Rehabilitating A Rescue Horse
When people think of rescues and rehab, they mostly think about meeting the physical needs of the horse. So many rescued horses go months, sometimes years without adequate nutrition, but Roxy’s Story tells us that rehabilitation is much more than food. Rehabilitation is learning to trust, finding a safe place and in some ways starting all over again. Here at the ranch, we are honored to have an individual like Roxy, who has persevered through many challenges to get where she is today.
Roxy was a beautiful, sorrel, quarter horse with a white blaze and 4 white socks. She was suspicious of humans and could not be touched. Little is known about her history except that in recent months (years?) she has needed to struggle to survive.
In order to understand Roxy, you need to know where she came from. Roxy came to PEACE Ranch after a dramatic rescue conducted by local law enforcement, Horse North and the Michigan Horse Welfare Coalition. Two horses on the site had already died of starvation, 7 were removed from the farm, several with body scores of 1 or less. The horses had to caught and hauled up to Northern Michigan but Roxy, wild with fear succeeded for over an hour to avoid capture even though she was in a small paddock and had been shot 12 times with a dart gun for sedation.
Roxy and the others were transported to farm in Kingsley, MI. where they awaited veterinary care and a more permanent placement, however, when the vet came, despite the effort of area horsemen, Roxy could not be caught for evaluation. She was labeled “aggressive, dominant” and “dangerous”.
In September, 2010, by a unanimous vote of the board of directors at Horse North Rescue, Roxy was permanently placed through a transfer of ownership, with PEACE Ranch. Roxy will continue her rehabilitation and be retrained for equine therapy.
The first time I ever saw Roxy, she was fighting and fleeing as if her life depended on it. I believe she thought it did. She had just been rescued from a horrible situation and brought with her surviving herd members to a farm in Kingsley, MI. She was labeled “wild” and “dominant”, “aggressive” and “hard to place”. The following is a daily journal of what happened next.
PART 1 : 90 Days with Roxy (learning to trust again)
Day 1: Roxy came to PEACE Ranch today. It took Jennifer and I (with a little help from our friends) only 14 minutes to load Roxy and Charity using natural methods. the most important thing was we never tried to “catch” her. We transported Roxy in my round pen. She started to run……………………
Day 2: Roxy is still running. She stops to eat and say “Hi” but off she goes. I’m tired just watching her.
Day 3 BREAKTHROUGH Roxy was still when I came out and let me touch her in the morning as I stood with her while she ate. In the afternoon,she let the children who were visiting and didn’t know she was “wild” touch her face. Then, Shelby Dean and I picked the burrs from her mane. AMAZING! Later in the evening, Roxy laid down. Roxy is feeling safer.
Day 4: Roxy is retaining from day to day what she accomplishes. Although I don’t see aggression in her, she is a dominant mare. She started to let us know she was tired of our sessions with nipping so, time to do some round pen work. Roxy went round and round turning and adjusting gait and direction as I asked, lowering her head she stopped and turned to me but would not come in. After sending her back out several times, when she turned in, I waited for her, asking, drawing….and she took a step toward. I rewarded by coming toward her. She let me touch her all over both sides with the carrot stick. That was enough for one day.
Day 5: Another banner day for Roxy. At times I can sense her willing herself to move past the fear in order to trust. Today, another major mile marker, not only did she tolerate being touched all over with the carrot stick again but also my hands. The big news is that she allowed me to attach a lead rope and lead her around the round pen. She was reluctant but with a little quiet persistence, she pushed through. Our sessions are short so not to overload her with too much too soon. Roxy is a great example to us of an individual who, in spite of being traumatized, is willing to take the risk to learn to trust again.
Day 6: Roxy had visitors today. Corina and her Mom and Dad stopped in to see her. They were with Roxy from the beginning of the rescue effort and could really appreciate the change in her. All three agreed she’s “a different horse”. While they were her, Todd went in the pen and rubbed her all over. I was thrilled to see her response to a man touching her. She looked a little worried but was still and clearly thinking it all through. He even rubbed down her front legs and she was fine. Earlier, I put the lead rope on and work a bit with her, casting the string of my “carrot” stick over her rhythmically. She had one little goosey spot as I cast from the left so I repeated until she lowered her head and relaxed.
Day 7: We repeated the “friendly” game today, rubbing all over with the carrot stick, casting the string across Roxy’s neck, shoulders, back, rump, and legs. She was still and quiet. Roxy was groomed using the curry, hard and soft brushes. AND THEN I picked up her front feet. It all occurred with little resistance. Roxy’s feet are quite overgrown so it is important that she become comfortable with having her feet handled so she can get the farrier care she needs.
Day 8: Once again we repeated grooming, leading and
today we took off the halter that had been put on the day she was rescued. In order to put the halter on it took 12 darts (intended to medicate and quiet her) and 45 minutes STILL to catch and halter. Today, I simply walked over and took it off, then put it on, and took it off again. This evening, in the midst of the mayhem caused by a bunch of kids having fun, Ella (our German Shepherd) chasing her ball, one of our Horse North friends, Todd, picked up all 4 of Roxy’s feet! She still has a way to go but I predict Roxy will be ready to place in 30 days instead of 90.
Day 9: Roxy continues to progress. Today she allowed the burrs in her tail to be completely brushed out. More significant though is that she let someone who does not usually do the handling brush them out. (yeah! for Julie ) This shows that Roxy is not only accepting the handling well but that she is able to apply the trust she is building with me to others. The ramifications of this are quite significant as Roxy is demonstrating she will be able to adjust easily to another caring environment.
Day 10: I am away and Roxy is being cared for by some trusted friends and our family. This will be a good opportunity to see how she does with others for a few days and to see how she responds when I return.
Day 11: In addition to helping to imprinting a new filly on the farm today, Shelby Dean also spent some time with Roxy rubbing her all over and picking up her feet. This slow, steady, re-training process with many caring individuals is invaluable to Roxy. She is doing well and is accepting of everything that every one has done with her so far.
Day 12: Roxy continues to make progress in the area of trust. I am so thankful for the folks like Julie, Shelby and Todd who have all contributed to rounding out her training by spending time with her. This week we will begin to explore further into areas like being lead, tied, responding to pressure etc. This should be exciting so stay tuned!
Day 13: We have begun a new phase of training. Roxy experienced something today for the first time at PEACE Ranch, being tied. It was frightening to her. When she realized she was tied she lurched back a couple times , a wild look in her eye. She planted her feet, looking a bit like a mule and held. I thought she might pull the 12 inch post right out of the ground, but she didn’t. Eventually she gave to the pressure. I untied her and took her for a little walk and took her halter off. We will continue this daily.
Day 14: I tied Roxy again today. She turned her head to the right, felt the resistance, and gave to the pressure. Turned to the left, felt the resistance, and gave to the pressure. No bracing, no pulling, no wide eyed panic. She is one smart horse.
Day 15: We “upped the ante” today with Roxy, grooming and putting on the bareback pad while tied, having her feet picked up while she is being attended to with halter and lead rope (in preparation for trimming soon!) and we threw in a little “how much weight on your back will you stand for”. All went very well. I am so thankful for our Horse North Friends and horse community friends, without whom, this would be a lot more difficult. Thanks!
Day 16: I walked out this morning and Roxy called “Good Morning’ to me. It was cold and rainy so we took a break from training today.We’ll repeat yesterday’s exercises tomorrow and perhaps try the cinch on the bareback pad.
Day 17: Today, I did something I would not have imagined doing with Roxy for awhile, I used her in an equine assisted learning exercise. I was visiting with a young woman while I was working with Roxy. Earlier the gal had mentioned some boundary issues she was dealing with and it struck me that working with Roxy might be very helpful for her given Roxy’s personality. Roxy responded very well and it was quite productive for the young woman. This horse continues to amaze me.
Day 18: This morning, my husband looked out the window and said “There’s a horse on the wrong side of the fence” and sure enough there was and it was Roxy! She had leaned on the board in the round pen just hard enough to snap it and she was out in the front yard eating grass. I wondered if I would be able to catch her so I went out and she greeted me like she does all the time, walking up so I can rub her nose. This felt like another mile stone. We decided it was time to put her out in the herd so we moved everyone to the summer pasture and watched. Roxy settled in quite nicely. She is not the dominant horse in the herd which relieves her from the pressure and responsibility of caring for everyone. We feel this will be good for her. Her day was spent getting to know her 4 other herd members and eating grass.
Day 19: I saddled Roxy today. It was the first time I went down to the pasture and brought her out from the herd for training. It seemed like she couldn’t wait. She was very attentive and seemed to enjoy working and being with me. We went through our usual routine, then I threw her lead rope over the fence, brushed her off and put my English saddle on from each side. She was a little leery on her off side at first but relaxed into it just fine. I cinched her up and took some pictures but I lost them on my phone. Ugh!
Day 20: Roxy continues to progress. I tried the bridle on her today and she took the bit without a hitch. We are ready to see what (if anything) Roxy knows under saddle.
Day 21: Today Roxy was home safe on the farm as I traveled up to Alba with Horse North for another rescue. We worked from 10 am to approx 3 pm to load two young horses. These fillies had successfully fought off every attempt to take them off their farm. Now, the property abandoned and foreclosed, they had to be removed by whatever means it took. It turned out to be the most difficult loading Horse North has ever encountered. As we struggled, I couldn’t help but think of Roxy, who just a few short weeks ago was in the same position, wild, out of her mind, fighting for life.
Day 22: I go out each morning and evening and Roxy greets me. She leaves the hay and the herd. Tonight, Mic (Morgan gelding) followed her and he then he pushed her away. She trotted slowly around, pinning her ears and twisting her head as if to say “that’s MY mom”. As I sent Mic away so she could come back in, she lowered her head and nickered softly.
Day 23: My friend Theresa came over today for the first time since we loaded Roxy to bring her to my house 3 weeks ago. She asked questions like “Can you touch her now?” “She’s in your pasture! Can you catch her?” I just smiled and said you’ll have to see her to believe if. Needless to say she was floored.
Day 25: Today, I took the saddle out thinking I would get on Roxy but when I brought her up to the round pen she was more interested in the herd than she was in me. It took a while to get her focused and paying attention. Once her head was in the game, we went through our usual paces but once the saddle was on, a western style this time, she was clearly up tight. I invited her to move around the round pen and she took off. She tucked her tail and looked like she wanted to buck but never did. She ran and ran, both directions and finally settled. As we played the “friendly” game, the sound of the cord running over the saddle goosed her. Over and over we repeated the same things until she finally relaxed. I put the weight of my hands in the stirrups and she was fine but when I began readying to mount she moved away. Clearly she has been ridden and clearly it was not a pleasant experience for her. We will continue with her retraining to develop a more solid foundation before I get on.
Day 26: It has only been a week and we have moved Roxy back to the round pen. I expect she will stay there until she leaves. I had hoped that when I went out to get her tonight, things would be different after yesterday’s training but nothing had changed. When I brought her to the round pen to work, she was completely focused on her buddy in the field. Rather than duke it out, I decided to let her work it out herself. It’s in the 90’s and she has really worked up a sweat running in the pen. I thought she might colic as she stopped and rolled several times but she didn’t. There is something in me that wants to feel this is a set back for Roxy, but, I think it might be further exposure of who she really is and any revelation of that, is forward movement.
Day 27: Roxy continues to be distracted but has settled a bit. She whinnied to me this morning when I came out and stood quietly for a while to be by me. This is progress. I did some research about herd bound horses and found that horses with the level of insecurity Roxy exhibits have often been through an early traumatic experience either at the time of imprinting (the earliest handling of the newborn foal) or at weaning. I find it interesting that, like humans, horses who are traumatized early in life struggle with life long issues.
Day 28: I went out this afternoon and stood with a calm and connected Roxy. It was amazing, she was herself again. She accepted all of the requests I made of her willingly. I’ve been concerned about keeping Roxy in the round pen too long. It’s a little like solitary confinement. So, I consulted with my good friend and excellent horse woman, Nan Lynch, about putting Roxy in an adjacent pen to the other mares. We decided it was worth a try. All I can say is so far, so good.
Day 29: When Roxy came, she had several lumps on her where she had been shot with medicated darts to try to settle her down. The lumps have all resolved but one and it appears to be abscessed. I will try putting hot compresses on it to draw it out, otherwise we will need to have it lanced by the vet. Today, due to fence failure, Roxy was able to make it in with the other mares. I’m happy to report she came out without a hitch. If she seems stable we will resume saddle training sometime next week.
Days 30-32: Roxy is doing well in her pasture. I am hoping the infection on her hip will resolve so I am treating it and giving her some “time off” so all her energy can go toward healing. Last night, as I stood by by her, it seemed she was “snuggling” me. She has a sweet nature and is quite affectionate.
Day 33: I got Roxy out of the pasture today for the first time since her round pen episode. I tied and groomed her. She seemed relaxed until she got “worried” about the mare in the other pen. She seemed fearful so I walked her by the mare a couple times, she calmed down and I finished her tail.
Day 34: Shanti (my vet) came out and he looked at Roxy’s lump today and didn’t think it was an abscess. The better news is that she was very good for him and stood for him to check it out with no halter or lead!
Day 35-36: Roxy seems content and to be growing in confidence. The kids rode one of the mares in the pen adjacent to hers and she accepted the mare leaving well. We also took a couple of horses off the farm for a trail ride and she did not call nervously after them. After being in a situation where the horses in her herd were dying and then facing the traumatic removal from the farm she was on, we are taking the time she needs to get used to the everyday coming and going. This will build confidence and security in her.
Day 37: We scheduled Roxy for a farrier appointment on Thursday. A lot of the over growth on her feet has broken off over the last few weeks and though they are mis-shaped and are in obvious need of care, I think, after her trim she will feel a lot better.
Day 38: I laid over Roxy as she ate her hay tonight. I stood on her tire feeder (a big old tractor tire I put her hay in so to keep it confined and out of the sand) and stretched myself as far as I could over her, petting, rubbing her while she eats to see if she is comfortable with my weight on her. She is very quiet and does not seem bothered by this exercise.
Day 39: I have to admit I have been excited as I have anticipated today. My friend Theresa agreed to help me with what I would call natural saddle training. Though it is clear Roxy has been ridden, she has made it abundantly clear that it was not a pleasant experience for her. Her lack of trust and clear communication prompted me to retrain her for saddle. I had laid all the foundation but could not do this part myself. With Theresa’s help, I was able to slowly and quietly ask Roxy to accept both a position of willingness to be mounted and my full weight from both sides. It was a banner day. We will move on to “leg over” soon.
Day 40-41:After giving her a day to think about it we were back to “work” again. I call it work but Roxy really seems to love being worked with. In fact, I had just gotten back from a trail ride and was going to get something to eat but there she was at the fence looking at me like “is it my turn?” I just couldn’t refuse her. It was quick and painless this time as Roxy had retained everything from our last session. Just a little working up to it and “leg over” came quickly, quietly, naturally. We worked both sides, her “on” side twice because she has more to over come there. It was fantastic and all who were there were blessed to see this equine friend so eager now to trust.
Day 42: Today, I had the privilege of riding Roxy. Click HERE to see her first ride. It’s really incredible when you think about it. It’s hard to describe the feeling but let it suffice to say that transformation in any being is beautiful and with Roxy, I feel honored to have a seat in the front row.
Day 43: Roxy saw the farrier today. She let him trim her fronts but not the rear. She was too worried about him coming at her back legs. As I watched him, I remembered the dogs who were, along with Roxy and her herd, starving, eating the dying horses, and maybe sometimes biting at the legs who were getting weaker. We’ll continue to work with Roxy until she will pick up her hind feet quietly. In the mean time, I guess she has a little PTSD so we will give her grace.
Day 44: Roxy’s foot is sore. I’m not sure why. She was willing for me to look at it. We’ll wait until tomorrow and she how she is. I went out tonight to check on her and I scared her and off she ran. I went in under the shelter and called her. She came gingerly, frightened and sniffed me. Then she snuggled up as I calmed her. “Roxy is afraid in the dark” I thought, not too much different than we are, is she?
Day 45: I guess horses have grumpy days. This may have been one. Roxy seemed crabby and disinterested today so, fine, we’ll play another day. Her foot seems better.
Day 46: Everyday we learn a little more about Roxy. Last night, the filly (Freckle’s) slipped under the wire into Roxy’s pen. Roxy was lying down and I thought, “o dear, what now?!”. The filly crept over to Roxy to sniff her and Roxy streeeeeetched her neck out to sniff the filly and then relaxed back. She was so gentle and so sweet.
Day 47-48: We switched pastures today. Roxy went in the pasture she had been adjacent to and the horses in there went to her pen. I have been planning this for a while and wondered how she would make the adjustment. It went fine. She seemed to have a minimal amount of anxiety. I think that is progress.
Day 49-51: Roxy is still sore. She is crabby and when brought out for fun is disinterested or at times down right evasive. Watching her move today it is clear there is something wrong. It could be the result of her resent trim or perhaps an injury. She is unstable and painful. We will need to have a vet and farrier assess this situation for us.
Day 52-54: We started Bute (like horsey aspirin) twice a day and Roxy seems in a better mood. Perhaps I will try again to get her out and work with her. I wanted to give her a few days on the Bute before I tried. This morning I went out to feed her and I was standing by her, scratching her neck, like I do every morning, then her head and I smelled something quite familiar—a SKUNK! Roxy must have gotten sprayed during the night. Here eyes seemed fine but boy is she smelly!
Day 55-65: Ten days of Bute but Roxy still has a “hitch” in her “git-a-long”. It’s not quite as pronounced but it’s still there. We’ve gotten her out to groom a few times but she is still a little ornery. She is still lovely as ever and even though she isn’t much for work these days, she likes visiting and play.
Day 80: We were on vacation from day 66-76 and I have been running since I got home but I have a story about Roxy. On Day 77, I went out in the morning and coming to the barn, I greeted my equine friends. They came to the fence but Roxy, the most animated I have seen her, head up, ears forward, motioning with every muscle and molecule, bright eyed and seemly bursting–nickering and quietly whinnying–moved back and forth. There was not a doubt in my mind that she was saying “I missed you, where were you, I’m so glad to see you” everything about her countenance looked joyous. and I was honored by this lovely mare once again.
90 Days have come and gone and Roxy awaits a more permanent placement. While she has been here she has overcome her incredible fear and has learned to trust again. There are still unanswered questions like what is the exact nature of her disability and can she learn to live in a herd or will she always need to be somewhat separate. These and other questions will be answered in her new home. Where ever that is, Roxy has a spot in my heart for good. She allowed me to in to help her work through the terror she experienced in Fowlerville and this has been a great gift- her renewed faith has renewed my own.
PART 2: Continuing Updates
Sept.10th – Roxy got all four feet done by the farrier.
Sept 15th – Roxy is at PEACE Ranch to stay!
Sept. 27th – Roxy is being worked with daily to improve ground manners. She has been “buddied” with Freckles, an easy going, well behaved, maternal pony. So far, the match is a perfect fit.
Oct. 8th – Pairing Roxy and Freckles has gone very well. Roxy is not experiencing the anxiety she did before when separated from her pasture mate. We are working on leadership and saddle training again.
Oct. 17th – About 3 months ago, we tried putting Roxy in with the herd. She became so herd bound with in a week that we had to separate her. Then, a month ago, we gave her Freckles as a buddy. So far, so good. Today, we added to more mare is to the group. Before making the change, Jeff came and worked with her tied, picking up all 4 feet, and at liberty. This week will be critical.
Oct. 22nd – Roxy has been with the mare band for 5 days. She’s been out twice for training and the other mares have been removed for riding. So far, Roxy has stayed on track. This is a major victory for her. Today’s session pushed past the basics of her just continuing to perform her usual tasks but we pressed her by taking her for a walk into a far pasture, away from her group. Roxy was great. We’ll give it a few more days but then we’ll move on in her training, satisfied that another obstacle has been overcome.
Oct 29th – All is well and we have an appointment with the farrier next week. This one Roxy will faced stone cold sober. We have high hopes for her this time. The herd sour behavior is gone.
Nov. 5th – Roxy had all 4 feet trimmed today without drugs! This “wild” mare finally submitted to the procedure that has felt the most vulnerable to her and required a high level of trust. Lots of time and effort went into getting her here. Once again I am thankful for our excellent volunteers here at the ranch.
November 9th – Rode Roxie again today. She was very quiet and worked hard to understand what I was saying. She is green but going well.
November 11th – Roxy ground drove today for the first time. We thought this would be a good way for her to learn directional cues clearly before she is m
mounted again. It took her about 10 minutes to get the idea.
Nov. 19th -Roxy and Jeff went for another ride and we have ground driven her a few more times.
There is video on the Face Book page if you are interested. But winter is around the corner and the opportunities for training will be few and far between now. We’ll keep you posted as we have something to say.
Dec. 1st – In the last couple weeks, though we have not been riding or driving due to weather,Roxy has been completely groomed by two more new people. Roxy was steady as a rock. I think we can safely say that Roxy, with regard to handling, grooming, hoof care and herd bound behaviors is rehabilitated.
Dec. 13th – Roxy continues to be rock solid in the progress she has made. She is leading her herd now and handles the responsibility well, though her number two is a very close second. We continue to take her out weekly for grooming and handling. She is healthy and is handling the difficult winter well.
Jan. 15th – Roxy is holding her weight and is groomed and handled weekly. She is getting along well in her herd, in which she has risen to leader. She is a good solid mare and has retained all we have taught her so far.
2011 PART 3
The continuing story of Roxy…………………….. Shaping A Therapy Horse
Mar. 20th – I have decided to continue the chronicles of Roxy as we shape her this year for use as a therapy horse. Roxy has come full circle and shows much promise in working with people. The first step will be some testing and training.
May 2nd – Tonight, after being in a herd, with few changes for the last several months, we made a BIG one. We moved Roxy’s best friend out to an adjoining pasture. If that were not enough, we added a couple new horses and this rocked Roxy’s world. It just so happened that the changes were made during the first class in a series on Basics in Natural Horsemanship Class. Our first class, equine behavior and herd dynamics and so we watched.
Roxy puffed herself up as big as she could make herself and charged the new herd leader (Vinnie) looking like she was out to kill, but turned away at the last minute each time and bolted for the fence line of the pasture where her friend was–looking for safety and comfort. Vinnie seemed uninterested and kept eating. Roxy charged him several times always running back to the fence, the epitome of insecurity. I couldn’t help but think of the scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorthy (via Toto) finally discovers the wizard is nothing more than a frightened elderly man. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” smoked the wizard. Smoke–that’s all it was with Roxy too.
May 3rd – This morning, Roxy was in with her friend. After inspecting the fence line, I can only conclude that Roxy cleared the 4+ foot wire fence.
After last nights adventure, it seemed a perfect time for the first training session of the year. Not only could I assess what she had retained from last year but also the level of flexibility she had developed. This was quite an issue last year. Training would necessitate taking her from comfort and safety and asking her to transfer that to me.
I got her from the pen without incident and we went to the paddock to work. She was alert but it was not hard to get her head in the game. I ran through her paces, asking her to give and move to pressure backwards, on the forehand and the rear. I put the gear on and ground drove her and she acted like we had never stopped. Three cheers for Roxy who retained all she learned last year and has developed a higher level of coping evidenced by her flexibility today.
May 16th – We used Roxy in the Basic Natural Horsemanship Class tonight. She spent an 1 1/2 hours having 8 novice horse woman practicing the art of applying “touch” pressure. She was a champ.
May 17th – Roxy was ridden by Theresa today with a bridle. We are now sure that Roxy has been ridden in the past and understands the bit and leg cues.June 4th Roxy relapsed today into her codependent mania when we took her out for training. We had moved all the mares to the summer pasture and were getting her out to work. The further she got from Tana, her buddy, the more worried she became. At the paddock, she started to get pushy and in the paddock she ran, inconsolably calling. We brought another mare to stay with her while she works it out. This morning (the 5th) as I write at 7am, I here her calling. The rehabilitation of a traumatized horse takes time and patience.
July 28th – One Year after Roxy came to PEACE Ranch, 16 year old Nikki is able to halter, lead, groom, saddle and bridle and ride Roxy at the walk and trot. She is being used regularly in EAP, EAL and horsemanship classes.
Roxy has been rehabilitated and is stable enough to live a productive life.
This concludes my on line journal. Thank you for sharing the journey.
August 22, 2012 Roxy, now a “regular” horse is used for all manner of equine therapies AND took second place with Nikki in her first show ever!