Let’s face it: We all have the best of intentions when we bring home leftovers from a restaurant. But sometimes—most of the time–they get shoved to the back of the fridge and forgotten.
Sadly, the same is true for many senior horses and those retired from riding. We owners are full of good intentions, but when a new horse comes along, so often the old languish and deteriorate, much like that pasta puttanesca hiding in your Frigidaire. The old are seen as an inconvenience at times, especially if the horse begins to have complications requiring extra feed, medication, or special shoes. People see these horses as useless because they can’t be ridden. But are they really?
Leigh Shambo, an advocate for the older horse if there ever was one, is a clinician and owner of the Human-Equine Alliance for Learning. She distributes a monthly e-newsletter that I look forward to reading each month. In it, Shambo tells the fascinating and heartwarming stories of how horses have helped people HEAL. She is practicing proof that horses can help people work through their problems without ever getting on their backs. Here is an excerpt from her website:
Leigh Shambo’s psychotherapy practice and educational workshops incorporate horses to guide clients in search of self-awareness and better relationship skills. An accomplished equestrian coach with a master in social work, Leigh attracts clients interested in personal growth, psychological, spiritual and energy work.
“The most meaningful work for horses today is to guide us in a new language of connection—to nature, ourselves and each other,” says Leigh. She is a skilled facilitator who teaches people about self-awareness and relationships through guided interactions with horses. The horse activities focus on a “horse whispering” model that is easily practiced by people with little equestrian experience, and is also rich with subtle dynamics that bring added insight for those with years of horse experience.
So what does all this have to do with horse rescue? Everything! So many of our rescues come to us with physical and emotional baggage, ready to begin the healing process and move on to a more balanced and humane life. It is not a short or easy road but a very rewarding one to be sure. Note, I did not say anything about riding in their future.
I adopted Red, a horse in his late teens, and while many people would consider him old I, for one, do not. It’s true that, the longer I have owned Red, the more problems we have uncovered. The thing is, I don’t see them as problems; I see them as steps to healing. As each issue is uncovered and treated, he gets better and better. I have not ridden him since the end of May but I don’t miss it at all. We have spent hours together doing physical therapy, training for Parelli level 2, and just enjoying each other’s company. He was cleared for riding again in mid- August, but when I sat on him bareback a few days ago he “told” me he was not ready yet and you know what? That’s ok. There is nothing like having such a close relationship with your horse that they nicker at you when you approach the stall or come running across the pasture when they see you approach. And that is enough. Red has taught me so much about horses—so much about humankind—that I’m thankful to simply be his owner. His friend.
As rescue groups, ours included, struggle to keep their doors open in this economy, we all have to ask the hard question of what to do with older and un-rideable horses. Sunshine is a prime example of one such case. She was abandoned with a herd of horses in Concrete, Washington and has had a baby every year for an unknown length of time. Hard and thankless work to be sure! Now in her mid to late twenties, she is still happy and sound but not without physical characteristics that will probably keep her from being a riding horse again. Spending the rest of her life in our care would not be bad. She would have plenty of food and fresh water but stall life is no life at all unless you have an owner that comes to give you the attention you crave and need. Volunteers can fill some of the void, but it is not the same as having a “person.”
Sunshine deserves the opportunity to see what life can be like when an owner treasures you for who and what you are, despite your limitations—who sees past the dollar signs and simply loves you, well, just because.
Sunshine is one of six horses past their riding prime in our program and in need of forever homes. It is truly amazing to see these horses that have suffered through so much, yet still have years of loyalty and love to give. If you want more information on Sunshine or any of the other wonderful horses in our program, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org