Source: Winter Is Coming
This week winter started early for us.
We have seen torrential rainfall in Wales.
Despite the horrific weather conditions, two unknown men had decided upon the fate of a little four month old colt.
The colt foal was taken from his mother in the dead of night. Two men were seen leaving him bewildered, frightened and yearning for his mum. They took him to a lonely common and left him in dense fern and saturated land, with no mum for protection, no other horses in sight and darkness all around him.
The fear pushed him to extremes when he was seen darting franticly across the racetrack common road, dodging and racing with cars in fear of his life. It pains me to even think of the trauma that this little chap has gone through.
Alas, the following morning, a small semi feral herd appear. He tries with all his might to befriend them, yearning for some security and company. But to no avail. He was not welcome in the only herd on this common.
His fate doomed, he made himself a nest in some fern away from the road and in hearing distance of some mares in a nearby field, a small comfort considering his plight. Locals happened across him with wonder and pity- another poor little one abandoned.
After receiving a call from a friend, I went to investigate. His fear was apparent, his urgency of nowhere to go all too revealing of his helplessness. Not exactly in a position to take him, his plight was a great one. We had no choice, he had to have sanctuary.
How to catch a foal, saturated with fear on open common land? What a challenge! A first attempt with a friendly mare, who assisted as lure, until boredom set in and she cantered home. The colt overcome with fear and unknowingness went to ground, hidden by dense fern and bracken he stayed where he deemed safe, for an hour or so. Then I got a call from a compassionate lady who also had his best interests at heart, to advise me that he was now out in plain sight.
With crew of exceptional novice staff and compassionate locals, essential supplies of buckets of feed, lunge lines, lead ropes and halters we set about getting him to safety. The plan was to form a human and lunge line perimeter and herd him to the back of a farm house with an open stable door.
After eluding us for several hours, the little man was eventually corralled into the stable. Once again, unknowingness and fear evident on his little bewildered face. Conscious efforts were made during the whole corralling process to enable him to make his decision slowly and calmly as not escalate his fear.
Once safe in the stable he was allowed time to recover, to take a breather and take in his again new surroundings. Then it was phase two of the rescue – halter and load him to get him to sanctuary.
This was done with scratches, something that he would have been familiar with, as his mum would have spent time grooming him. Slowly edging the lead rope around him with each scratch, the whole process took about an hour and several years off my lifetime quota of patience.
I have a never ending supply of patience for animals that have been so poorly treated, but for humans, with tunnel vision and only a goal in sight – Not so much. There was no urgent medical requirement, so this situation required calculated compassion.
Trust is something that takes time and patience, not Harris fencing and doors. I am not a fan of taking an animal and giving it no choice, making a space so confined that they have no option but to give in or severely injure themselves, trying to elude whatever fear is instilled in their mind. You see welfare is also about emotional suffering. The less fearful the better. This situation did not require force or any further fear to be instilled. The environment for this little one had to be as calm and controlled as possible.
Therefore the calls for Harris fencing and old doors to make the area smaller fell on deaf ears, despite them being made in the stable with me. In my mind it was only him and I. We were going to bond with scratches and a lead rope.
There was a window of opportunity to put the head collar on this little one, whilst the others with differing methods arranged transport. Thank goodness! We cannot look a gift horse in the mouth, but the opportunity had to be seized before others re-appeared and imposed their methods without reasoning or thought.
The compassion and disregard for personal safety never fails to amaze me. The decision was made that the head collar had to go on during this time window. The colt with boosted energy fought and fought, rearing and kicking with all his might for about two minutes (which incidentally was totally uncalled for, as we did not inflict any physical harm and minimum levels of emotional distress, therefore I suspect he had previously had to fight with all his might when trying to be head collared whilst under the care of the two men that dumped him) until the head collar was on, without any injuries to horse or human.
Next stage was loading him, which at this time was again hampered by the looming threat of Harris fencing and lunge lines strategically placed around him. Luckily, we succeeded with pressure/release and compassionate people, with human hands carefully placed and encouraging without force. Despite the protests of rearing, we eventually got him in a lorry and on his way to safety.
For the little colt foal, emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted, the safe haven of the stable abundant with spongey bedding and moist flavoursome hay lauge was a welcome one. For the humans, who were equally as drained, a warm cup of tea, the first sip of amber nectar and wooden seat made it all worthwhile. The staff had just had one of the most rewarding experiences that words cannot define, fuelled only by love for a helpless foal, the awe present in their faces as the day unfolded into an extraordinary life changing one for them.
The adrenaline fuelled by compassion is like no other I have ever experienced. It is just unfortunate that such suffering has to be endured to experience it. This is the start of a journey for three individuals – one horse, two humans. The first step to the future, as the work with this foal has just begun. Now to build relationships, horse and human.
The foal now named Milo, will have to be quarantined for 30 days before introducing him to some four legged friends. This way we can ensure that he is not carrying any contagious viruses or diseases. We will then seek a foster home for him, to enable him to grow until mature enough to be gelded and trained. We would then seek to place him up for adoption, as we believe every horse deserves the love he or she deserves and a future of security, free from harm.
This work is endless and the rewards priceless. It is just a shame that we are limited to the number of horses and ponies that we can help due to our lack of facilities. A large lottery win would certainly assist so many more, especially with the recent knowledge that three equine yards with facilities galore are about to placed on the market within the same 3 mile stretch of road. The stuff that dreams that dreams are made of! A quarantine yard, training yard and a rehoming yard, if only!
Maybe one day we will have the opportunity to offer a safe haven and pave the way for ‘forever homes’ for many more.
Recently I was quizzed on what my goal was, with writing these blogs. My answer. Horses. I have no aim other than to promote the welfare of the horse. No matter what sphere or where they live. Good welfare practices are not only about condition scoring or environment. It’s about mental welfare also.
“What the eye doesn’t see and the mind doesn’t know, doesn’t exist.”
What the mind doesn’t know? not only what we can see, but what we don’t know.
I am far from an expert, I am a student. A student who will have no exams, just continuous lessons. My teacher “The Horse”. Am I a slow learner? I guess so, but then there is so much to learn. When working with horses, handling them, training them and riding them. Do I make mistakes, Yes, I am not ashamed to admit it either. Do I learn from my mistakes? I hope so. I am judged by the horses that I own, handle and care for on a daily basis. Yes. They let me know if I have made a mistake. It is my goal to recognise it and prevent it from happening again. To work in unity with them. A partnership build on learning and communication.
Welfare is about human imposed choices, how we care, if we care, where we care. The way we keep our horses is our choice, if they are stabled, free to roam, kept on track systems or put in grazing pods. It is what we have chosen for them. We provide them with what we think best, (Thinking allows humans to make sense of, interpret, represent or model the world they experience, and to make predictions about that world. It is therefore helpful to an organism with needs, objectives, and desires as it makes plans or otherwise attempts to accomplish those goals.)
How do we know what we think best for our horses? Is best, some of us will look to scientific reports, Peers, large national organisations, experience the list of possibilities is endless.
The sad thing is that we thought we could take an animal and make it what we want, keep it how we want and impose on it what we think is best.
When faced with dilemmas, we used tools, constructed new devices and gadgets to make the horse do what we wanted to inflict on them. Made harsher bits, used ropes, halters, round pens and spurs.
We did not ask the teacher – “The Horse” we made devices for our convenience, tools for domination and utilisation.
My world now with horses is very different from how it started out. I used dominance just like the text books, teachers, instructors and peers instructed me to. I never questioned why, I did not think?
Many make the horse do what they want, using whips, round pens, spurs and many many more. But do you ever ask yourself – Do they understand what I want? Did I ask them in such a way that they understand? Is my communication with the horse built on Trust or Fear?
I am seeking for the answers to What I don’t Know? I am encouraging others. Just two days ago I run a session with a group of urban horse owners where I used a clicker to demonstrate just how difficult it is for the horse to understand what it is we want them to do without a sign that they are doing it right and even with a signal (clicker), the moment that the penny dropped was a shocked one. Welcome to the world of the horse. The sense of helplessness when asked to perform or do a task when there is no communication is daunting. These young lads learnt that for the first time and my word what a breakthrough.
An insight for them, as what is going on in your brain and what you are doing with your horse will not always be met with approval. But we as humans dominate the choices that our horses have to put up with and sometimes suffer.
Both physically and mentally.
Hence the end of the DH Lawrence quote. Doesn’t Exist.
The” doesn’t exist” bit comes from ignorance and lack of knowledge. This is the crux of where welfare comes from. Knowledge or the lack of. The knowledge that a whip will make your horse go, or that the whip is tool used for punishment, pressure and force or that the whip will install fear into a horse and that is not the best thing to be gambling with when you put your trust in animal.
knowledge is the riptide of welfare,
We need to install an emergency stop button. Educate and learn from the teacher, The Horse and what science is telling us about the horse and how if we wish to have these animals in our lives we need to respect and learn. Most importantly treat them how they think they should be treated.
How can it be wrong?
Why is it not acceptable for an urban horse owner to break in a yearling and not a race horse trainer? Both horses are of the same age, both trussed up in rollers and side reins. Is it because they don’t have round pens, horse walkers, all weather gallops or letters after their names? The urban horses go on to be worked and they are defiantly bomb proof. After all when they are ridden in the city centres amid the traffic and dense populations surely their training is similar to that of police horse. Unlike the race horses, they get raced as 2 year olds? Putting immense pressure on the under developed anatomy. Yet when there is an accident or a young race horse breaks its leg, galloping with all its might to the finish line it’s acceptable? It’s sport? That is what they are…
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