This is a direct follow-up to Friday’s article on The Secret to Turning Every Horse Into Your Dream Horse.
When you hear a horse labeled as a “rescue,” what is your first reaction?
Most people’s first reaction is some version of: “oh, you poor baby. You’re so lucky this nice person took you in.” The people that give that response aren’t really thinking about the consequences of their words and the mentality that goes with them.
Rescue horses are often seen as fragile creatures who need coddled and nurtured. Well-meaning rescuers often try to shelter and protect them in an attempt to “heal” their physical and psycological wounds. But this attitude ends up doing more harm than good.
That’s not how horses think. This is where anthropomorphizing comes in. Horses aren’t people. They live much more in the moment. A horse just wants to be treated like a horse. The horse will never forget what he went through, but often he is a lot more willing to move forward from that negative experience than people realize if he is given the proper structure and care.
What Rescue Horses Really Need
Horses were made to graze in wide open spaces with a herd. They were not meant to eat small meals alone in tiny stalls. The first thing I recommend doing with any rescue is turning it out with a herd. The herd should be well mannered and easily caught so they can demonstrate proper manners for the new addition. I prefer a herd of 3 or more mares as these are the most naturally balanced herds. Mares are not afraid to put a new member in their place and are less like to allow a new, unruly herd member to take over.
If a rescue is underweight, the best diet is well maintained pasture, although they may need to be slowly introduced to the grass if they are not used to it to prevent colic. Once the horse has adjusted to a grass diet, they should be turned out at least 12 hours a day, preferably 24 hours a day, and should be left with the herd until they have fully recovered whatever weight they need to gain back.
They’re Just Horses Who Fell on Hard Times
Every horse that is in my pasture right not would be considered a rescue by industry standards. There is the pony, Starlight, that was my first that I have had for 15 years. He was a little pony picked up for a song at a meat auction. Then there is Moose, which if you’ve followed this blog for very long you probably know that I purchased her as a neglected, unbroke, 6-year-old, who was labeled as a bucker and rearer. Punzi is the mare who ended up becoming a therapy horse for my handicapped mother. She is an ex-broodmare who was so fat she looked like she was pregnant with quintuplets and she was dumped by a backyard breeder because she is a registered paint who doesn’t throw color. Of course, then there is Pascal (aka Nutterbutter) who came from another backyard breeder. Pascal was an underweight alfalfa addict who was never properly weaned from her 2-year-old filly. Lastly, there is Kali, another underweight, papered mare who was dumped, this time because her owners didn’t have any more money for hay or feed.
The point is, I don’t see any of them as rescues. They’re just horses who fell on hard times. A few groceries and some time out in the herd to straighten out their manners was all they needed to turn over a new leaf. Some horses need longer than others. Moose took 3 years to really come around. Punzi and Pascal took a little over 8 months each. Kali around 6 months to turn around. Starlight never really seem affected by his circumstances, so he didn’t take much more than a few weeks to open up.
Yes, some rescue horses are abused. Some are just neglected. Every horse has their own story and every horse deserves a second chance. Some horses take years to regain some sense of normalcy, but coddling them and treating them like fragile, damaged goods doesn’t help.
The Rescue Stigma
One reason why the number of rescue horses who are successfully rehabilitated is lower than it could be is because too many people don’t understand that the one thing they need is to be treated like a horse, not damaged goods. Coddling a horse just confirms to them that their fears of the world and people are well-founded.
Rescue horses tend to carry a stigma that they are somehow inferior other horses. So, when a rescue horse succeeds in the upper echelons of any sport, it’s seen as big news. If you look closely, I think you’d be surprised how many “rescue” horses do make it big in their chosen sport. Their owners just don’t always choose to label them as such. That is not to say that an owner who chooses to label their horse as a “rescue” is wrong. That is their choice.
To be clear, I think rescue horses are great. Every horse I’ve ever had has been a rescue of some kind. I just don’t like the “rescue” label and I think the rescue mentality that comes with it can do more harm than good.
Photo by Angela’s chaos