R+ Kids and Horses Belong Together

Kids and horses are a beautiful pair, there is a special bond between a child and their first heart horse, something hard to ever create again. The stress and added mental work of adulthood can take away that unfiltered love given to a horse. This relationship of complete vulnerability, trust, and love molds a child into an amazing adult. The R+ lifestyle helps to foster these relationships in fun and creative ways to adapt to every child and horse. With protected contact, modified methods of feeding, the use of targets and costumes the options are limitless with kids and horses. We've watched time and again here at EE, kids bringing a breath of new life and joy to horses who were so broken they'd forgotten what happiness felt like. Children have an impeccable way of cracking that outer shell and providing unconditional love in a way that can reach horses. We adults are often clouded by hopes, plans, goals, overthinking, problem solving, busy minds... We forget to live in the moment and enjoy the time we have, we forget to be present with the horse in front of us.

The kids here don't just participate they often get to help make the big decisions - in every aspect of our horses, from the rescue to the rehabilitation, and eventually helping the horse pass on. One day on a farm field trip to the aquarium (where we learned about clicker training sharks!! It was so cool for the kids to see R+ in a very different realm) we saw the carriage company we rescued Revel from. We stopped and chatted with the people who owned them and most of the horses looked good, big, fat Percherons, younger and healthy. Except this old roan Belgian sitting in the back, as we got out hands under his coat we felt his bones, one of the older girls locked eyes with him and saw his lost soul. I told the owners that when they were ready to let him go, call us first. They did about a year later. He had lost much more weight and was struggling. On arrival we found out he is close to 30, and due to an unknown accident he had lost all the teeth on one side of his face (which explained his struggle with weight). The kids set up his rescue, we visited him the day we were told we could have him, they took the day off of school to go pick him up, then enjoyed spoiling him rotten. They've participated in the rescue of every horse who's come in, we made a 3 hour (both ways) detour driving from Maryland to Arkansas on our way to New Mexico, to visit Taina while she was in quarantine from the kill pen. Then while in New Mexico, one of our older girls fell wildly in love with a baby mustang who was at our friend's rescue Mustang Camp - so when we got the devastating news that Taina had lost her baby, we knew just what to do! Baby boy Celest made the road trip home!

The kids learn a great deal as they help the horses recover from their past. They get to learn from a variety of professionals - vets, dentists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, farriers, and specialists of all varieties. The kids have learned to help hold their horses when sedated for dentals or pass tools to vets as requested. Relationships aren't formed just on the good times or during the heroic rescues of special friends, but through the challenges and stressful times as well. I've felt my heart attach firmly to a horse while holding them through the most painful times of their life - this connection becomes unconditional, driven deep into our hearts and lasts a lifetime. It's important the kids get the opportunity to participate in these aspects of their relationships with their horses (when safe to do so). The kids learn about dealing with wounds, problem solving diagnostics when we can't tell what's wrong, juggling opinions of peers and professionals, and knowing how to watch our horses for signs that something isn't right. They learn about the different topical meds and when they might be needed, what situations and times they're appropriate. They know when it's time to call me or when it's time to call the vet, the day Marshmallow cut her face wide open Larkin came running down to my house with the vet's number already ringing, so we could get her here as soon as possible. Larkin also helped hold Marshmallow's head up, get a bucket of warm water and wound cleaner and braided her fluffy mane out of the way so everything was ready when the vet arrived. The kids also got to visit Wisp while she was in the hospital and learned all about equine surgeries, medications, fasting, and refeeding. These aspects of care are often left out at traditional farms where kids only come for riding, because they aren't fun, they're often gruesome and sometimes have sad endings. But a concept we remind our kids is not just the relationship building aspect of this experience, but also that the presence of someone they love and trust can make these times easier for our horses. Knowing someone safe is watching over them can provide them great comfort in times of extreme stress or pain (when safe to do so).

 

These times don't always end as we hope, we don't always get to come out the other side. This tragedy is never easy to go through, but it's a time our barn knows well, we often provide hospice care for horses in need. Our kids become a great support for each other during these difficult times, our family joins hands and hold each other strong so we can give our horses their best. Viking was the first and most painful loss for our farm - he was Emerson's first true heart horse, at 14 years old she had spent a long time working with him daily on his emotional control and physical rehab due to his neurological issue. But a growth spurt at 6 years old caused his untimely passing, despite Em's best efforts. This was a crushing blow for everyone, his death was so wrong, too soon, and so heart breaking. Em felt it best if she were there for him, she was the only person he fully trusted and fully loved, so she knew that the only way he would not be afraid was if she were with him. It was fast and dramatic, and so terribly sad, all the kids huddled around his body, holding hands, crying, and telling stories about their baby boy.

By far the hardest loss for our barn was losing our king, Revel, at 19 hands and 2,000lbs, with a personality 10x as big as his body he was everyone's favorite. He gave these kids so much fun, riding, agility, playing rough house, this silly boy brought so much joy to our farm. He broke his leg at the end of winter, but there was hope, we fought for 11 months to try to pull him through this. The kids helped take him for hand walks, cold hose his leg, massage him, build him tons of enrichment toys. They even helped open up a double stall for him and piled in 28 bags of bedding to help him rest. When the day came his supporting leg gave out the call went out to all his best friends who came to say goodbye. We made him buckets and buckets of treat soup, brought him out to graze and eat him slurpy peppermint candy soup, then said our most painful goodbye. The kids all held him, hugged him, then hugged each other, sharing stories and memories.

In contrast, Gummy Bear, he was the ideal, most perfect situation we could ask for. He came to our farm when he body was used up and he was ready to die, he was broken and on his way to be slaughtered, a terribly death. He walked off the trailer, saw his farm, got smothered with love by allll the kids, and he decided it was worth living. He cleaned up shiny and healed as much as he could, but his disease will degrade, he won't get better. He lived 2 amazing years, knowing he was a ticking time bomb, we knew he could go any day and we reminded the kids that his days were numbered. He spent every, single, day getting spoiled rotten, he did anything he wanted whenever he wanted. Whenever a kid had spare time they would groom him, cuddle him, and feed him tons and tons of treats. Sure enough the day came when he came in from outside much too slow. Something let go in one of his hind legs, the kids came and told me something was up, his hock was huge. With his disease we knew this was coming. I sat in the tack room crying for a few minutes with one of the older girls, then together we went out and told the kids that this was the day. We called the vet and the kids spent the rest of the hour opening every treat in the barn, one dad ran to the store for a bag of mints, he was surrounded completely by the love of every child who's life he touched. They all hugged and kissed him and went into the barn, I held him for the vet and the kids all came back to kiss him goodbye. It was perfect. He had 2 perfect years full of love, fun, and play, then a few minutes of pain covered up by love and candy.

After a horse here passes they get their own memorial garden in our big garden. We often use their feed tub or something special from them, Sugar Plum has an extensive fairy garden, the others have special representative gifts, and they all have beautiful flowers that match their theme. This allows the kids to take time to remember their horse, to still give to and care for a horse they loved. My childhood horse passed when I was 17, he was the love of my life, the first horse who I fell in love with with no conditions - he could never be ridden, he was neurological. Despite what he couldn't do for me as a horse, he did so much for me as a friend, he was silly, fresh and fun, we were so happy together. When he passed we put a toy rocking horse over his grave, but when we moved out of that property I took the rocking horse home with me and built him his own memorial garden too.

It's not all hard times, sorrow, and difficult life lessons. There's a lot of fun and play between hello and goodbye. This is where the love is made. The program allows the kids to pick favorite horses and work one on one with them and build a special relationship, of course that doesn't mean they can't go spoil someone else for a while! Each pair has different ways of having fun and goals to grow towards. These horses thrive, grow, and enjoy life. These horses aren't retired, they've been promoted to the fun part of their life! Dress up is one of the favorite activities with all the kids, whether they're kids, tweens or teens! They love to make decorations and costumes, get all dressed up and take photos with fancy backdrops in the woods, doing the agility ring, in front of the river, or out around the green fields. This is tons of fun for the horses, while some take some candy courage to put up with the ridiculous outfits the kids come up with. With R+ they work together to make sure this is fun for both of them, it's especially fun to go fun places together for photos. This is Butterfly's favorite activity, she doesn't know what's going on (she's blind) but she knows everyone is fussing and cooing over how precious she is and she gets lots of candy and cuddles!! The kids especially love rainbow butterfly parties! These costume photo sessions really help the young girls feel confident, beautiful, and special - they're able to express their true selves in whatever wild and creative ways they like. They get to carry these memories and fun times with them forever, giving them something to be proud of forever.

Agility is the other big thing, all the horses love it! Regardless of whether the horses can be ridden or not, getting to go play with obstacles and toys is really fun for everyone. Teaching practical skills like leading, tolerating vet care and tack/tools, moving certain body parts in certain ways, these are all valuable skills for the horse and human pair to be able to work safely together. But taking these practical skills to the agility ring can become the ultimate test of your abilities in a very fun way! This is a great way for the horses to get exercise in a fun and stress-free way. The horses love playing silly games with the kids, running around, bouncing over obstacles (or just crashing through them!) It also helps build our horses' confidence with a wide variety of things they may encounter in their life. Walking through pool noodles, going over poles, maneuvering a maze, weaving through crazy objects like pinwheels, and a variety of platforms. These strange objects are presented in a fun and familiar way for horses, preparing them for all sorts of situations in real life, like standing on scales, getting on trailers, going through the woods, going to events, and crazy emergency vet procedures.

Some of the horses are able to do light riding for some of the kids, some of the teens work with the horses to learn riding skills. While riding isn't our focus we like our horses who are able to, to know the skills of being ridden with R+. As a rescue we find it important to educate people, especially children, all about fun ways to enjoy horses other than just riding. Often riding becomes the end all, be all for horses, when they're no longer able to be ridden whether for physical or emotional reasons, often horses end up being disposed of. This is unfair for animals who deserve care for a full life and happy times with their humans, regardless of whether or not they can be used as an object to ride. So while we enjoy the occasional light riding and "Pony" (draft horse) rides for the young kids, we try to stress the point the riding is a fun addition and not a necessity or contingency for love. Many of our horses were driving horses at some point in their past, being draft horses, but it's actually Punk who will be learning to pull a small cart with his friend Larkin.

The kids also love for going on hikes and field trips with the ponies too! They're so portable we can bring them all different places. We love going on hikes, Punk has his own pack he carries on trails with the ponies' lunch while we carry backpacks with our own lunch. We explore all the local trail systems, for a short while Larkin had Punk trained well enough to ride him on trails before she outgrew him. The ponies love going on field trips, they go to our neighbor's Christmas tree farm to play with their donkeys and sometimes to the beach down the road. Marshmallow loves to swim in the water, luckily the kids are willing to go into that cold water with her! Punk is not a fan of the moving water, but he does enjoy a good roll in the sand and exploring all the smells, and especially getting the attention from anyone on the beach. The little ones also go to the equine affaire annually, Punk paints paintings for people while Marshmallow goes around and flirts with all the handsome stallions and snuggles treats out of all the kids walking around. The ponies love to teach people the wonderful benefits of R+ everywhere they go. Marshmallow is always game for an adventure, she leads the way and takes us for walks all around events, she likes to see everyone and everything. These fun adventures are awesome for the kids and horses alike.

The horses and the farm family also provide each other a great deal of emotional support. Horses have big ears, strong backs, and gentle hearts to carry us when we are weak - this doesn't need to be literal, sometimes just having them there to listen, hug, and feel loved is all we need. Whether going through hard times or not we are here for each other. A favorite summer activity is taking our favorite horse out on the nice grass front lawn to graze while we relax in the sunshine. Usually the sheep, cat and chickens will come join us. Friends will trickle in with their horse, we sit around and talk about nothing and everything. Our horses peaceful chewing, their check-ins and snuggle times really are just the support we need as we re-ground ourselves. We take time to appreciate what we have and fix what needs addressing. It's our mutual support time.