I can’t quite believe how quickly this year is galloping away with us, to use a horsey metaphor!
As usual, May was a massive month here at Save a Horse Australia. We adopted out four horses – Scout, Pandora, Remi and Otis – which is a wonderful result. As well, Noelle left for her new home, and in the first few days of June, Jaylet and our wonderfully exuberant buckskin, Muz, left us for their homes.
This means that currently we have 109 horses in care between what are now our two sanctuaries at Buccan and Tarampa. Unfortunately for SAHA our rental property at Minden was sold and the new owners decided to live there. We made the decision that continuing to downsize for the moment and to re-home as many of the horses as we have that we can before we rescue again was the way to go, and so we had to say a sad goodbye to Minden, with special thanks to Lori and Phil for managing the sanctuary, Carissa for being our stablehand and to all the volunteers who worked above and beyond for SAHA.
A few people have asked us recently about adoptions – why it sometimes doesn’t work out, or even, with a difficult horse, why it does, and also how do we choose someone to adopt a horse. Helen Hayes, our Operations Manager, is also our Adoption Manager and over the years Helen has built up a lot of experience. She’s able to see quite quickly if a horse and a human are going to make a good pair, but even then it’s not an exact science – unfortunately, particularly as Helen says, you’re talking about horses who often have a high-level of trauma.
“The process we go through with each horse of gradually rehabilitating it so that it’s easy to handle on the ground is very important,” Helen says. “Once we’ve got that established and we’ve had the horse or pony fully assessed physically then we can start with moving towards having the horse assessed for riding. Depending on whether the horse has been started under saddle or not it will either go to the trainer, or if we’re confident that it’s fairly quiet, our rider, Jess, will start to ride it. Once Jess is riding the horse regularly and we see how it goes with the work that we give it, then we can start thinking about adopting it out, but depending on the horse and whether it’s come in with a physical injury or psychological trauma, it can take anything from as little as a month or two to as long as a year or two!”
SAHA has a very high success rates for its adoptions, but every now and then it doesn’t work out, and if it doesn’t then the horse comes straight back to us and we can reassess the situation. Of course what our supporters do allows us to give all our horses the time they need and it’s one of the million reasons we are so constantly grateful. Taking a horse through its rehabilitation from the time they arrive at SAHA to the time they leave for what we hope will be their ‘forever’ home takes infinite amounts of time, patience and attention.
Of all those qualities, perhaps ‘attention’ is the one that is the least understood, because it is a quality that is only gained over decades or a lifetime experience with horses. It’s when, as a ‘horse’ person you begin to read every nuance of their behaviour, and to speak their physical language. The fact is that horses are as varied in their characters as humans – from chilled-out, laid-back souls who take most things in their stride, to highly-strung, complex personalities who need extra TLC on an ongoing basis. Over the past 57 years of my lifetime, since my first naughty little pony at the age of five, it’s been my privilege to be involved with hundreds – possibly even thousands – of different horses, and one of the most wonderful aspects of working with SAHA is being involved with an organisation dedicated to allowing horses to take the time it takes to heal.
So how do you know what a horse might be, or become good at – or even want to do? Well, the old adage that you can take a horse to water but not make it drink is certainly true here. I once knew an eventer in France who had to travel his retired eventing horse with him to competitions because the horse hated being left home so much he would get himself into a lather. My friend would take him, and give him a little ride because, as he said, “he wants to think he’s still useful and he always loved it so much,” and the horse would be happy. He officially retired at 20, and spent another 10 years not realising he was retired!
Older horses are in many respects like older humans, they have a wealth of knowledge and often a love for their humans, and they like to be useful. My old horse was the ultimate teacher for young horses, guiding them through water for the first time, along busy roads, past dogs and rubbish bins and noisy scary flapping things. Even after he retired from riding I would walk him out with the young ones, and I am absolutely sure he knew he was ‘teaching’ them.
In the end, it’s not even really what a horse does – it’s who the horse does whatever it does with, and how. There are wonderful horse owners in every discipline, and sadly there are also horse owners in every discipline who are not so wonderful. Although at SAHA it’s not our job to necessarily take a horse to the point where we uncover its full potential as a riding horse, or even as a horse with groundwork or therapy potential, it is our job to know that when they leave us they are going to the right person, with the right skills, so they have the best possible chance for a great life. Mostly we get it right, occasionally we get it wrong, and when we do I’m happy to say that those adopters often adopt another horse successfully and the one they’ve given back to us goes on to find its perfect home.
In the meantime it’s business as usual at SAHA. We still have our wonderful raffles up and running so don’t forget if you’re after a Horseland saddle package or an Olympic Royal float, we still have tickets left for both. (With huge thanks to Horseland and Olympic Trailers for their continued support of SAHA).
Candida Baker – President
To buy tickets in our Horseland raffle go to: saveahorse.org.au/event/horseland-raffle/
To buy tickets in our Olympic Royal float raffle go to: saveahorse.org.au/event/olympic/