Rescue Horses’ Transition Periods

Our foster/rescue horses, Charlie and Willow, have been with us since July — nearly eight months now. While our herd accepts them, I can tell that they’re still the outsiders working their way in.

Charlie has firmly bonded with Breeze, our 24-year old bay Arab mare, and he has learned to push Daisy and Gabby off their hay. The geldings will tolerate him eating near them, but he’s quite nervous when he’s between them, and he gives the other herd mares a wide berth. With the exception of Breeze, I never see him standing close to another horse.

Willow has bonded with George, a middle-level gelding. She can also push Daisy and Gabby off hay along with Breeze.

As for us, Willow has accepted Joe and I from the first week she was here, but Charlie is still learning about us. (See my earlier blogs about him.) He now will “step up” to me fairly consistently and he’ll follow me at liberty across the pasture, but he still isn’t brave enough to approach Joe or stand still as Joe approaches him. I’m wondering if he has a fear of men. Joe’s got his work cut out for him this spring to get Charlie to the point where he won’t run away the instant Joe focuses on him.

After eight months, you’d think Charlie would be along further, but my gut tells me he’s taking the time he needs. Today I received a FB post from a Montana rescue organization, Bella Dea Rescue Foundation, written by Angielynn which explains the process Charlie is going through. The horse Angielynn refers to is a yearling and Charlie is a middle-aged adult with issues, but the point to her post applies to all rescue horses.

“Ohhh myyyyy. Little Miss Sapphire. I tried to get good pics of her today but I made the mistake of feeding lunch first. As soon as her feed hit her bucket, she wanted nothing to do with me. Little stinker even hopped her tiny booty towards me. A light spankin’ across the booty and she decided to keep her butt to herself.

It’s funny with rescues. We never know what their temperament is but one thing is always the same: the transition period. They all go through it. They all have their own time frame but usually within the first month is when we start to see their personalities come out.

It always starts with self preservation at time of pick up. Uncertainty and fear. Then the flight goes away and it’s just hesitation. Then the curiosity comes. The brain says it’s ok to step forward for a nose pet or a cookie but the feet won’t follow so we do the yoga stretch. Still untrusting. Next phase is comfort and relaxation: Ok. You’re good. You have the cookies. Pet me. Love me. I just want to be pampered.

That’s where Sapphire was last night. That phase is always brief before they move on to almost too comfortable and begin to push boundaries. ‘Pet me love me but only when I want it and don’t interrupt me or ask me to do something I don’t want to do and just give me the damn cookies!’

That’s when the true assessments and ground training begins. It’s always the same regardless of the horse or its background. Just each horse takes their own time going through each phase. Miss Sapphire has blown through the phases in the week she’s been with us. She’s at the pushing boundaries phase (although I recognize she’s a baby and doesn’t know any better.) She’s at the ‘don’t mess with me while I eat phase. And I’m Queen, so surrender the cookies now!’

 I had to laugh when she offered her little butt as a threat to me. I literally stepped back and said to myself ‘and there it is!’

This tells me she’s comfortable. Not afraid and adjusting well. Might sound crazy to some but this is exactly where we want her to be! She’s moving along quickly. Now we’ll start with boundaries. She’s feeling safe and comfortable so we move on to learning respectable behavior and safety.

Her wounds are healing well and I hope to get the hair around the wound on her shoulder clipped soon. Will make for easier wound care and cleaning. (The red on her wound is the wound spray.)

Awe Miss Sapphire. You’re such an incredible little warrior.”

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