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May 12, 2009 | | Comments 0

Horse Rescue Story: Fiona

Written by: K.C. Jean Kellam

I had spent a lifetime praying and dreaming of the day I would become a horse owner. Years of mucking stalls for free lessons had done nothing to persuade me otherwise and I decided without a doubt to move forward in my lifelong ambition of horse ownership. Looking back, maybe I should have been more specific in my prayers for a horse but I never thought I would find a horse like Fiona. Or is it that she found me?

My neighbor grew and baled hay for his cows and I figured the first step in attaining my dream horse would be to secure its food source. I walked away with not only but also, quite shocked my first horse. And what a horse she was.

It was with almost desperate despair my neighbor explained, to my surprise, that amongst his fields of grazing cows, there was indeed a lone horse. Given to him two years earlier for his children, this Thoroughbred ex-racehorse, had been written off as a loss and completely unable to be ridden. She had been left in a field to live with the cows and her existence had been literally forgotten by her owner, who knew nothing of horses. While the cows had managed to live a rather normal life, this 13 year old mare’s health had slowly declined.

I said not a word when I saw her the first time. She stood with a wary eye on her new, approaching company. It was obvious she was emaciated, covered in rain rot, and worst, her sensitive hooves had cracked straight through the top, making it almost impossible for her to walk. It was also obvious she wanted nothing to do with the situation and was quite content to stay where she was, cracked hooves and all. Her eyes showed not only fear but also a strong dislike for the people now inspecting her and her skin tensed under my hand at each touch. She was an impossible mess but at that moment, she looked glorious to me.

Fiona - A Horse Rescue Success Story

Fiona - A Horse Rescue Success Story

Without a thought, I took her home and prepared for the first of many long nights. Not a single piece of fencing yet stood, our barn had transitioned into an overloaded work shed, and the few trinkets I had collected for my dream horse over the years amounted to not more than a hill of beans compared to what I was getting myself into.

She was half wild, anxious, and rarely could I touch her without her rearing up. I couldn’t go near her with a brush or comb, even getting her to eat was a challenge. Not that the hours of attention I doted on her did not have an effect but it was in completely the wrong direction. We took pictures, notes, and called in all of the right people. The vet, the farrier, the dentist, and of course, the assortment of special treatments and medicines seemed never ending.

As her coat returned to a shining chestnut and her glorious mane and tail regrew (we had to cut all of her hair off because of how damaged it was,) so did her energy and her temper. Scars across her eye, flanks, and other sensitive areas spoke words she could not. Whenever we approached the fields, she could be seen, chipped knee, bad feet, and all, hightailing it for the other end of the field. We spent nearly a week fixing the barn to cater to her every need only to have her turn her nose up and refuse to step a hoof in it.

With the small amount of information we had, a tattoo mark inside her upper lip, we were able to understand better the life she had lead. For the first three years, she was a remarkable racehorse, and probably lived a life much more regal than we ever offered. Those things came to a quick end, however, when she chipped her knee and was unable to return to the track. She was bred for several years and then sold through several auction houses across the coast before shifting from farm to farm as she proved more work than pleasure until landing in the field where I found her in Culpeper, Virginia.

I spent nearly two years working with Fiona, and eventually added two other rescue horses for company, (untrained Loki and his forgotten mother, Barbie.) Fiona was truly the most beautiful horse I had ever seen, very much the Thoroughbred in her beauty and stature, standing over 16 feet. I worked with her daily, spending hours on her hooves, lungeing, and brushing her. By the time our relationship ended, I had successfully rode Fiona three times. Truly, I felt I had accomplished the impossible and the sheer joy I felt is indescribable.

Using the Parelli method, I was able to work through her fears and one of my biggest highlights was being able to touch her face, work it in my hands, and train her without bridle or bit. No training or book could have prepared me, though, for her growing angst and frustration with not just me and my over bearing attention but with anyone who walked on two legs and held a lunge line. Her hooves, still a daily struggle, had begun to deteriorate more and the doctor’s orders to stall keep her were more than Fiona could bear.

Several days of standing in a stall, even with daily workouts, had done nothing but prove to her that whatever thoughts she had on people rattling around in her brain must be true and she took matters in her own hands. With one swift quick of her right hind foot and a bad concussion on my part, I understood immediately she meant to end our relationship by all means necessary. Sadly, I let her back into the field that night knowing it was the only thing left I could do and it was without anger or resentment that I let her go.

With the limited choices for an ex-racehorse, and a sour one at that, and my limited experience, I made the best decision I could for her at the time. The life of a leftover horse can be devastating and usually ends in the worst of ways but I am glad to say she still lives happily on a breeding farm in Charlottesville, Virginia. Without a rider in sight.

I will never forget Fiona or our wild ride. I continued to work with horses and dogs that were in need of rescue and many stories had happy endings so I know my work had meaning. Her pictures are still on my walls and my saddle still smells like her but I have yet to replace Fiona, I don’t know if it’s even possible.

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