On January 1, 2015-New Year’s Day-a family of horses including two young fillies, were rescued from the Sunnyside Lot in Washington State. At that time, I was the Equine Program Director at Zuma’s Rescue Ranch and remember hearing about the “ponies” and the details on several of them coming to Colorado to find their forever homes. Due to many unexpected circumstances, including respiratory sickness, gelding, and homes falling through, they did not make it to Colorado in early 2015 as planned.
In August, 2015 I relocated to Oregon and received a call from Zuma’s Rescue Ranch stating that the father, Zumba, and the filly sisters were now located at a rescue in central Oregon. The founder of this rescue had passed away suddenly and the ponies were in desperate need of training to help them find their forever homes. I reached out to the rescue, who was very grateful for support and help with the ponies, and began organizing acquiring panels with which to build training areas. Given the devastating situation at the rescue, I also collaborated with Zuma’s Rescue Ranch on fundraising for dental work for Zumba and two other adult horses on the property.
I met the sisters shortly before finishing my case studies for the Reach Out To Horses® Trainers program, and was thinking they would be great additions to my untouched horse case studies. My plan was to take the next six days to gentle the girls, pushing myself to work a little more quickly than my typical pace. As I discovered during our assessment session, these were not the horses to work with any sort of timeline or agenda. It became clear very quickly that the girls had experienced a lot of trauma in their short lives.
The younger sister, later named Sunshine, was wearing a halter when I met her, but not on her terms as she was not yet gentled. When we began, she would interact with me for short periods of time before getting upset–resulting in ear pinning, teeth baring, and spinning to kick. She was living alone and had been pacing so frequently that she had dug herself a hole at one end of her paddock.
The older sister was even more fearful. On our first day of training, she trembled when I stepped into the 40ft round pen she was living in. She lowered her head and would not make eye contact. It took the better part of 20 minutes to gently encourage her to leave the round pen and go into the training area. I placed food into her training area to help provide comfort, and just being in the smaller area with me on the outside became our first “lesson”.
Over the next few months we worked on her claustrophobia, fear of gates clanging and other loud noises, extreme fear of any kind of rope, whip or stick being near her, and tolerating human presence in a confined space. We built up trust and our relationship, with her turning to face me and staying soft when I entered her area, reaching out to my hand for a greeting with her nose, as well as her first touch. During our few months in training at the Oregon rescue, we had powerful communication and healing sessions together, including her sharing with me she would now like to be called “Maya”. This little horse, despite her fear of humans, started to trust me enough to allow some Equine CranioSacral and Reiki from a distance, and she began to communicate with me in short, clear messages. One of our more powerful communication sessions came right before her first touch. Here is the excerpt from her training journal on that day:
“Tears brought to my eyes today as “sister” accepted her first touch by choice. Moments before our first touch I heard loud and clear in my head, “Namaste,” to which I replied, “Namaste.” There is so much fear in the world for this little horse due to force and violence; yet, she has chosen to trust me on this path. “
—-The spirit in me salutes the spirit in you—
It became clear to me as I worked with these girls, that if they were to make a fully recovery they needed to be much closer to me so we could work together on a daily basis. By networking with another local Oregon rescue, Mustangs To The Rescue (MTTR) and Zuma’s Rescue Ranch in Colorado, we were able to transport Zumba to MTTR to complete his rehabilitation and training. Maya and Sunshine were able to relocate to the property that I am working out of in Bend, Oregon as Renegade Equine.
We fundraised jointly for the materials to build a shelter and the property owners donated boarding costs. Through the generosity of people across the country and funding from Zuma’s Rescue Ranch, Maya and Sunshine’s feed, supplements, and medical needs have been fully sponsored for the last six months.
Once Maya and Sunshine settled in together at Renegade Equine (boy, were they excited to see one another after being separated for several months and living alone), the intensive rehabilitation began in earnest. In addition to my daily training, there have been a few amazing volunteer healers and trainers who have supported their recovery and training. During the winter and spring months we implemented the following to aid in healing both physical and emotional aspects of trauma: Bach Flower Essences in their water 3-4 times per day, customized herbal blends, herbal de-wormers and conventional feed through pelleted de-wormers, clicker training, essential oils, omega 3/6 support, probiotics, natural ulcer treatments, daily whole food mashes, Reach Out To Horses® methodology, Reiki, CranioSacral bodywork, Dynamite Specialty Products, and region specific vitamin and mineral supplementation.
I attempted to integrate the ponies into my longstanding balanced herd to aid in the whole horse healing process, but unfortunately, Maya became very aggressive with the other horses. The girls are living separately for everyone’s safety.
Around the end of February, I began to notice that Maya was packing feed in her mouth and was unable to chew hard foods easily. By now, Sunshine had been fully gentled and was coming along beautifully. However, even with consistent and compassionate training and a thorough “whole horse” healing approach, Maya was not yet haltered–making it difficult to get her necessary medical treatment. I began discussions with a few mentors and colleagues regarding the ethics of utilizing a chute to help move Maya along so we could get the dental treatment she needed. We decided that if we could build a safe chute, and also train her to be comfortable in it using the methods we were already implementing, that this would be a viable option to help Maya.
Now, I want to say that using a chute is not something I was comfortable with for many reasons, but over time, I was able to talk through my concerns, and create a training plan to keep Maya safe, emotionally and physically.
As luck would have it, my parents were visiting around this time. My dad is very handy and helped turn my ideal chute into a reality. He engineered and built the structure, leaving me to finish the padding for added protection. I worked on getting Maya comfortable in it when it was open, then with walls, then with the front closed while continuing to work with her in a small training area. I had not yet completed the material for our chute, but one day when I got to the barn I kept getting mental pictures of Maya in a halter and they just didn’t stop coming. That day she was exceptional in our sessions together, allowing more touch on more areas of her body then ever before. The next day a healer friend who had been working with the girls consistently came for a session. One of the first things out of her mouth was, “I think you are going to get the halter on today!”
“Funny you say that… I’ve been getting pictures of the same thing,” I replied. That day we made continued progress in that direction with Maya allowing more work with the rope, movement of the rope, and things near her head than ever before. The following day was magic and in a very short period of time, Maya accepted her first halter.
I had thought I was a patient person, but Maya showed me how much more patient I could become. How much softer I could become. How much more thorough in my horsemanship and holistic care for horses I could become. Maya showed me that my awareness of my intention and body language could be even more fine-tuned, that I could commit myself more than I thought possible, and she helped me bring together a holistic community that I didn’t think was here in Central Oregon. She helped me believe in myself a little bit more, and in return I offered her the same gift… that she could believe in herself a little bit more, and have the courage to trust in the transformation.
I want to thank Zuma’s Rescue Ranch for their continued support of Maya and Sunshine’s care (go to zumasrescueranch.com for more information or to donate to the girls’ ongoing care), Mustangs To the Rescue for their commitment and support of the girls’ sire, Zumba (please visit mustangstotherescue.org) and Reach Out To Horses® (please visit reachouttohorses.com) for continuing to educate people and advocate for horses.
Please share this story so these beautiful ponies can find their forever homes. For more information on Maya and Sunshine, or Renegade Equine, contact Katie Dixon at firstname.lastname@example.org or renegadeequine.com.