EE Rescue Stories

Tiny Taina

Tiny Taina

My tiniest princess dragon. Taina (Ty-ee-nah)

So full of rage, underneath it fear, underneath that grief…

Trust and hope had been stolen from her. She had retreated into her mind and violently tried to make the suffering stop, but there was nothing she could do. She never truly shut down, never truly given up, always continued to rage against the torment in her life. But she would be compliant to avoid additional suffering. She has always been obedient, if I held her should would stand for vets or hoses (to get the waste off her legs) or farriers. She was ridden at the slaughter pen, she performed correctly. She did everything right – but inside was boiling over in fear and rage.

Many people would be happy with this compliance despite the obviously visible emotional torment. She never kicked or bit a human, she knew better, rather she’ll attack her walls or fences, pace in her stall and throw her body into the wall. She would hurt herself to release the pain and hysteria she was holding inside the whole time she was in the hands of a human. But for many people this would be acceptable, because she was compliant and “respectful” (I hate that word).

On arrival here Taina retreated to the back of her stall and her self-harm reduced to just gently banging her sides into the wall, or biting the wall. It was only after vet work or a stressful experience she would have an episode of kicking or biting or throwing herself into her walls (or fences, she has an indoor/outdoor). She remained terrified of the other horses, she wouldn’t leave her stall if any of the others were out (even with a fence between them). She retreated in terror of her whole world. We only invaded her world for medical care, otherwise we only offered ourselves with kindness. This was met with great suspicion.

Then one day she started to want to open up. She shared breath with me, it was her first unguarded moment of relationship. After several minutes of breathing gently and sweetly in my face and me breathing back gentle, loving thoughts, she stopped then it seemed to dawn on her what had happened and she jumped away from me and attacked her wall. From that day forward she began to truly progress.

We eliminated all aversives from her life (aside from medical). If she disliked something we made sure she didn’t have to deal with it, which took a great deal of creative problem solving, as she hated everything. Soon we were letting her loose in the barn aisle so she could explore on her own (as she wouldn’t go outside when other horses were there). From there she began to meet the other horses in her own form of “Protected Contact” she would scream at them through their stall bars and tell them how much she hated them and how scary they were. Most ignored her or walked off, some engaged in this screaming fight. But soon she began to trust them. Soon she began to go out and show heat to the boys over the fence, or strike with the girls, even a rare moment of mutual grooming over a fence. She still won’t go near them in full contact though, she likes being able to retreat.

We spent many months enriching her environment gently and positively. Adding small, new objects that were easy to avoid but had valuable payout if she explored. Soon she began to get excited for and love all these new things. Then we started letting her explore more and more of the farm. First on lead, we let her take us for walks (sometimes Hannah would be stuck with her for hours as Taina walked her around the farm!) Then we realized we were just in her way and confusing her, so we let her wander on her own. She has free range of our farm when we were out with her. She will greet the other horses from her safe distance and will check to make sure everyone cleaned their food dishes. She will explore their stalls and make sure we clean the barn right (but don’t you bring that broom too close!) and she’ll inform us when she’s ready to have her treat ball in her stall again and settle in for the night.

She has taken control back of her life. She is still “obedient” when needed for vet or farrier, and this fear will return, but much less so than ever before. She is 100% herself, alive and animated and oh so opinionated. She is honest and complete. She is happy.

We have no aspirations for her, we don’t know the extent of the physical and emotional toll her previous life has taken on her and will never test those limits. She will never be a riding horse again, though I’m sure I could hop on and go for a smooth gaited ride around the farm and she would accept that – but I don’t believe she will ever be able to let her guard down enough to enjoy that. Maybe agility someday? For now, we do “yoga” on her exercise mats, this she enjoys. We play with toys, she tells us when she wants a cuddle or an itch, and she tells us when she’s done. And we always listen. Her smile grows and her eyes relax with each day that passes and the good outweighs the bad.

Posted by Empowered1 in EE Rescue Stories, 0 comments
The Importance Of Connection

The Importance Of Connection

A note on connection…

Since we separated Punk and Marshmallow from Oro a few years ago, Oro has continued to digress emotionally. When he arrived here at less than a year old he was sweet and happy and loved his new family of Punk and Marshmallow. But he soon outgrew them and his play got too rough for them. They had enough and we had to separate them. At the same time the human who had been working with him had moved on to other parts of her life. His only known connections, his only family, was gone.

Of course, we never let him be alone, he was consistently trained by others who volunteer here. But as his anxiety increased his behavior became increasingly unsafe, meaning fewer people could work with him. We also made sure he always had a turn out partner, we tried all our draft mares with him. But they wanted no part in his baby antics. They only had a kick or bite for him if he tried to engage with them. They were not a comfort to him, they just took his things, stressing his resource guarding stress he developed in holding with the other stallions. He loved playing with uncle Blitz, our silly belgian who thinks he’s a 3 year old! Unfortunately he’s 33 and not able to keep up with the young one anymore.

At the same time as his family was changed up we were working on teaching him injections. We were under the idea that his behavior was getting worse because of this injection training. I overlooked what was happening to him emotionally, what amounts to very real trauma. His anxiety sky-rocketed and his behavior got worse. Soon he became a chronic biter, he was only safe to train in Protected Contact, he was over-threshold just existing. His world was broken.

If he were a human child and we watched this emotional and behavioral change, we would know exactly what he needs, comfort.

He needs safety in his relationships, he needs the comfort of a peer, the love of a family. He needs an emotional connection. This sense of belonging, reassurance of who he is, of comfort and security lives within the CARE system, which negates the PANIC/GRIEF system. We can take an educated guess in saying, he is spending most of his days living deeply stuck in the PANIC/GRIEF system. No amount of behavioral modification will change his emotions, he needs a lifestyle modification. He needs his emotional needs to be met.

To do this, we got a bit lucky, while usually we only take in hospice care drafts, we got a surprise other young male horse joined our herd, Zephyr! Our hope from when we knew we’d be getting Z was that they would become fast friends and be a comfort to one another. As Zephyr is undergoing a major life change also, he’s separated from his horse mom for the first time, and his human mother passed away (she was my horse mom too which makes him my brother!). We were hopeful they would quickly be able to fill the void in one another’s hearts. Unfortunately with Zephyr’s illness we have not been able to try putting them together yet – but just by being next to one another, over fences and over doors, they have developed a wonderful relationship already! We are eager for the day they can “move in” together as their own little bachelor herd. Hopefully they will be able to spend their lives together. We are very eager to see his CARE system soothe his broken heart. It’s already beginning…

In the meantime, on the human side, I’ve been spending an awful lot of time with him. I sit with him very often just outside of his reach so he can’t bite me (to try to get me to play with him) 😉 I engage in much safe play with him, rubbing his lips and massaging his gums, playing keep away with ropes… We have begun to really enjoy each other’s company, but I’m not horse, and protected contact has limited our ability to develop connection through touch. We have been building his behavioral skills to the point where he is now safe to train in full contact, so long as things are set up for success. Sharing space, playing safe games, training positively, and snuggling when possible has helped him progress a great deal.

While great progress is beginning, I am anxious and eager for the future. I always want the best for our animals, appropriate management is key to healthy living and successful training. But some things, like which horses we have at the rescue, and how our fences are set up are just not that quick to fix. It’s been a difficult period for this sweet baby, but it is looking up.

Posted by Empowered1 in EE Rescue Stories, Emotional Science, 0 comments
My Friend Is Dying…

My Friend Is Dying…

I wrote this a few days before Blitz passed, while i struggled with the decision, but was too sad to share. But i’ve reread it and think its worth still posting.

My friend is dying and i’m pretending to be brave. I have been down this road before many times and i need to guide the others who haven’t yet. But as i sit in the shower crying, as i usually do in these times, i ask myself the same question – why do i do this to myself?

I could have a few healthy horses that i ride and enjoy. I could run a rescue with young horses i train and adopt out. Why do i choose to be a shelter for the old, the sick, and the broken beyond repair? These horses i rescue, some may be able to play but most of them won’t recover really, they rarely are able to be riding horses and none could ever really sport or show. These are horses that are damaged and unwanted, thrown out by society because they are no longer (or never were) useful. Whether they have an illness or injury that ended or never allowed them to start their work, whether they just got old and tired, they were let down.

I can’t fix them, i’m not magic (though i wish i were and i do try my best), i can’t stop them from dying, despite my best efforts. I do this because they would die anyway. But they would die alone and afraid, and often with great suffering. When i do this i promise them as much time as i can offer them filled with love and fun. They will spend their days remembering what it is to be loved. They will be reminded that they are horses, with all the freedom, friends, and good food that they deserve. And i can promise that when they die they will do so with braids in their hair and surrounded by gentle love. They will not be afraid and won’t be alone, and we will give them the gift of peaceful passing before they suffer.

So i remind myself why i continue down this road, why i do what i do, even though it feels like walking on coals. When my friend dies he will be cremated and buried in our garden where the fairies play. We will build them a home on his grave with the flowers that used to decorate his mane. All the lives he influenced can visit him there, where he will never be forgotten.

Posted by Empowered1 in EE Rescue Stories, Ethics, 0 comments
Enjoying Your Horse On The Ground

Enjoying Your Horse On The Ground

I always talk about the problem of how horses in modern society are treated like disposable commodities, when they’re no longer “useful” they’re disposed of. The biggest problem is when they can’t be ridden, for whatever reason, physically or emotionally. Even if they’re young and otherwise healthy, being unable to be ridden often means they are going to struggle to find and maintain a home. So instead of continuing to complain about this problem, today I’m going to discuss ways to help prevent this problem. If we can spread ideas and make it more common to see people enjoying their horses on the ground, it might help normalize the ideas of horses on the ground.

1) Sharing time – Having a horse is about more than just what we get them to do for us, but about the relationship we build. Share time with your horses doing things they like, grazing on a day on the best grass around and rubbing their itchy spots. Just be together and enjoy each other’s company.

3) Agility – a fun way to play with your horse, it’s engaging and helps build connection and communication. It’s a great way to help build your horse’s confidence and keep yourself fit! Build fun and creative obstacles, raid the dollar store for arena decorations, and have a blast!

4) Hikes/packing/trails – Pack your lunch and horse treats and set out on the trail. Go to the woods or the beach, explore somewhere new. You could even bike if you take the time to prepare your horse. Keeping your horse and yourself fit.

5) Trick training – teach your horse fun tricks, everyone’s favorite is a big cheesy smile. Tricks may seem simple and silly, but they’re a great way to bond and work on your communication skills.

6) Brain games – if your horse can’t exercise their body, they can sure exercise their mind. Working on teaching your horse to think for themselves, learning vocabulary words, like names of their groom tools, their toys, or even colors. See how many words you can teach your horse.

7) Horse yoga – even if you can’t do cardio, stretching is always good for the mind and body! Using targeting you can help your horse stretch their whole body, especially if you teach them to target other body parts. Practice walking while bent in both direction, like unmounted dressage.

😎 Reverse round pen – A great way to keep fit and work on your communication with your horse. Helping them learn to balance through their body and exercise is a way that’s healthy bio-mechanically.

9) Vet prep – take the time to help your vet and farrier, prepare your horse for anything they might need to put up with. Practice needles, syringes, hoof care, and so on. You’ll have the best behaved patient your vet has ever met.

10) Dress up/Photoshoots – Enjoy dressing up yourself and in your horse, in fun costume or in beautiful gowns, take romantic and fantastic photos with your magical unicorn

11) Unmounted Challenges/competitions – Miss the glory of competing? There are many unmounted competition online you can participate in for any of the above. Including fun horse fashion shows, clicker competitions and personal challenges you can do with your horse to be graded individually (rather than compared to others). There are so many fun options on EE and all over the internet!

Posted by Empowered1 in EE Rescue Stories, Ethics, 0 comments
A Horse’s Value

A Horse’s Value

For the person who thinks it’s sad that I don’t put down Butterfly, do you really understand the value of life?

Most people value horses by how useful they can be to humans. Can the horse be ridden? Driven? Are they safe on trails or roads? Are they sound for sport or labor? How many working years do they have left? Are they safe for beginners to use? Everything about the horse’s value is determined by what we can get them to do for us…

But what is a horse’s real value? What is anyone’s real value? How do we judge?

I believe all life has value, simply because they are alive. It can’t be measured in dollars and coins, not in gifts or services, and it can’t always be measured in time, but rather, in experiences and love shared. How well the live and thrive in the life they’ve been given, how they’ve bettered or enriched others, and the love that’s been given and felt.

Yesterday some of the volunteers were brushing Butterfly, a job I frequently send kids to do to keep them entertained. I watched as the older girls taught the youngest how to make braids, they each practiced different styles. I remembered back to when I was a kid, learning for the first time how to braid hair, when an older volunteer showed me, on Butterfly. Then I wondered, how many kids has Butterfly taught how to braid? What if we measured a horse’s value by how many braids they’ve had in their hair? A symbol of how loved they’ve been?

Doing that math Butterfly is 22-24y.o. That’s not super old for a mini, we hope she has many more years with us. But as a horse who was born in a hoarding situation, too small to be ridden, who went blind young, limiting her potential for her future. She is a horse who has no traditional value. But she has lived a beautiful and happy life any horse should hope to live. With all the food and care she deserves, with horse, sheep, donkeys, and people friends of all ages, from all around the world. She has enjoyed a rich life of love and has spread her sweet, gentle love to all who take the moment to notice her. She is a most valued member of our farm.

Posted by Empowered1 in EE Rescue Stories, Ethics, 0 comments
Sweet Tank

Sweet Tank

A long time ago…

I grew up volunteering at a horse rescue and dreaming of a way to work with and rehab horses with kindness, gentle compassion, and clear communication. I wanted our horses to enjoy being with us as much as I enjoyed being with them.

As a young adult I got my first horse, and she set out to teach me everything I had wish I knew, of course I had to learn the hard way. She taught me that all the traditional and natural horsemanship methods I had been studying and obsessing over were all based in the same concept, make the horse uncomfortable until they do what we want, then stop. And she told me, “NO”, she wasn’t going to put up with that, if I wanted to use those methods I would need to escalate the aversive to a level I would never be ok with. So I needed to find a new way.

This is when I made a special friend who saw my situation and genuinely cared enough to reach out and tell me what my horse was trying to show me. @ShawnaCorrinKarrasch taught me about Positive Reinforcement. Within weeks my relationship with my horse evolved into everything I’d ever dreamed of. Of course there were many bumps along the way. I had many times of sliding back into old habits, old mentalities, and dealing with Tank’s firm standards that she will NOT be bullied.

Soon I started working with all the rescue horses at the farm I grew up at. I learned alot, fast, and taught the young volunteers at the rescue the basics. Soon all the kids and horses at the rescue were having fun with this new type of communication and training. It opened a world of doors for our horses and volunteers. One of those volunteers ( @AlyShoemaker ) now runs the rescue we grew up at and is starting to teach other people about Positive Reinforcement too!! And several of those special rescue horses have made it home with me. 🙂

I continued on this path with my own rescue program, we started to focus on hospice care for draft horses, but have a number of special case horses. Each horse who has come into our rescue has taught me so much more about this world of positive training and compassionate care. Some helped me really comprehend behaviorism, some pushed me to learn more about enrichment and ethology, while others encouraged me to study neuroscience and understand social attachments in horses.

I decided to share this that the horses had taught me in my book, Equine Empowerment: A Guide to Positive Reinforcement ( https://www.amazon.com/Equine…/dp/0692181717/ref=sr_1_2… ) as well as on our website (www.EmpoweredEquines.com) with lots of free videos and fun clicker challenges (you can follow the steps and submit videos for grading, feedback, and prizes!!)

Now our program continues to grow. Our rescue program is actively teaching all our volunteers R+ training, with daily work with the rescues. We’re also opening up to public lessons for Positive Reinforcement training and regular clinics and classes on Behavioral science, ethology, neuroscience (of equine emotions), and enrichment!

I can’t believe how my life has evolved, with so many ups and downs, but all trending in this incredible direction. I’ve made so many friends along the way, all people eager to change the world for horses for the better. Mary Richards, Michelle Martiya, Sal Cosmedy, Hannah Christine, Naomi Smith, Christina Marie Perry, Janneke Koekhoven, Dorothy Heffernan, Jackie Broder, and so many more ❤ Love to you all! And it all started with 1 special horse ❤ who has also made it her mission to train the next generation of young people how awesome positive horse training can be 😃 Sweet Tank

Posted by Empowered1 in EE Rescue Stories, 0 comments