We were contacted in November about a herd of horses that had been inherited by a family. They had been running wild and untouched by people. We were asked if we could help.
When we get asked that question our instinct is always to say yes! 100% yes, however, we do have to consider a lot of things first, the main thing being is there any alternatives to providing the help needed. In this situation, we were looking at a herd that was unused to human contact, and what they did have was from breaking out and running loose on roads. Impossible to rehome from home - even if by a miracle someone came along willing to take untrained and unknown horses. Next, we looked at the obvious - did we even have room?
The sanctuary has housed many equines over the years, but finally, we were at numbers where we were comfortable; even with a number of returns. We were lucky to get the heads up that the new shelter which had been in delayed construction since April was able to house some ponies - freeing up space and providing a much-needed extra paddock for turnout.
The team traveled down and met with the owner and got a chance to see the horses in the flesh. A plan was made to round them up the following week - with hopes of clearer weather and safe rescue. In total three staff, the manager, a volunteer, and a transporter attended the rescue, aided by the owner. The field was wet and muddy and was large enough that the horses saw us arrive while still keeping a safe distance. They were obviously curious by the people taking down a corner of the fence and by the panels we erected to create a pen.
These horses had been inherited by the owner and they hadn't had much contact. We were able to herd them into a pen before the team slowly began working on building a rapport. We approached the mare, with the filly and young colt foal. They were wary and unsure, the offer of food didn’t sway them all that much, the two foals having no experience. Staff members worked slowly and quietly, encouraging the mare closer, each step punctuated by the foals bouncing about, unsure, and seeking reassurance.
The Stallion up until this point had been watching from the opposite field, but with a whine from the group, he burst through the hedge and galloped towards us; setting the mare and foals to a brief run. The stallion circled all the while the mare led her foals away from our presence and evermore towards the pen where she spotted the hay we had left out. After a few minutes of indecision and changing minds the mare’s hunger won out and she led them into the pen with a little urging. The stallion watched from a distance for only a brief moment before spotting an unattended bucket; he quickly set to sating his own appetite.
Staff and volunteers have over 40 years of experience in working with horses and with sanctuary rescues and it was this experience they called upon when they stepped into the pen with the frightened and unpredictable horses. Both using body language and their voices to talk with the mare and her foals. Mere moments after the pen had closed the horses had settled in the company of Staff and volunteers.
The unpredictable stallion watched from outside while the girls began to desensitize the mare and foals to their presence and the trailer. They were very nervous and had no experience of hard feed or the scary trailer. To our knowledge, the mare had no experience, whilst the foals definitely hadn’t so in some ways it was better; as it was all new and although new can be scary - we can predict that.
Time after time they considered the trailer, and time after time something spooked them and we reset. We had all been prepared when we left that morning that this would take as long as it took, but we were also ever mindful of not pushing the horses too much, or stressing them. Staff and volunteers worked on soft touches until they were able to stroke the mare, working a lead rope and headcollar over her body until she got used to the feel and scent. As an outsider it was incredible to watch; the mare listening intently, her nose and ears twitching while her eyes relaxed just a little bit more with each moment.
A moment of joking in the middle of it all came from the colt foal, who had to have a drink at the most inopportune moments and who insisted on standing across the trailer door when the mare tried to load - effectively barring her path. The staff jokingly commenting he was a great dam - and considering Hoover (after the famous Hoover Dam) as a possible name.
Finally, with tentative steps the filly foal loaded first, the colt moving after her when his curiosity won over. The mare was slower but she too loaded and quietly settled in the trailer. Immediately trailers were switched out and the pen was reopened for the anxious stallion who rushed in, looking for his herd. He loaded with relative ease, his curiosity already peaked and winning out over fear. So the first trailer held the mare, the filly foal, and colt foal, with the stallion following behind in the second trailer. To say all this makes it sound much easier than it was.
It is a testament to the team that everyone was loaded without incident - even on the side of a busy country road where two lorries, multiple vans, and cars all transversed, with an unpredictable stallion, a protective mare, a scared filly, and a very boisterous colt.
Ideally, when lifting a stallion we want to get them castrated as soon as possible. Unfortunately, due to his unknown handling, we opted to bring him directly to the sanctuary as opposed to the vets. This does raise risks of fighting - even through fences with so many females on site. The mare and foals were going to have to be separated from the stallion too. The yard was prepared and rather quickly they were offloaded, the stallion exploring Sorley Boy’s Paddock, while the mare and foals occupied the front paddock of the barn.
We watched them, the mare finding food while the youngsters explored. The stallion gave a call across the yard and the mare responded, and after that, there was silence as they settled, a feeling coming over all that they were okay and they were safe.
Oops, the team are a little busy and haven't added all the details yet.