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“You can’t judge a book by its cover” and you can’t judge a horse rescue by its web site.

In today’s world of global interactions, social media, and convenient web design templates, it is easy to create a persona online.  Who doesn’t want to Photoshop a pound or two off a profile photo? Trying to determine the legitimacy of a person or business is not as easy as it was in the days before the Internet, days when face-to-face interactions were the norm and not something to schedule.

I never thought about the “inner workings” of horse rescue organizations. Even though two of my horses came to me through our local rescue, I tried not to think about their situation too much. I wanted to think that there wasn’t too much suffering involved. I stayed away from reading the stories that would appear in news releases or on the Internet about law enforcement seizures. I would send some money to horse rescue groups every now and then, but keep an emotional distance. I had done my part. And then the Horses In Need Documentary Project came along through the Equine Photography Network. I thought a long time about whether I thought I could handle photographing horses in need. I was afraid. Afraid of what I might see; afraid of what I might hear; afraid of what I might learn; afraid I would want to take all the horses I saw home with me and hide from the bigger issues.

 helping-hand

Through the lens of my camera I felt compelled to investigate what it meant to be a horse in a rescue/sanctuary environment.  Since 2009, I have annually participated in the project. The horses I have met along the way have taught me about different types of rescue operations.  Through participating in these documentary projects, I have met people inside a variety of organizations.  For the past 5 years while researching and photographing horses for my projects, I have developed a commitment to “help the hands that help.” But I want to be sure of who and what I am supporting.  As a result of my interactions with rescued horses and their situations, 10 questions have developed in my mind that need to be asked and answered about a rescue facility to determine if it is a reputable and reliable organization.  I don’t want to wonder a few months down the road if the donation I  made to an organization, or the story I told, really supported what I hoped it did.

Ten Questions to Ask:

1.      What type of rescue does it claim to be?

(Owner surrender, law enforcement/seizures, breed specific, feedlot saves, buys from auctions, off the track Thoroughbreds)

2.     Where do the horses in the facility come from?

(Are they local or shipped in?)

3.     What services are provided to the horses at the facility?

(Vet care, training, foster homes, etc)

4.     Who cares for the horses on a daily basis?

5.     Can the facility tell you about their horses and can they account for what happens to the horses placed in their care?

6.     Have “accidental” breedings occurred at the facility?

7.     Does the rescue provide contracts with the adopter of the horses and provide a plan for taking the horse back if the adoption doesn’t work out?

8.     How does the organization meet its expenses? Can the rescue document how money is spent and show evidence that donations go towards the horses’ expenses?

9.     Have any complaints been filed with local authorities regarding the facility?

10   Has the facility met the standards of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS)? If not, who oversees the quality control for the facility?

 IMG_2537

Recently I read the book, The Elephant Whisper, by Lawrence Anthony the acclaimed conservationist who saved a rogue herd of wild elephants at his sanctuary in South Africa.  The struggles he went through to save the herd, and the uphill battle he faced against poachers, ill-informed people, and ingrained traditions inspired me to think more about rescue efforts and what it means to be a sanctuary.  The elephants he described felt like the horses I know.  In learning more about the efforts of sanctuaries world wide, I stumbled upon the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) and its role in the welfare of animals.  This organization does not create sanctuaries, but rather helps sanctuaries help animals and sets standards for humane care.  GFAS is involved with all types of animals and already has specific equine standards.  If the public asked the rescues they support to be GFAS  verified more uniformity would be provided for the care horses in rescues/sanctuaries.

Shelby

In 2009 I met a horse named Shelby.  Her story demonstrates how the situation of virtual allure and lack of  verifiable standards caught her in a web of deceit.  Shelby, originally a Nevada Mustang, ended up placed a horse-rescue facility in Oregon.  Shelby was a hard to adopt case, as many Mustangs are, and the Oregon rescue found what was thought to be the perfect placement for her. The place was a 1900-acre ranch where horses could roam freely with an abundance of grazing land available.  The web site looked beautiful. The sanctuary was located in Nebraska. It was a non-profit (501K) organization with a goal and a mission. Everything checked out on paper.  Arrangements were made to transport Shelby there. It was suppose to be a place of comfort for horses.  Apparently, for a while, it was the dream it claimed to be. But the facility was mismanaged. Horses ended up in unhealthy and starving conditions. Ultimately, it ended in a multiple state effort to rescue the horses from the sanctuary.  Shelby was identified through her brand and transported back to the rescue in Oregon. If uniform standards and peer monitoring were in place the problems could have been identified before the situation got out of control.

The tale of a rescue operation going astray happens all too often.  Especially in hard times when the strain of the economy reaches deep into everyone’s pockets and more horses find themselves in unwanted situations. Having clear questions in mind and awareness of acceptable standards can help sort out the operational procedures, identify policies, and determine if it is an organization to get involved with.

Oregon & Washington Equine GFAS Verified Rescues/Sanctuaries:

Sanctuary One
Strawberry Mountain
Equine Outreach
Equamore
Linn County Animal Rescue
HSUS
Duchess
Horse Harbor Foundation

Link to complete list of GFAS sanctuaries provided below:

GFAS Sanctuaries

Special Thanks to Darla Clark At Strawberry Mountain Mustang Rescue for your conversations on the topic.

How Bella Got Her Groove Back

Why must conversations always come so late?
Why do people always apologize to corpses?
~ David Brin

The Zumwalt Prairie is a place I’ve gone to write poetry and be inspired by the wind in the air sending history past, a place where the Nez Perce roamed,  and so did my mind.  I could feel the stories in the hills.   Bella’s story begins here, in the mountains of Wallowa County, Oregon.

Zumwalt Prairie is a high altitude grassland, with elevations ranging form 3,500  to 5,500 feet , The simi-arid climate averages 15 to 17 inches of precipitation yearly, with the majority of the precipitation coming in the winter months in the form of snow.  The history of the place is filled with stories of Chief Joseph, as well as such legendary horsemen as Tom and Bill Dorrance.  Wallowa County is ranching country, home to about 7,000 people; a place where people know, respect, and love horses.

Perhaps that is why it was so surprising when a story of 120 horses, on a 500 acre ranch, were being seized by the local sheriff in a suspected neglect case.  Adding to the surprise, the horses were not Quarter Horses or Mustangs, as one might expect in that area, but rather Lusitanos, a regal Portuguese breed associated with 4 thousand years of history.

The back story to Bella’s situation is unclear: law suits mingled with political undertones, blame spread among the employee/employer relationships, newspaper stories printed and retracted, breeder disputes with governing bodies, name calling and labeling, definitely a dream gone wrong.  The local sheriff became involved in Feb. of 2011 when the farm, elevation 4,800 feet, was buried under 3 feet of snow, fences had fallen down, horses were having trouble getting to water, and there wasn’t an adequate hay supply for the horses to make it through winter.  The horses could not be moved at the time due to the harsh weather conditions, so sheriff’s office took hay to the horses.  The horses eventually were taken into custody and moved at a later date when the weather conditions allowed for safe transportation of the herd.  The owner/breeder lived in the Seattle, WA area, hundreds of miles away.  From the outside looking in, the details are chaotic and hard to understand.  The underlying questions: how can one breeder and her ex-husband support 120 horses, even if you they own 500 acres? Why would a breeder want 120 or more horses? And why did other breeders keep selling her horses?

Here is a link to the Capre Diem horses on You Tube
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksTrapf3eqY

All indications point towards an animal hoarding situation.  The surprising element to the story, the breeder allegedly has a PhD from Standford University, not the stereotype associated with animal hoarders.   Byrde Lynn Hill called her farm “Capre Diem” which translates to “seize the day.” Search the Internet and you will find photos of her with her arms draped around her favorite black stallion.  The farm’s web site looked good, evidently a viral illusion.    The problem appears to have been combination of too many horses, poor care, and unrealistic sales prices, the Trifecta of breeding programs gone wrong. Byrde Lynn Hill had wanted to the the best Lusitano breeder in the world. Somehow, seize the day became seize the horses.

None of the back-story makes sense.  But animal hoarding rarely does.  Animal hoarding is a condition that exists in most communities, but is not yet recognized as a specific psychological disorder. It is usually discovered as a result of another behavior or situation. Once a situation reaches the proportions of animal hoarding it is particularly hard and financially cumbersome to resolve. Hoarding situations involve personal freedom, property rights, and mental competency issues.  Hoarding is a behavioral pattern that crosses cultures, gender, and socioeconomic status. It is a difficult line to cross as to when collecting becomes hoarding, but in the case of animals, when their health is compromised the distinction is made.

Animal hoarders may truly be proud of the domain they have created and believe it to be in the best interest of the animals living with them. The person’s home may be everything to that individual. Animals may be the sole source of mutual trust in the person’s life. Animal hoarders may proclaim deep love for their animals and not see their living situations as neglect. They might fight all attempts of “help” because they associate help with trouble.   Animal hoarding is not a behavior simply solved by drugs, jail time, or other restrictions. It is a condition that requires counseling and intervention. It also creates situations that require the close interactions between several community agencies that must work together in difficult circumstances. Hoarding can be ugly and dangerous on its own, but animal hoarding can have devastating consequences.

It isn’t hard to understand why someone would want to own a Lusitano horse.  Their beauty, grace, and temperament are compelling.  When the Wallow County Sheriff held an auction for the horses from Capre Diem, national and international buyers flocked to the event.  The horses in the best condition sold easily and quickly to people experienced with the breed and its bloodlines.  Fortunately, even though many of the Lusitanos had never been registered, through DNA testing it is possible to determine their pedigrees and create a paper trail for them.

 Beleza Mia      

Bella was a different story. Her breeding is top notch, but she was not the most lovely or in the best condition when Katarina Digman saw her.  Bella was thin and dirty, and nobody realized she was pregnant.  It took a woman with a vision and experience with rescue horses to see Bella’s potential.  Katarina Digman chose Bella despite reservations on the part of those around her.  She saw the beauty that would be Bella.  Katarina Digman owns and operates Unicorn Ranch, a Theraputic Riding facility in Lorane, Oregon.  Katarina brought Bella to her ranch and began the process of conditioning and strengthening Bella.  Many of the Capre Diem horses had never been haltered or trained to lead.  Bella’s actions and reactions were more like a wild horse than a domestic one.  She had lived in a big herd and was afraid of her new surroundings. Patience was needed to gentle Bella.  It took two days and nights of trying to connect with Bella before Katarina was able to take Bella from the pasture to the stable. Bella began to get her groove back.

Bella Today

Soon after Bella’s arrival to Unicorn Ranch, during a vet call to her farm, Katarina found out Bella was pregnant, which explained why Bella had been so thin.  Bella’s body had been giving her all to the foal she was carrying.

Time passed and a healthy foal arrived despite the odds.  The colt is now 4 months old and happily running about the pasture with his mother.  She still tends to give up her food to him, and Katarina worries about Bella’s weight. Because  detailed DNA records are kept on Lusitanos, testing is being done on Bella’s colt.  It will be possible to find out the bloodlines he represents.  Down the road he will need a new home.  Someone to call his own.  Someone who can see his potential and want to be part of his future.

Any breed of horse can end up in a rescue situation.  Animal hoarders aren’t just the “crazy old cat lady” that people talk about.  In the end, people must step up and help provide solutions for the outcome of the rescue stories.
Humans created the situations that these rescue horses find themselves in and humans need to become responsible for their actions. If you have read this far into this story, please ask yourself what you could do to help these horses in need. If you are a breeder, ask yourself how many more horses (dogs, cats etc) of your breed can you or the world support? If you are a horse/animal “lover”, could you care for or adopt a horse permanently or foster one? Could you send a small donation regularly to your local horse/animal rescue organization? Could you donate a specific product/service? Could you help organize a fund raising event? Could you attend a fund raising event if one was being put on? Could you volunteer in some way that would be useful to the organization? Could you talk to people openly about the issues of horses and other animals in need? We all can do something and pennies of effort do add up.

The people working in the trenches of horse/animal rescue have something in common: hope. Hope for change; hope for a better world; hope for appreciation of an animal that has shaped our history; hope to stop animal hoarding; hope to win the lottery and create utopia. But primarily, hope to find a home for the horses/animals whose souls are resilient and ready to put their pasts behind them.  Horses like Bella who are ready to get their groove back.

Beleza Mia’s Stats:
Sire: Legacy (Umbaba x Epoca), full brother to Saphiro and Odin, Legacy is palomino lusitano stallion,
APSL approved.
Dam: Quilata E (Espanto x Defesa), registered IALHA, eligible for APSL

To find out more about the work of Katarina Digman and Unircorn Ranch, visit the following web site:
http://www.unicornranch.org/

Before There Were Fences


The American West has two icons: wild horses and fences.  The stories of our nation’s movement East to West are filled with both.  The issues our nation’s wild horses face today are wrapped in arguably around the invention of barbed wire; a cheap and effective way to create a boundary to trap or protect resources.  Before the invention of barbed wire, fences were built of wood or stone.  As our nation expanded westward, fence-building materials were heavy, expensive, and in limited supply to transport.  Single wire fences could be easily ignored.  With the twist of two wires together came a strong, cheap, formidable boundary forever changing the American landscape and allowing the expansion of farming and ranching practices as well as the number of people who could settle an area.  Harnessing resources set the stage for battles over the question land use.  And for the wild horses, the barbed wire fence created the ability to ask the question of who shall live where and in what kind of quantities?

In an article titled. “Bringing Home All The Pretty Horses”, Dan Flores describes how an earlier settler named  Audobon  felt about the discovery of the wild horses.  In his article, a wild horse named “Barro” is described in the following way:

He had a sweet gait that covered forty miles a day. He leapt over woodland logs “as lightly as an elk,” was duly cautious yet a quick study in new situations, and was strong and fearless when coaxed to swim the Ohio River. He was steady when birds flushed and when Audubon shot them from the saddle. And he left a “superb” horse valued at three hundred dollars in the dust. Audubon quickly bought Barro for fifty dollars silver and, gloating over his discovery, concluded that “the importation of horses of this kind from the Western Prairies might improve our breeds generally.”

Unfortunately for today’s Mustangs, we rarely find people looking to cross the Ohio River or travel 40 miles per day by horse.

In 1971, the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was created.  The act addressed a horrific situation brought to the forefront of public attention by Velma B. Johnson, better known as “Wild Horse Annie”.  In the 1950’s wild horses were being ruthlessly and inhumanely gathered by ranchers, hunters, and “mustangers” and subsequently harvested for commercial gain. By  1971 the harvesting of Mustangs and the spread of the human population had drastically reduced the number of wild horses.  In response to public outcry, Congress unanimously passed a bill to protect wild horses and burros.  The act gives the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) jurisdiction over the wild horses.  Since the BLM is the government body that is in charge of protecting public lands, it seemed appropriate that they govern the horses that live on those lands. The BLM is tasked with determining how many horses can be supported by the land they live on and then gathering/rounding up the excess horses, with the goal being to maintain the balance of horses to land resources.

According to the BLM website, “The BLM protects, manages, and controls wild horses and burros to ensure that healthy herds thrive on healthy rangelands. If an overpopulation of wild horses and burros exists on public lands, the BLM gathers excess animals and offers them to the general public for adoption. The BLM presents these animals at adoption events and at BLM facilities throughout the United States. In addition to placing wild horses and burros into good homes through the adoption program, the BLM has direct sale authority that allows the agency to directly sell animals that are more than 10 years old and those younger that have been passed over for adoption at least three times. “

In 2005, Ford Motor Company and Take Pride in America, partnered to establish the “Save The Mustang Fund” .  The goal of this partnership is to build public awareness for the plight of America’s wild horses.  The programs activities include providing money to non-profit organizations able to provide homes for older Mustangs,  sponsor clinics put on by local equine groups to educate local communities, build relationships with collegiate programs  with gentling Mustangs as part of their equine studies programs, and become involved with the “Extreme Mustang Make Over “ event.  An event designed to highlight Mustang training at a national level and raise public awareness.

With all these good intentions and monies pointed towards protecting our wild horses, how do Mustangs end up in local horse rescue situations?  Why are they not protected or cared for in another way?  The answer lies with the sale of a wild horse.  Once a horse is sold, the BLM steps out of the equation, even if the approved home turns out to be unacceptable, the sanctuary where the horse was sent implodes, or the Extreme Mustang Makeover fails.

At Emerald Valley Equine Assistance/Horse Rescue (EVEA), I met a Mustang mare named Hailey, her 4 month old foal, Rugar, and a Mustang gelding named Ronin. All three of these horses found themselves in the care of our local horse rescue after being placed in adoptive situations.  Now they find themselves no longer in the situation where they were originally placed.  The irony for these Mustangs, they were originally moved from their homelands to avoid an out of balance situation, yet that is where they ended up.

Hailey is a Sheldon Mustang.  She was originally from Nevada and part of a herd managed by the Nevada Fish and Wildlife.  Hailey was sent to what was supposed to be a horse sanctuary in Alliance, Nebraska.  Everyone expected 3-Strikes Ranch to be her “forever” home.  A place that was supposed to be a “Mustang Outpost, Helping Horses” according to it’s reputation. It was supposed to be a place where horses could roam free on a sprawling 1900 acre ranch with an abundance of grazing land. And apparently, for a while, it was a sanctuary. People paid the operators of the facility $500 to take their horses and give them a good life. It was a non-profit organization. But something started to go very wrong and the situation had turned tragic. Even now, nobody seems to understand what events transpired to change everything. Through the efforts of neighbors, Internet chatter, local officials, Habitat for Horses, and others, authorities were able to get onto the property to assess the horrific details of the situation. The owner of the facility had to be convinced to legally release the horses to these organizations in order to get the horses the help they needed. Criminal charges were brought against the operator of the ranch.  What events could have transpired that would cause a once healthy environment to become a death trap?  Hailey was removed from her wild environment to maintain ecological balance and ended up in a situation where she was starving.  She made it out of the situation alive, but pregnant.  The refuge where she originally came from didn’t take her back. Hailey and another Sheldon Mustang mare came to Oregon.  EVEA paid to have the horses shipped to them.  At the time of transport, nobody knew that really three horses had arrived.


Rugar was born 4 months ago.  His paternity is completely unknown, but the situation he was conceived in could not have been good.  He was not an easy delivery. When he finally arrived, he was born with an “extra” hoof growing out of his right front hoof.  Surgery was required to fix the condition.  Rugar survived the surgery and is able to walk, trot, and canter about the pasture with his mom and the other horses.  But it is questionable if he will ever be able to be ridden.  Chances are he will be in the care of horse rescue his entire life unless he finds someone willing to take a chance on him.  Nobody really knows what the future could hold for him.

Gentling and training a wild horse is not quick and easy task. All to often, the horse is being asked to transform from a being able to survive by its wits to a horse with relatively little to do and not much space to do it in. People underestimate what the stress of being confined, even in what they consider a large space, is like for an animal that has roamed freely.  And frequently the expectation is that the transformation can happen quickly.  Ironic, since change is usually so hard for people.

Ronin is a 5 year old Mustang gelding who participated in the Mustang Makeover event a couple of years ago.  His make over did not go well.  While it is possible for some horses to adapt to the intense learning environment created in a time trial training event, as with people, not all individuals can handle an accelerated learning program.  It was too much for Ronin.  He is a very amiable character on the ground, very personable and easy to handle.  But get out a saddle, and Ronin shows his fear.  He bucks to save his life, so to speak.  So where does the responsibility for Ronin’s care lie now?  The BLM wont take him back, the trainer who participated in the event doesn’t want him, so he finds himself in a horse rescue situation.  And who will want to adopt him?  He is beautiful, graceful, personable, but not prone to being ridden.

Each of the horses featured in this story was part of a good idea.  Someone had a plan that seemed like it would work.  A forever sanctuary for Mustangs was/is a good idea.  Why didn’t it  work? There are plenty of guesses, nobody really knows.  Saving the life of Rugar, who was bred from a disastrous situation, another idea that seems right.  Trying to raise awareness about Mustangs and gain national attention through a major media event like the Mustang Makeover seems to be a good idea for getting people to participate in the adoption process.  When it comes to our wild horses, there are a lot of good ideas, intentions, and opinions. The problem? What happens when the horses fall through the crack of a good idea?

Americans can get very passionate about wild horses.  Wild horses have a long history in our country. Even today, on games like “Farmville” people spend hundreds of virtual hours interacting with horses. The land use topics that are raised around planning for the care of our nation’s wild horses bring up issues people do not want to face.  Imagine if people were subject to density ratios.  What if our cities and spaces were set up the same way…? Only predetermined amount to people could live in a given location, even if your family had lived there for decades.  If the population grew too much, too many babies were born and not enough of the elderly passed on, you would have to be relocated.  Housed in a holding facility until a suitable place could be found for you.  Waiting for someone to take you in.  People would never stand for such conditions, yet that is what happens for wild horses.

In 2000, I adopted a Mustang from the BLM.  Since then I have had the opportunity to experience many Mustang related training events and spend hours interacting with my horse as he adapted to the would we share.  My horse has taught me more about diversity, culture, and expectations than I could have imagined.  I remember when I thought all horses would know what a carrot was…a fine treat I brought to offer my new friend.  My horse ran as far away from me as he could get, never having seen a carrot, he did not know what to expect. Through my Mustang, I have learned more about the world I live in than if I had spent months traveling. I have come to care about our lands and its uses in ways that would have never noticed in the past.

In my experience, when you adopt a BLM Mustang, the world expects you to be an expert in the issues facing the wild horses and that you have an opinion as to what should happen.  I didn’t adopt my horse to save the world or come up with all the answers to a very large issue.  I did adopt him because if I didn’t, he was going back to a holding pen and an unsure future.  I don’t know if the BLM should stop rounding up horses.  I do think there should be a better plan in place if they are going to continue the process.  I do think starvation is horrible state to live in, whether in the wild or in private. I do think that the BLM has a responsibility to the horses they adopt out if the situation goes astray.  I do think that people need to get involved in finding a solution.  Right now the BLM is in the process of developing a new plan for dealing with our nation’s wild horses.  I do think that it is once again time for a national outcry and the BLM seems ready to listen.  This year, 2010, is the year  the BLM is taking input from the public and trying to come up with a better direction.  I think people should click on this link to follow the BLM and become concerned advisers to the plan, whatever you opinion.  I do think that if everyone who played “Farmville” and enjoyed hours of virtual entertainment from interacting with horses and other farm life adventures gave a dollar to the BLM or a local horse rescue, there would be a lot more money to support the animals in need.  Hailey, Rugar, and Ronin would have secure futures.

It is often easier to become outraged by injustice half a world away
than by oppression and discrimination half a block from home.
~Carl T. Rowan

Special thanks to Sandy Huey at EVEA for taking the time from her busy schedule to take me out to meet the horses featured in this story. This woman does amazing things!

Picasso Moon has been laying low over the winter.  He was 3 years old when I got him, so 2010 will be his 4th year.  I decided to give him some space to grow and learn what it means to be a horse. Fitting in with other horses has caused Picasso some problems in the past.  The foster home where he was living when I first met him wanted to adopt him, but he could not get along with the other horses there and was getting beat up regularly.  Understanding space and respecting the space of others has been his quandary both with his equine companions and with humans.  Coming from a rescue background as Picasso did, it is doubtful that he was allowed to interact with other horses naturally.  When he first arrived here, he got himself into some conflicts when he would try to groom another horse and bite too hard. Despite the consequences, he didn’t seem to modify his behavior.

Initially I paired him with Chansyk, and older mare who I knew would correct his behavior, but not hurt him.  She had been a mom a few times in her life, so I thought she would be a safe bet.  And she was.  When Sage was still part of the herd, I put Picasso Moon into the pasture with Chansyk, Sage, and Beau.  I thought it would be a nice safe balance of energy.  Sage was taking care of Beau at that time and Chansyk was not paired up with anyone.  The  mares allowed Beau and Picasso to meet under their suppervision.

Beau wasn’t too thrilled with the new arrangement, but he spent most of his time with Sage, so it didn’t matter too much.

Things changed for the pasture mate dynamics when Sage passed away in Oct.  The weather was getting cold and wet and the horses tended to huddle around their shelters.  Picasso was not welcome once Chanysk took charge of caring for Beau.  She saawPicasso as a threat to her role as the protector of Beau.

Picasso’s behavior was not improving.  He was not getting the horse interaction he needed.  Picasso was getting hard to handle in hand on the ground while he was being lead to and from his pasture.  One day he was so difficult to handle that I was ready to send him to auction myself.  At that point I decided to turn  him over to a “higher authority”… and I don’t mean God.  I put him in the pasture with Azure, Jaspar, and Robin and decided to let them determine his fate.  He need some behavior modification.  Picasso Moon had been on a few trail rides with Azure and Robin and had proven himself trust worthy in those situations.  Picasso likes to lead and is very sound minded, rarely spooks at anything, and can lead them safely around trail obstacles.  They had trailered together peacefully and I hoped that would set the foundation for a positive pasture situation.

Picasso Moon took on his new situation with gusto.  He was quick to let the others see he was a force…

Jaspar seemed under impressed by Picasso’s dramatics. Jaspar is not one to waste a lot of energy.  He knows the ways of the wild horse and keeps his energy reserved in case he has to head for the hills quickly. Jaspar is interesting as the group leader.  He is not mean or controlling by force.  Usually, all he needs to do is give a horse a “look” and they get the message.  Picasso is not used to such body language. But he will learn.

When Azure and Robin arrived, Picasso is quick to greet them.

But Azure is tall and not intimidated by the greeting.

I think Azure recognizes a kindred spirit in Picasso Moon. When I first got Azure he was much the same way.  He too was out of a rescue situation and had little training. He didn’t know much about being a horse among horses either.  Topaz, Sage, and Jaspar had to teach him.  So things are coming full circle.

Picasso is getting to learn about bantering among horses and learning to feel safe and respected among peers.  He know where his place is now and has found a real home.  A place where his spirit is matched.

The Love Story

The Language of Love

We always thought they spoke a special language; one only their kind could understand. But it wasn’t until the lights went out that the depth of their connection emerged. Sage and Beau met when she was 27 and he was 15.  A May-December romance emerged.  He came to her at a time when she had just lost a close companion.  Beau moved into the stall next to Sage’s and the connection began. They spent most days and nights in the company of each other sometimes pretending to bicker, but immediately making up.  They were so close that nobody thought much of their desire to be together.  Beau would sometimes leave for a bit, heading off to a lesson or for a ride.  Sage would call after him and pace about awaiting his return.  Everyone just thought they had become overly dependent upon one another.  It wasn’t until one day when Beau stumbled badly that anyone began to question his behavior.

We’ll never know if it happened so slowly that none of us realized what was going on or if it happened in an instant.  There were no outward signs.  The stumble led to the discovery that Beau had lost most of his eyesight.  His eyes were perfectly brown and looked full of life, but they weren’t.  The diagnosis was Posterior Uveitis.  He was 18 years old and nearly blind. We were shocked, sad, and scared wondering what the future would hold for him. At times, Beau would get very confused and disoriented.  The only thing that comforted him was Sage’s touch.  As long as she was near, he was fine.

Hindsight made us stop and wonder if we had missed signs along the way.  We had attributed Beau’s behavior changes to personality quirks, but had they really been clues?  He had he become difficult to load into the trailer.  We thought it was fear related a bad incident before we knew him.  He refused to do things he had always done. .  We thought he didn’t want to leave Sage. But now we wondered.

After several months, according to all tests, Beau’s eyesight had failed completely.  Yet with Sage by his side, Beau was able to learn his way around their pasture and start to regain some freedom of movement.  Beau learned to feel terrain changes in a new way.  The water trough, shelter, and gates were all raised and rocked to indicate areas of caution.  The fence lines popped with the sound of electricity to let him know the fence was nearby.  Trees were trimmed to make sure branches would not become obstacles or cause injury.  Each day Sage led Beau along a sandy path to the pasture and back to the barn in the evening. Every movement had a sound and he was learning what they meant. Once simple things like drinking out of the water trough on a hot summer day had to be relearned.  Not knowing exactly what surrounded him, he was afraid to touch anything but her.

With each passing season new challenges arrived.  Falling rain or blowing wind blocked the sounds Beau was used to hearing.  Sage’s quiet presence would sometimes elude him.  She let him struggle.  She was training him like a young colt.  When she felt his tension become too great, she would make a sound or touch him to let him know he was safe and she was near.  Sage knew someday he would need to go on without her.  The balance began to shift and we sensed maybe he was taking care of her as well.

Sage reached her 32nd birthday and Beau was now 20.  Sage was leaving beau to find his own way more often now.  While they grazed, Sage would stand further away from him, for longer periods of time.  Then they would come back together and move as one. Nobody wanted to face what we saw happening; she was training him once again.

A poet must have choreographed Sage’s final day.  Warm sun fell on her in the pasture.  Her closet friends gathered.  Beau stood over her like a peaceful guardian.  The sun was setting as she took her last breath.  Beau whinnied as if he saw her spirit leave.  He stayed with Sage for sometime, knowing she was gone, but being comforted none-the-less.

As darkness fell, Sage was not there to guide Beau for the first time since they met.  We wondered what to do for Beau.  A pasture-mate stepped forward, another mare.  She was taking the helm.  She would now be the one to guide Beau and protect him.  As we walked into the barn, the mare walked past her usual stall and into what had been Sage’s.  A new relationship was beginning; a new connection discovered and understood.

Good-bye Sage….RIP

Trip To The Park

When the sun is out this time of year, it means stop what you are doing, load up the horses, and head to the park for a ride.  You never know how long it will be until you get another chance!

Picasso Moon loaded into the trailer with Azure and Robin just like he had done it a million times.  In reality, it was his first time.  But not much phases this guy, he is like an old pro at some many things a lot of horses struggle with and he is just about to be 4 years old.  He trailers like a dream.  Azure kicks his front foot against the trailer wall and sounds like a prisoner trying to get out.  I always hate hauling Azure through town because people who don’t know horses probably think he is being tormented.  Actually, Azure is eating hay and I think he just likes the sound of his hoof making music on the trailer wall.  Picasso Moon rides like a pro… and quietly.  I thought he might hesitate to get into this small a space with horses he only knows across the barn, but he didn’t care.  The hay was good.

Picasso Moon is borrowing a saddle from Jaspar right now.  You wouldn’t think those two horses could share a saddle since Jaspar is built like a tank, but they actually have a lot in common in terms of the length of their backs and shoulders.  Both need a really short skirted saddle with rounded edges.  Jaspar’s breast collar needed some holes punched in it to make it short enough for Picasso Moon, and the girth size is much different:)  Picasso got saddled and waited patiently for me to finish up things around the trailer before we took off.

Picasso Moon was born to ride the trails!  He took off to lead the way right from the very beginning.  Robin and Azure have been to this park many times, so I thought Picasso would defer to them, but nope… he was going to lead the way.  Brave pony!    Azure and Robin were perfectly happy to let him go to the lead.  It reminded us of that old cereal commercial with “Mikie”… let him try it.  Anyway Picasso led like a champ.  He crossed all the bridges without hesitation, lead past the scary blue plastic tree starts (all the newly planted trees have about an 18” blue plastic canister type thing around them for protection and there are areas of the park where it looks like a field of blue plastic), around fallen tree stumps (Azure is sure that cougars live in those fresh tree stumps so he was happy to send out Picasso Moon first), and all the other trail obstacles of winter.

Since Picasso Moon is still quite fresh to being ridden, I let him make the decisions about walking and trotting.  He is actually a fast paced walker when he is focused, so Azure and Robin could move at a comfortable pace.  Picasso Moon reminds me a lot of Azure on the trail.  They both are very independent and not too effected by things around them.  Although Picasso Moon did have one sideways jump when a bird flew across his path just in front of him.  The Blue Heron sitting in the pond was ok, even when he took off, but that little bird who flew straight in front of him was a different story.  But one spook hardly rates a mention.  Fortunately we didn’t see any deer or elk.  The park has a herd of elk that live in it, we hear about it all the time, but have never actually seen them first hand.  The trail signs show pictures of elk and that is the closest I would like to get to them

When I am trail riding Picasso Moon, it is easy to forget he is so young and so new to riding.  He doesn’t have a ton of steering, but he moves off of my leg pretty well.  When he is trotting if I want him to stop, pulling on the reins doesn’t mean anything to him, so I just have to let out my breath and stop moving myself and he goes back to the walk.  We have gotten a few strides of canter in and they are so smooth.  It took Azure a long time to be comfortable carrying weight and cantering, so it surprises me a bit that Picasso Moon doesn’t hesitate.  All his gaits are nice to ride.  He may be short, but he is well built.

What a great ride we had.  We couldn’t have asked for a better first trip to the park.  Glad the weather broke long enough for us to seize the moment:)  Wish there were more pictures!  This last one was taken with an iPhone.

Welcome home Picasso Moon!

Where is Sage when you need her?  I bet that is what Picasso Moon is thinking.  He went to school a couple of days after her passing away and the dynamics of the herd changed a lot since then.  Sage was always the horse who welcomed new horses and made the others accept the new herd member by befriending them. Sage was a horse that horses liked.  She wasn’t the “alpha” mare, she was the popular, friendly girl. Whenever Azure or Jaspar would go off to school for example, Sage would mediate their return to the herd.  She was not a fighter.  Most of the time she would simply stand in a position  that defuse potential bantering between the herd and the returning horse. I saw Sage do this so many times over the years I had her that I know it wasn’t a fluke.  I’ve never seen a horse behavior authority talk about a horse like Sage.  The alpha mare gets all the press.  Yet herds need a horse like Sage for balance.

Chanysk is the “alpha”  mare of our herd.  Since Sage  passed away, Chansyk has taken care of Beau and becomes his eyes and guardian.  She takes her new role very seriously and it works for Beau.  The return of Picasso Moon signals a readjustment for the herd. When Chansyk realizes that a new comer has entered her guardian area, she is called to action.

Alpha mare in full glory.  Note the expression on her face and the intensity she conveys.

Picasso takes the hint and relocates to another part of the pasture.  Chansyk moves pretty good for an old girl!  She is 26 years young.  Generally, she can’t be bothered by most things. But an invader in her eyes must be put in his place.

The amazing thing to watch during this whole process was Beau.  Somehow he was able to follow Chansyk around the pasture.  I don’t know how he did it. He used to have a hard time finding Sage when she would walk off when he didn’t realize.  Beau would call and call to Sage trying to find her and she would just let him struggle until he found her again.  But with Chansyk, Beau was moving around the pasture with her as if he could follow her.

Chanyk never let Beau struggle or feel lost in the process of monitoring the pasture and making it clear to Picasso Moon where he was and wasn’t welcome. She would take Beau up to a rocked area he would recognize and stand with him for awhile to let him relax a bit.  But she kept a careful eye on Picasso the whole time.

Picasso Moon is a pretty low key guy, but he has trouble understanding boundaries with horses.  Maybe because of his background.  When Azure first came to be with me, he was just out of a rescue situation too and  he didn’t know how to be a “horse” with other horses.  He was constantly getting himself in trouble.  Jaspar had to teach him the “way” of the horse.  And Sage was there to watch over him.  Picasso Moon will have to learn about interacting with horses too.  While Chansyk seems tough on him, she is a good one to help him learn.  While she might chase him, she wont hurt him.  I expect at some point when she is sure that Beau is safe around Picasso Moon, she will let him closer.

Picasso Moon did have some time to relax and do a bit of yoga while he was in the pasture today.

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