EE Horses

These are stories about the horses at our rescue

Our Quality of Work is their Quality of Life

Our Quality of Work is their Quality of Life

Our quality of work is their quality of life”
This is a common quote in animal and human care related jobs. It’s vital we remember this key point. It’s easy to get lost in our daily life, letting our mood or distractions reduce our quality of work. This is fairly typical in all jobs, especially when we are an employee or volunteer in a care position, it’s easy to say “it’s just a job/volunteer, it doesn’t have to be perfect”. In most jobs we need to remember a healthy work/life balance and not let our job overwhelm us or take over our lives, it’s just a job! But in a care position it takes a little more than that. The thing is, it’s not just a job when you are a caretaker – it is our animal’s whole life.
 
Our animals spend their lives at the mercy of our care, if we don’t feel like cleaning, if we are too busy to toss some extra hay, if we just aren’t up for cleaning and refilling their water – our horses go hungry, live in filth, or even become ill. They can’t just go get food elsewhere or refill their own water buckets. While there are some tools and ways to set up the animal’s environment for greater ease, but even with the best set up and nicest tools, everything still needs care. The tools need to be maintained, food needs to be dished out, items need to be cleaned, and waste needs to be removed.
While their care is often rewarded by lots of fun time spent with the horses, doing agility, training new skills, and just being awesome snuggle buddies – sometimes the work is just alot. We get burnt out. Caretaking is an exhausting job, physically and emotionally. When the work is hard, our bodies struggle to keep up, and in rescue, sometimes even if we do the best we can, we can’t fix everything. Sometimes our horses struggle with health or pain issues, sometimes they don’t appear very grateful for our hard work, sometimes even with everything we do, they still pass away. This can be a very defeating and draining job. It takes great inner strength for these volunteers to chose to continue to provide care and love, money and labor, even when the personal cost outweighs the benefits. When our animals pass, when we know we are fighting against inevitable loss and personal suffering, when we know we are going to lose the battle – it takes a special person to continue to chose to do what’s right.

We are blessed with a wonderful herd of volunteers of all ages who really recognize that the quality of their work is the quality of the horse’s life. We use pellet bedding for easy cleaning, so much less waste, easier storage (we can hold about 250 bags in our shed, shavings take much more space). But our old Belgian at 33y.o and 2000lbs he had begun to get pressure sores, no matter how thickly we bedded his stall. Taina’s feet hurt when they get cold, so while it’s more expensive, more work, and super inconvenient for us, we have added plenty of fluffy shavings to give them a soft, warm place to sleep. Inconvenience or extra work for us is the difference between spending their nights in pain or in comfort, getting good rest or suffering. To us, this isn’t even a question. Our volunteers go the extra mile to ensure our horses aren’t just cared for well, but also have plenty of enrichment, training, and fun. I couldn’t be more proud and grateful for our crew.

 
It’s important to take care of ourselves, remain grateful for our supporters, and to support each other throughout the hard times. We are in this fight together with the same goal of providing a great life for animals who otherwise wouldn’t.
Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses, Ethics
My friend is dying and i’m pretending to be brave

My friend is dying and i’m pretending to be brave

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 Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses, Ethics
Butterfly – A Horse’s Value

Butterfly – A Horse’s Value

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.
Me and Butterfly as “kids”

When Butterfly first arrived at the rescue I grew up at <3 she was 2, I was 14.
Butterfly and our friends growing up
               
Butterfly’s time here at EE
Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses, Equine Emotions, Ethics

A Call For Help

Today we put out a plea for help, our rescue has been hit by an awful disease and our animals are at risk. The treatment is long and expensive, but our horses have great hope of full recovery.  With your help we can treat all the sick horses and put up preventative measures to protect our horses in the future.

To donate:
https://www.paypal.com/donate/?hosted_button_id=DRFP7SLE3LCE6

The disease:
EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis) is a parasite that is carried by possums and eliminated in their waste. When this lands in a field where horses graze, or is cut for hay, or lands in hay storage or grain storage, it can pass on to the horse. While most scavengers that carry this parasite remain unbothered, it can have deadly results in horses. The parasite creates a home in the horse’s brain and spinal cord, causing damage that results in neurological problems severe enough to end a horse’s life. The problem with this horrible disease is that it can display a wide variety of ways and if often discredited as something else or overlooked as a weird quirk or behavioral problem. Many of these horses end up in rescues because they become unable to be ridden. The horses often look clumsy, lazy, discoordinated, or have strange behavioral quirks that are hard to diagnose. After trying many different ways to help their horses owners often give up or just dismiss these quirks as behavioral problems. This disease has relatively recently been understood and needs a great deal further research to fully understand it. There are still very few treatment options available. Traditional dewormers are not effective enough to protect our horses because they do not break through the blood/brain barrier to clean the parasites out of the spinal cord. Unfortunately this means the treatments available are expensive. More on this here: https://aaep.org/horsehealth/epm-understanding-debilitating-disease

Our horses:
We aren’t sure when or how our horses were exposed, because so little is known about this disease it’s rarely checked for and poorly understood, even by vets. Several of our horses could have had problems with this disease long before arriving here at our rescue, it may even be part of why they ended up here. However we don’t know for sure they weren’t exposed here. While we have a clean farm with carefully maintained pastures, we do have a high population of possums in our area. We also buy our hay locally, which may have been contaminated. We have safe hay storage in our clean loft. But every year at the end of winter we often run out of our hay stores and need to buy hay from wherever we can get it to make ends meet until local hay is cut for the first time in the spring. We have no way of knowing if these sources of hay have had any contamination.

Who’s been exposed?

Zephyr was the first horse who introduced us to this disease. He came to us with rather classical neurological symptoms. Upon tested he was graded as stage 2 neurological, which could be caused by any damage to the spinal cord. Most things that damage a horse’s spinal cord are untreatable and often life-ending, if not they remain fairly disabled for life. We were very lucky to have a vet with experience with EPM and encouraged us to test for this, and he came back positive. He’s 2 months into his treatment and doing really well. While he’s still neurological he has shown major improvements in his quality of life. He can now roll, run and play with his best friend Oro, and is settling down as his nervous system is no longer under attack and can begin to heal. While we’ll likely end treatment at the end of 3 months, it may take up to a year to see full healing of his spinal cord. We are very optimistic for his future. While he may not be able to be ridden he should be able to live a full and comfortable life. His medicine has costs us $600 for 3 months, equaling $1,800.

Taina is our starvation case rescue Paso Fino mare, she came to us seriously debilitated and suffering greatly having just miscarried a baby. We promptly discovered she also had Lyme disease and had neurological issues we had attributed to this. While her comfort level greatly increased with treatment of Lyme and a healthy diet. However she still had strange quirks, she is extremely emotional and prone to violent outbursts, attacking her stall walls, she also presents with spasms that look like small seizures. We know this is related to nerve pain but aside from pain killers we had no way to help her. After learning about Zephyr we decided to test her on a hunch. Sure enough she came back a high positive as well for EPM. Lyme and EPM often come hand-in-hand because the horse’s system is compromised by one allowing the other a way in, while a healthy horse may fight off one or the other independently. While we have debated calling this an end to expensive treatments to save Taina, we see the light at the end of  the tunnel for this precious girl. She has fought so hard and overcome so much, we can’t give up on her now that we have a diagnosis and treatment option. Her treatment costs $900 a month for 3 months, totaling $2,700.

We also decided to test Wisp when we learned about this disease, she has always been unbalanced and discoordinated. We attributed this to her being a big, clumsy Clydesdale and not really paying attention. But she had great muscle atrophy along her topline, which was strange because her sister Fable does not, even though they live the same lifestyle. So why does Wisp struggle to maintain muscle? She had a serious fight with Lyme disease which almost claimed her life a few years ago, we believe this is how a lingering parasite found it’s way into her spine. Her test came back positive as well. Her treatment is about $1300 a month, we are deciding whether to go for 2 or 3 months with her lower test results. So $4,600-$6,900

When these horses came back positive we decided to test a few more. It’s very common for a whole herd to be infected if the exposure happened here, especially because all of our rescues were previously compromised at some point in their lives.

Fable has more mild symptoms, she has similar extreme emotions that we see in Taina and similar nerve pain situations. We are chronically checking her teeth because she chews strangely and has trouble swallowing. She is also very sensitive to grooming. Her test came back highly positive!

Tank has always had fear issues and had a long battle with Lyme disease, so we decided to test her too. It turns out her eye and lip drooping and chronic drooling has been related to EPM damaging her spine, obviously more in her face than her hind end like other horses. Though hind end symptoms are beginning to become apparent now.

Marshmallow is our shetland mare who has always had serious problems with her hind end. If she were a large horse this would be seriously debilitating, but getting her weight down, our wonderful equine chiropractor, and keeping her in a healthy situation has kept her comfortable. We had attributed this nerve damage from her times pregnant and carrying many babies that were too large for her. However she came back highly positive. We are relieved that this is treatable, but sad that it took us so long to find her underlying problem.

We also decided to test our young mustang, Oro, as we’ve owned him since he was 9 months old. We were hoping this would help let us know if the exposure happened at our farm. But his levels came back extremely low, like he was exposed but his healthy system fought it off without our help.

With all our horses we are so relieved to finally know what’s going on, the underlying problems that were damaging their quality of life. Several years ago we lost a young horse, Viking, to what we believed was Wobblers, a hereditary neurological disorder, he was the son of Marshmallow and a Gypsy Vanner stallion. We believed his poor breeding of a very small mother to a very large father is what cause his conformational damage to his spine. Now that veterinary research has progressed and we’ve learned about this disease, I’m devastated to think that maybe this was his problem. However his neurological damage was rather extreme and it was unlikely he would have survived even with treatment. We are grateful this hasn’t happened again with any of our horses, and hopeful that we have caught this disease before the damage became too much to overcome.

All this being said we are facing vet bills bigger than anything we’ve ever faced before. This coming at a time when things are tight enough. We beg for your support at this difficult time. We know everyone is struggling so we appreciate anything you have to offer. Every penny will go towards our vet bills and ensure full and appropriate treatment for our horses in need. We are eternally grateful to our wonderful supporters!

Posted by Jessica in EE Horses

Quality

“Our quality of work is their quality of life”
This is a common quote in animal and human care related jobs. It’s vital we remember this key point. It’s easy to get lost in our daily life, letting our mood or distractions reduce our quality of work. This is fairly typical in all jobs, especially when we are an employee or volunteer in a care position, it’s easy to say “it’s just a job/volunteer, it doesn’t have to be perfect”. In most jobs we need to remember a healthy work/life balance and not let our job overwhelm us or take over our lives, it’s just a job! But in a care position it takes a little more than that. The thing is, it’s not just a job when you are a caretaker – it is our animal’s whole life.

Our animals spend their lives at the mercy of our care, if we don’t feel like cleaning, if we are too busy to toss some extra hay, if we just aren’t up for cleaning and refilling their water – our horses go hungry, live in filth, or even become ill.  They can’t just go get food elsewhere or refill their own water buckets. While there are some tools and ways to set up the animal’s environment for ease of care. But even with the best set up and nicest tools, everything still needs care. The tools need to be maintained, food needs to be dished out, items need to be cleaned, and waste needs to be removed.

We are blessed with a wonderful herd of volunteers of all ages who really recognize that the quality of their work is the quality of the horse’s life. We use pellet bedding for easy cleaning, so much less waste, easier storage (we can hold about 250 bags in our shed, shavings take much more space). But our old Belgian at 33y.o and 2000lbs he had begun to get pressure sores, no matter how thickly we bedded his stall. So while it’s more expensive, more work, and super inconvenient for us, we have added plenty of fluffy shavings to give him a soft place to sleep. Inconvenience or extra work for us is the difference between spending his nights in pain or in comfort, getting good rest or suffering. To us, this isn’t even a question. Our volunteers go the extra mile to ensure our horses aren’t just cared for well, but also have plenty of enrichment, training, and fun.

Sometimes however, our volunteers and workers get burnt out. Caretaking is an exhausting job, physically and emotionally. When the work is hard, our bodies struggle to keep up, and in rescue, sometimes even if we do the best we can, we can’t fix everything. Sometimes our horses struggle with health or pain issues, sometimes they don’t appear very grateful for our hard work, sometimes even with everything we do, they still pass away. This can be a very defeating and draining job. It’s important to take care of ourselves, remain grateful for our workers, and to support each other throughout the hard times. We are in this field together with the same goal of providing a great life for our animals.

Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses, Ethics
A Horse Who is Loved is Never Wasted

A Horse Who is Loved is Never Wasted

A horse who is loved is never wasted.

There are many times people feel pressure to let go of a horse they love because they are “wasting” them, because the horse has “potential” to succeed in a sport. All of this is human construct. None of this is for the horse’s benefit. No horse dreams of being a top show jumper or champion dressage horse. Horses only dream of pastures of grass and time with friends.
Over 100,000 horses a year are shipped out of the US to be slaughtered in other countries. If a horse’s worth is based only on how well they succeed in these human constructs, they are disposed of the moment their “potential” is gone. Why allow a horse to go a world where they will be used for their body, then disposed of if they can’t win, won’t succeed long term, or get injured?

Why should we ever let a horse who is loved leave the safe comfort of loving arms just because someone else might benefit from using them for sport? There is no benefit for the horse. Keep your horses, regardless of their competitive potential, you are meeting their greatest potential for HAPPINESS. Rather than measuring a horse’s life as successful based on a competitive career, we really ought to measure it based on how happy their life was spent. Spending it home with their loved ones and all their needs met, can’t get much better than that.
Posted by Jessica in EE Horses, Ethics

No Longer Your Beast of Burden

Horses are no longer a Beast of Burden. Modern countries no longer rely on horses for labor or transportation. Horses are now purely a leisure and entertainment animal. While our sports mimic old jobs and times of war where horses had previously given their lives, this is no longer necessary. No job done “just for fun” or entertainment should cost the life or wellbeing of an animal. I would say the same for humans, except humans are capable of understanding the risks and potential consequences of participating in extreme sports and dangerous activities – animals can’t understand these concepts in order to consent to the risk. Horses were used as tools of work, sport, and warfare since we domesticated them thousands of years ago, transitioning the harsh tools we used on them to manipulate them in a variety of clever new ways. Turning livestock nose rings into bits, adding spurs to sharpen our boot heels, using wide variety of whips, chains and pressure-point knots used to inflict pain and control these animals. Being manipulated, controlled, and used their whole life, then used for breeding and eventually destroyed when they are no longer useful. Our excuse was “it’s necessary” for food, labor, and warfare. So we accepted these necessary evils.
Before pictures:
  
    
   
  

This is no longer necessary.

It’s time we, as a modern society, decide to stop this cycle of abuse and disposal of animals. For the sole purpose of entertainment and sport.

The number of horses cycling into slaughter houses because they are old, lame, sick, or unable to be ridden, or because they no longer compete up to the standard the owner had aspired to. These horses are used up and thrown out. Often these horses were believed to have been given to “safe” retirement homes, “Free to Good Home” is a death sentence for animals. So we as a culture need to stand against this. Make this socially unacceptable. Whenever you work with a horse, whenever you pay to interact with a horse, whenever your child goes to riding lessons or summer camps, when you buy a horse, when you lease a horse, anything, make sure this horse is SAFE for life. So many stables for competition, lessons, trails, pony rides, camps, and so on use their horses as long as they can and immediately dispose of them when they’re no longer able to do the job. This happens all the time, in all parts of country. Even if the owners tell you “Oh no, we send them to a good retirement farm”, we all know that’s as true as when our parents told us our puppy went to live in a “farm up north”. We need to hold our society accountable for this. Even if it means that owners must make the decision to humanely euthanize these horses. Even though this is not kind, death is not a welfare issue, death is not suffering. When they leave a home they are not just at risk of getting a bad home – but much more likely for those who are un-useable, is that they will end up bouncing auction to auction until they end up on the slaughter pipeline where they are shipped repeatedly until they make it over the border to Mexico where they are slaughtered. If they survive the trip, they do suffer the whole way. So while I believe anyone who uses a horse should be responsible for them until their appropriate end of life, if that must be cut short it should be done in the least awful way, the least suffering, humane euthanasia in the arms of loved ones.

Our community has got to make it unacceptable to dispose of old, broken, sick, or used up animals. This needs to be no longer ok. This means everyone must do their part to make sure the horses they use are safe.

After pictures to return some comfort to your heart:



 

Posted by Jessica in EE Horses, Ethics

Alternative Equine Lifestyles

It takes a special type of person to turn away from society’s norms and work to change the world for the better. It’s very easy and comfortable to live a life within traditional expectations, gender roles, following the rules, and keep your questioning to yourself. It can be difficult, painful, and rather isolating to step outside that box, even if it’s for the better. I believe this barn became the ethical, forward-thinking, animal care facility it is because it’s run by those people who have walked outside normality. I am proud to be a part of such a beautiful group of humans and animals.

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way” – Martin Luther King Jr. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in EE Horses, Ethics

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.

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Care and Management, EE Horses, Ethics

The Responsibility of Love

One of the most frustrating things I hear in the rescue world when people get rid of their animals is, “they can no longer earn their keep”. This is a very outdated way of thinking. There was a time when animals served humans as essentially, slaves, they labored, they suffered, they were used until they could no longer be used, then they were killed and used for their parts. This baseline assumption is a huge problem – the idea that animals owe us their lives, their labor, their bodies, and then still ask for their affection? The idea sounds absurd when we look at it from the outside, when we take out our personal bias. If we were to look at another culture doing the same actions to another species we would see our hypocrisy (for example when people get upset over the abuse, labor, and consumption of dogs, cats, and exotic animals in Asian wet markets).

We could debate forever the ethics of using animals for labor, for their products, or for their meat. I’m not going to get into that – but I encourage everyone to look at this topic deeply and think about it with your brain and heart and come to your own conclusions that you feel good about.

I’m here to talk about the choice to own, ride, and commit to our horses in particular. These poor animals fall everywhere from livestock to family member. Regardless of where they land on your sliding scale, most people have an assumption of labor for their horses. They expect to be able to ride, drive, or compete with their horses. Why get a horse if not to ride? Just get a dog if not, right? Horses aren’t just expensive pasture ornaments. But what’s in it for the horse to do so?

I think it’s time in modern society to shift our mindset when it comes to horses – it’s time for a change. Horses should no longer be expected to work or expected to conform to human goals, competitions, or aspirations. But the shift I’m asking for isn’t huge. I’m not going to tell people to stop riding their horses or working their horses – but rather shift our mindset to appreciation. We should now appreciate when our horses choose to participate with us, we should appreciate when they help us reach our goals.

There is a huge difference in this mindset of expectation vs. appreciation. When we expect something and it’s not delivered (for whatever reason) we feel betrayed, let down, and justified in breaking up a relationship. It’s as though they aren’t upholding their end of a deal or bargain – but there was no contract, they didn’t know the deal. When we appreciate instead of expect, we go in with no presumptions, no goals, nothing to lose, so everything they offer we can be grateful for. We can recognize the gift our horses have given us by choosing to participate and choosing to give us their labor and relationship. These things can be achieved with Positive Reinforcement, to show our horses what we like, what we want more of, and that we are grateful for it. It can also give them the ability to say “this is too much to ask for right now”. It provides the horses a level of consent and agreement. This concept of appreciation vs. expectation can be seen especially when the horse becomes injured, sick, old, or even just unhappy. So often horses are sold, given away, left at auction, or otherwise tossed out simply because they are no longer “useful” to the owner, because the horse is no longer meeting their person’s expectations.

When we think in the realm of expectations, we believe that a horse should do our bidding it puts us in the frame of mind of force, pressure, and even punishment should the animal not comply. While when we think in the realm of appreciation, we believe a horse owes us nothing but they may choose to give to us – this puts us in the frame of mind of reward, reinforcement, praise and signs of appreciation. I do have some degree of expectation to be able to provide my horse full care safely. I want to be able to tend to their hooves, clean their environment, provide enrichment and basic husbandry care – I expect this. I don’t expect them to be perfect and compliant for these things from day one, I expect to be able to work towards this so I can provide them a healthy and appropriate life. I do not expect them to participate in anything that is just for fun, just for me, or cosmetic in anyway, these things I just appreciate when they do participate. I show my appreciation through positive reinforcement (and non-contingent rewards and love!) This becomes a more mutually beneficial and enjoyable relationship for both partners.

When we make the decision to add a horse to our life we owe them a full contract of freedoms (freedom from hunger, thirst, discomfort, pain, injury, disease, fear and distress, and the freedom to express their normal behaviors) with low expectations (the ability to provide them care) and a great deal of appreciation for anything they chose to share with us. This is the responsibility of love, if we choose to love them and add them to our lives, we owe them all this. Ideally this will be for a lifetime partnership – there are situations where we can’t keep them, but it should never be for a horse not fulfilling an expectation they didn’t know about or sign up for.

Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses, Ethics