let her loose in our makeshift arena and we'd just run and play around.

After we established ourselves well in the arena, we began trail riding through the many nearby wooded trails. I was surprised to find that right from the start, she was not the least bit spooky, and she was very confident heading away from home without a trail buddy. This was a drastic difference from her dangerous bolts back home just months before. Off we went, exploring beautiful trails and riding through flowery fields like you see in the movies.

One day, Susan thought it would be a great idea to cut her long, flowing mane. She didn't really know what she was getting herself into. I showed up as usual and her mane was a jagged mess. I texted her, "Decided to cut her mane?" and she replied back "Let's pretend it never happened." I pulled her mane to make it look a bit less jagged, but still nothing comparable to the mane she had before.

Some ideas, looking back on them, were probably not so smart. Missy had long had an aversion to being tied, especially cross-tied. For whatever reason, I figured one day it would be a good idea to cross-tie her to a birch tree and a white pine, both rather small. Flexible enough that she wouldn't necessarily feel as restrained, and if she decided to fight it, wouldn't be able to break the tree or the ties or herself. Again, looking back on it, probably not a bright idea, but it did work! No more tying problems to anything after that.

Missy had also had a long-standing hatred of farriers. My guess is no one regularly handled her feet in between farrier appointments while she was at the rescue. When Susan adopted her, part of her adoption page said "requires sedation for farrier visits." The first farrier visit Susan scheduled (way back after she first adopted her), they did not sedate her, and the farrier left bloody. As sweet as she was, she did not appreciate her feet being worked on. I think all she needed was daily hoof handling/picking and getting used to being held still, as she greatly improved fairly quickly and no longer mauled farriers.
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post #10 of 15 Old 03-03-2020, 11:22 AM Thread Starter
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All of these experiences led up to August 10th, the day after my 16th birthday.

My dad woke me up to tell me: "Missy's going back to the rescue today, you might want to say good-bye." Absolutely no warning. Susan had decided a few days prior, but my parents told her to wait so I could at least enjoy my birthday before she left. I won't get into all the emotional stuff that followed, but as I'm sure everyone can understand, it was gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. Susan had decided she really did not have any use for this horse, and since her mini donkeys were less expensive and more entertaining for her, she called the rescue and arranged for them to take her back.

I was given a few hours to spend time with her and go for one last ride. I went straight out to the trails and we had one last long gallop down the sand strip you can see in the second photo of the above post. Then we rode back, untacked, and I handed her over to Susan as the rescue's trailer pulled in. The rescue workers were very dismissive of me, despite all the work and training and time I had put into her (probably just misdirected frustration at having to pick up a horse they thought they'd put in reliable hands, but upsetting nonetheless), so I decided to just go home and let them take care of it.

In the weeks following, I desperately fantasized about finding ways to visit her, adopt her for myself, or anything that would keep me in connection with her. The rescue was about an hour away, and at the time I did not have a car nor any means to keep her myself, so none of these options were realistic. I had to settle and just keep on keeping on at the stable I had been riding at for the last few years.
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