December 30, 2008 | | Comments 0

Horse Rescue Story – A Skinny Appaloosa

Appaloosa - Horse Rescue

Appaloosa - Horse Rescue

A Skinny Appaloosa: A Horse Rescue Story

Written by Jan Hoadley

A search for a horse brought a phone call about a “skinny appaloosa” who needed a home. She was in a pen with two dominant Arabians and if she didn’t finish her food before they did, or if it was too close to them, she went hungry. The story was her teeth needed work, and she needed a home. Sierra went through times that would kill ordinary horses.

I went to see her and the description did not prepare me for what I saw. She was beyond skinny. She was a skeleton with a hide draped over it. Without a trailer, I had to ride several miles to get her, then stop multiple times to let her rest on the trip home. She was put in a field to eat. For the first month I thought she would die. Plenty of grass with a little grain was her diet, and it was a case of easy on the grain for fear of colic or laminitis. Her teeth were done and she was wormed and checked over by a vet who proclaimed the only thing wrong with her teeth was not getting enough to eat.

A month later she was still alive. Two months, three months passed and she started filling out. Her backbone and shoulder no longer showed visible bone. She had muscle over her hip and it was no longer a matter of pushing on her and she’d stumble sideways. As she gained weight I wondered if she’d gain attitude but in time I found not only was she good to clip but she’d allow her ears done without a twitch. Someone, somewhere along the line thought a lot of this mare. The muscles came back and there were fewer shadows and bones showing. It was clear she would live.

She had finally gained sufficient weight to stand light work so short rides a few times per week were in order. While she definitely had her preferences she didn’t have a nasty attitude. After many months and much food went through the system there was a faint trace of rib left to show of her ordeal. Her feet told the story if anyone looked, but one anonymous know it all left a nasty note on the door of “people like you shouldn’t own horses.” It made me wonder what the point was in even spending the time and money to build her back up then I’d go work with her and the nasty note didn’t matter. People assuming anything and accusing without a shred of a clue of the facts didn’t matter.

Sierra was a joy to ride but was not pushbutton. She had the heart to cross whatever waterway she was pointed in, no matter how deep. She would carefully navigate hills and natural trail obstacles. Her short term mental meltdown at balloons and shopping carts was humorous, her fear of drainage grates was a quirk to not pick a battle over. She’d calmly walk along the road as drivers came close enough to reach out and touch with my foot.

She’d pony other horses, but didn’t have patience for their attitudes. It was when a lesson horse was needed that she found her calling. In particular a young man I’ll call “Tim”. To say Tim was quiet was like saying Sierra was a little skinny when I got her. He’d answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but that was it. His mom brought him for lessons and although I questioned using her sometimes, Sierra would ride that balance of enough to be a challenge and sensing when to calm down. Because of her background that was known, and how much wasn’t known, she was a substitute lesson horse. Except for Tim.

In a ‘game’ to teach emergency dismounts it was a point to Tim if he got off before Sierra stopped and a point to her if she stopped before he cleared the saddle. Not only could he get off at a gallop and land on his feet, but he’d spend time just being with Sierra. She’d close her eyes and lower her head. He was the only person besides me who she clearly 100% trusted.

It was not until months later I found out what Sierra already knew – what she had sensed and “zoned in on.” Tim not only had been horrifically abused by an uncle, but his demeanor when I first met him is how he was all the time. Because of Sierra he gained confidence – he initiated conversations in time. She reached where counselors and testing and people could not. Much as she trusted few, so did he. His mom later privately pointed out that until he started taking lessons she wasn’t sure how to reach him and credited my teaching with his change, but I knew the truth. I had nothing to do with it – it was Sierra.

She tolerated almost everything including competing in a scoop shovel race. For those who haven’t lived this is an entertaining event involving two people, one horse, one rope and a scoop shovel. The rider snubs the rope, tied to the shovel, down while the other person must sit on or hang on to the shovel the entire length of the arena and back. The fastest time down and back with both people in their respective places wins. We didn’t win but she did her part.

Some time later someone thought it would be funny to open a gate and turn some horses loose. Sierra was hit on the highway and had to be euthanized due to an inoperable break below the hock. She was a throwaway horse that gave her heart every time it was asked and should have had many more years hanging out in the field, begging for treats and drooling on anyone silly enough to stand next to her after handing her an apple. She is buried in Oklahoma but her memory lives on. A part of me and several people she taught to ride went with her, but as long as that memory is alive so is a part of her.

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