about ten years ago, i started to collect horses.
okay, that’s not precisely true.
we worked with a rescue organization out of long island, NY and adopted two PMU foals, rosie and qohqoh. after several months of working with these unhandled baby horses, we arranged to adopt q0hq0h’s mother, dana, and a retired ranch horse. the former was pregnant, the latter didn’t work out for us. we swapped the one that didn’t pan out for a true neglect rescue out of queens, NY, an aged appaloosa mare named blondie who was featured on the t.v. program animal precinct. so what was one more when the rescue organization got in touch a year later and asked if we would foster a PMU yearling for a bit, since they had too many coming from north dakota and no place to keep them all? of course we said yes. we had our own yearling already (morgan) and i planned to work with the new horse a bit, geld him, and then let the two youngsters be pasture mates. blondie had passed away peacefully earlier that spring and we felt like we had an “opening”.
the rescue sent him with the hauler they’d sent before with blondie. he warned us that this yearling was a handful, that he’d taken an age to get onto the trailer. as horses always do after a big lead-up like that, the colt backed calmly off the trailer and into the paddock without anyone getting dead. the hauler left and we took a long look at our new guest, who was an absolute scarecrow. a yearling, the only time he’d probably been handled was to be branded as a weanling and coggins tested before shipping. he was thin and lanky with a great ugly scar on one leg. registered AQHA, his papers listed him as a mare, but he was all boy from the first day and clearly had some thoroughbred in his background. his bay roan coat is a color that looks dull and moth-eaten at the best of times, but this was not the best of times for this guy.
there was a recuperating warmblood living at our barn at the time, a big chestnut named john henry who had foundered in all four hooves. he was in rough shape, his hooves were a mess, and he spent a lot of time lying down. he was in the foaling stall, two stalls with the wall between pulled down. we put the colt, soni, into the little stall next door so they could both have some company. they did get to be good friends and, with all the frustrations inherent in trying to make a year-old stallion show some sign of having manners, it wasn’t until the day that a fence went awry and i walked into the barn to find soni standing quietly in john henry’s stall, just hanging out and being a kind little soul, that i realized this guy might have a real future. he could have (and by all standards of horse behavior, probably should have) killed john henry that day, but he didn’t. he just went in to hang out with his helpless, disabled friend.
at some point in our training journey, the rescue organization told us to just keep soni. they were going through a difficult phase, one that would become even more difficult when the owner lost her husband (and primary vet).
this news came as a bit of a shock to us. we were going through some difficult times ourselves (which would become progressively more difficult over time, too) and had just discovered that soni was cryptorchid, which means that his testicles hadn’t descended and there was no way to know if they would. he would have to be kept separate from most of our other horses until his testicles dropped or we found a way to make the necessary surgery happen.
it was almost two years before we were able to geld soni. during that time, we’d moved our horses to our home, which was nice because we didn’t have to leave home to do chores twice a day, but we didn’t really have the facilities to keep a stallion. he went to be companion to john henry for a while, then came back home to be cooped up in a roundpen, eating hay and not really getting to be a horse. when his second testicle dropped, it was a blessing. we called the vet at once and got him snipped (i do have photos; i won’t share [you’re glad about this]), went through the aftercare process, and turned him out with the herd a month or so later, only to discover he was so submissive and non-food aggressive that he didn’t get enough to eat when he was with the herd. we tried lots of different configurations (and were hindered by the fact that he is a five star escape artist and would often just let himself into another pasture), but were finally forced to pasture him separately again so that he would keep his weight.
we were talking with our neighbors one day and learned that they were actively looking for a couple of horses. we offered rosie and soni on indefinite free leases and they agreed. they contracted with a trainer, who came and picked them up for 90 days of training under saddle. while soni was in training, he got the worst case of rain rot my vet had ever seen and my vet is long campaigner. i suggested that he’d probably seen worse and he said, unequivocally, not even close. he and rosie went from training to their lease home and the lessees worked pretty tirelessly on that guy to get his hide cleared up. he came through the infection just fine, but over the course of the next eight months or so, he started to engage in behaviors that felt unsafe to them, so they finally asked if they could bring him back.
we met them halfway and walked him home, about a mile for each of us. walking him that mile was exhausting. he was a world-class jerk, pulling, striking, crowding, rearing, and just generally doing anything that could make walking a horse a real chore. he was in great physical condition, but he was out of control mentally. i cut his grain ration by about 80% and turned him out without expectations for a couple of months to unwind. he did calm down, but i just couldn’t find the kind-hearted gelding i knew was in there somewhere. working with him was so upsetting; he’d do everything wrong one day and everything right the next, only to do everything wrong again the day after that. there was a major disconnect in his head and it was awful to see.
i was still struggling with him when my mother found an ad on craigslist from someone looking for a project horse. the advertiser lived a state away, but drove over with a friend one weekend afternoon to check out soni and decided that she’d like to have a go with him. she started him on the ground, worked with him under saddle, and thought he might turn out to be a really great trail horse for her mother. she had her non-horse-y boyfriend riding him a bit. she brought him to horse shows with her regular horse, got him used to a lot of different stimuli, and we thought that soni had finally found a forever home. about a year after taking him, she asked him to lope and he bucked her off. her foot got caught in the stirrup and she was dragged. she had no confidence in soni any more and asked us to take him back. he was home again the following weekend.
the difference now, though, was that he’d gotten confidence and with that confidence, his kindness had returned. he came back in top physical and mental condition. he was so calm and quiet that the kids could move safely around him, something i’d never allowed in the past. he tore himself open badly on a gate last winter and spent most of it recuperating. he was the perfect patient. he’s a really great guy.
the hard part is: no one wants him. he’s the best horse i’ve got as far as training and potential and, honestly? i don’t even really want him. i love him, i love working with him, but he’s hard to know. he’s hard to be really, truthfully fond of because as kind and gentle and brave and sensible as he is, he hasn’t really got much personality. that, of course, is why he keeps coming back. you could work through a horse with a bad attitude if you were just nuts over him otherwise. you could relearn trust after being dragged if his soul just spoke to yours. but it’s really hard to want to do those things when the horse is sort of nondescript in the personality department. it’s much easier to give up, find someone with a little more sparkle to be your riding partner.
well, i’m a stubborn bint and i’ll never give up on him. i expect he’ll be coming and going (or maybe just staying) in my backyard forever. and i’m okay with that.