The first equine rescue I (Saigh) did was about twenty years ago and was a Shetland Pony. My father had been talking to a former neighbor and somehow the subject of how difficult it was to get a farrier in the area. The other man said something about not being able to find anyone to do his kids’ pony’s feet and it set off a bell in my father’s head. He realized that this pony probably hadn’t been cared for in awhile, so he offered to have our farrier (who came out from Maine, she’s the cousin of my sister’s husband) drop by his place and do him.
After she did our horses, she, a friend of mine who worked for my father at the barn (who I will call M for now), and I all went to VT to check out this pony. There were no people home at all, they had left a blank check on the kitchen table and a note for the farrier to just fill it out when she was done. There were animals…chickens, turkeys and we found this little, misshapen brown/black pony hiding in the lower level of a decrepit barn. Sure enough, his hooves were like rockers. He was also starving to death, his little ribs showing and his narrow chest and hips showing that he’d probably been malnourished his whole life. He had a halter on him which was so tight there were groves in his face from it. First thing the farrier did was slip knife into the halter and cut it off. Then she took off what she could of the hooves, but at that point they were so long that it would take several trimmings to be normal, the sole had to be worked back slowly. We noted the little lumps on the side of his face and she was very sure his teeth were really bad and these lumps were from damage done from inside his mouth. His hair was patchy with rain rot and a chicken lice infestation (chicken lice don’t normally infest horses, as their skin is normally too thick for them to bite through…this is how poor his condition was). The little guy was docile and sweet through the whole thing. She filled out the check for twice her usual amount (after all, there was twice the work), left a note that the feet would need attention in just a couple of weeks and that the teeth needed done, and we deposited the cut halter in the trash, with part hanging over the edge so they wouldn’t miss it. We figured that they were ashamed of his condition and didn’t want to be confronted…and we were frustrated that we couldn’t confront them, indeed!
We left and tried to figure out what to do. At the time, there really weren’t any rescues that took care of horses in the area. I don’t even think the cat and dog one was around and that was in NH anyway…that far north in VT we really weren’ t sure of anything. I was going to look into how to get this taken care of. I later stopped by a tack shop (which was actually in the basement of the house I grew up in until I was 9) just down the road from where the pony was. I did tell the owner that the pony up the road was pretty sick, she expressed surprise because the man had been in and was talking about selling him as a riding pony!
So, I called the guy and told him I wanted the pony. He agreed to give him to me, with a saddle and bridle, for free if we came and got him right off. So M and I went and got him…bringing him home in the back of a truck. Got him home, let him graze awhile and gave him a little grain, doused him with lice powder and gave him a bath . It was during the bath that he started to show that maybe he wasn’t really sweet and docile, but had instead just been too sick to put up a fight. We got the vet to check him out and float his teeth. We built him a little pasture on his own, feeling he was not ready for introduction to any of the herds (yes, my family had a lot of horses at the time). And sure enough, within a few days he was showing himself to be mean, nasty and dangerous. Well, he would have been more dangerous if he were bigger, but he was one to watch for. So we named him Phoenix…not just for his recovery but because in book I had as a child the Phoenix was kind and gentle when old but fierce and dangerous when reborn.
We figured he was in his late teens or even twenties when we found him, but were never sure. That halter might have been on him for two decades! Hey, it was nylon. He never got a good shape, he may have been malnourished all of his life. He may have had Cushings as well…20 years ago I had never heard of the disease. However, while he was as wild as could be, he seemed happy and healthy and ate, well, like a horse.
If I had been into Natural Horsemanship at the time, I might have been able to sweeten him up to people. But I didn’t get him with the intent to do anything with him, I got him to save him, and he seemed happy just hanging out in the field. So we let him just hang out. Due to his small size and mean nature, he never did get accepted by any of the horses. That is except for my mother’s Lippitt Morgan Stallion, Letterman, who he just took to. He had gotten lose and ended up in Letterman’s pen, and ate all of Letterman’s food. I think it was because Letterman let him do this, that he decided he could like him. We think Letterman thought he was a foal and figured he better be nice to him so that when his momma showed up he might have a chance with her (a stallion that is pastured with a mare and foal for breeding, rather than “hand bred,” usually learns quickly that being nice to the foal was imperative if he wanted to have a chance to breed the mare). They lived together, being separated at meal times so Letterman could have a chance to eat, until Letterman’s death a few years later due to impaction (which he had suffered before…it’s rather like bloat in a dog).
Phoenix later started to fade himself. He was put up in the upper pasture, near the other horse but able to keep away from them. As his health was bad and his ability to walk was becoming limited, we realized we’d have to have him euthanized and it would have to be in the upper field. I wished he could be buried next to Letterman, but making him walk the quarter mile or loading him into a trailer seemed to be too cruel in his state. My father and I went to look at him and assess that we needed to call the vet and I noted I wished we had moved him earlier. We drove down the hill and the next thing we know, Phoenix is trotting behind us, just as fast as his failing legs could carry him. He actually seemed to have his old life back in him! We took him to the barn and I was hopeful that maybe he had been temporarily ill and now he’d recover. But we soon realized he was worse than ever. It seems that he too wanted to be near his buddy and used the last of his strength to get himself there. And so, he was buried next to Letterman, after all.
With Saoradh it’s obvious that I got a great horse out of the deal, but some might wonder why bother with a pony like Phoenix who never learned to be a companion to me and was too sickly to have ever been of any “use.” But his happiness in just being able to roam free and eat all he wanted…instead of being in a little pen next to a crumbling barn with poor quality hay that he couldn’t even chew. That was enough for me. He also woke me up to something I hadn’t really realized before then, that some people will let horses suffer. I knew this to be true of other animals, but somehow I didn’t realize the problems horses faced as well. It never occurred to me. Phoenix has offered a lot to my life and is indirectly responsible for me finding Saoradh…I might never have gotten involved in horse rescue (volunteering or looking for one to rescue) if it weren’t for Phoenix.
End All Horse Slaughter NOW!
Contents and design, except where noted otherwise, copyright © 2003 Saigh Kym Lambert