Thursday, May 27, 2010

Happy Tails: Popeye the Rescue Horse

I witnessed a truly inspiring and motivational sight last night that I wanted to share with fellow horse lovers. Horse rescue is not for the faint of heart. It can force a lamb to become lion once many horse industry "dirty little secrets" are exposed. Issues such as: unwanted horses, horse slaughter, over breeding, starvation, neglect, etc. With so much disturbing news that often comes with the equine advocacy territory, it's important to spread some happy "tails" too. An over abundance of "bad news" becomes depressing, overwhelming, and becomes a turn-off. We all need a little motivation and inspiration, so here's your equine feel-good boost for the week. I hope you realize its value as much as I have!

Last night, I was teaching a riding lesson to a fabulous new beginner riding student. An adult, who has always wanted to learn how to ride horses, and has decided it's about time to get with the program of tackling a dream! I've found a commonality working with training adults (both in the realm of horses, and corporate training), which is that adults bring all their "baggage" to the table with them in learning. Most of this junk is "trash" holding them back and hindering learning progress. A lot of this trash comes in the form of irrational fear. As a trainer- both horse instructor and corporate- my job is to help students constructively handle fear and know what trash to take out and what to salvage!
Kid's have considerably less emotional baggage in this respect and are often easier to teach because of this. But that's another post for another day, another topic. Last night, I introduced this new student to Popeye.

I've written of Popeye before- aka "Pops" and he never lets me down when it comes to inspiration! I'm very proud of this fellow because he proves what power strength of spirit can have! Pops came to us several years ago, an emaciated skeletal shell of a horse, with terrible open saddle sores, and covered in rain rot. Despite all of this, he had four shod feet- ironic. He'd been used in a riding camp, and for whatever reason, had been deemed no longer useful. He'd been starved- and was again emaciated. I'd like to emphasize that emaciation doesn't just happen overnight, it takes time. Long story short, Popeye was lucky, Popeye got a second chance at life.

One of the traits that has always struck me about this horse, is his persistence, his gentleness, his positive spirit. Despite the horrid condition this horse came to us in, and the blatant cruelty and suffering he'd endured, he wasn't jaded by it. The abuse he endured is enough to turn a human into a monster. Make one bitter, resentful, manipulative, obsessive, compulsive, angry, mad....but not Popeye. He instantly recognized and appreciated kindness when he'd found it again, and at that moment, forgave. He holds absolutely no anger, fear hang-ups, flashbacks.....most would. Popeye lives every single day, relishing in the simple joys of being a horse. He doesn't miss an opportunity to eat, sleep, poop, wander about the farm, stand in front of a fan, sneak up behind you and ask for a snuggle.... he's just happy and grateful.

Adults have fear. The fear of the "unknown" can cause paralysis. It can prevent fun, it can be irrational, it robs. I work very, very slowly with my students- especially timid ones. These are the one's who most need the self-confidence boost that riding a 1,000 lb animal in forward motion can provide. Give them the time and space they need to conquer their fears and before you know it, you've got a brave, enthusiastic, horseback riding machine on your hands! It's fun to see the transformation. Now this is where Pops comes back into the picture.

Back to the lesson. I used Popeye in this lesson with my new student because she needed the confidence boost that comes with riding different horses. Popeye is deceiving. To look at his droopy lip, his shut eyes, his now fat belly, you'd think he can't go faster than the speed of a shuffle. Popeye proves another point, that looks can be deceiving! Sit on Popeye's back and all of a sudden you've got a collected, forward moving, balanced, hunk of a horse- who may ride like an easy boy recliner due to his build, but trots with an impulsion that makes one RIDE! It's a workout, but it's 100% FUN and a glimpse to new students what riding a balanced, big-strided trot will be!

Because of what he was- he is now! Popeye, might I add, is nearly thirty years old! When I watched this enthusiastic, happy, willing horse come to life being ridden in this lesson yesterday, giving my beginner student a new ride, a new joy, a glimmer into what's to come, enthusiasm and a much needed self-confidence boost, I could see Popeye twenty five years ago. Boy oh boy, what a firecracker this boy must have been at age 5! But so happy to have this valuable horse around at nearly age 30 to still teach such valuable lessons to both his riding students and myself as instructor.

Learning is a double-edged sword, it happens for both teacher and student. If I could ask Popeye one question, and gain some knowledge from his "words of wisdom" it would be this: "So Popeye, what have you learned from humans over the years?" I can't help but wonder what his answer would be.... I'm sure it would make me smile and give him a big hug. But, I'm going to do that anyway! I hope that Pop's has learned something of value from me, Thanks Pops!

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Tribute to Charcoal Sketch

Yesterday my sister Hillary, had to say goodbye to a piece of her heart. She lost dear, sweet Charcoal Sketch- otherwise known as "Sketch" often known as "Pig Pen" when mud around! My parent's bought Sketch for Hillary when he'd just turned 4. A small TB gelding, with a tattoo, who'd actually been to the racetrack! He was gelded late in life....a probable attempt to spur on more growth, but alas, Sketch would remain a runt amongst horses, king amongst ponies!

Sketch was always a beauty and the sweetest, kindest heart and soul imaginable for a pony. He LOVED to nibble on things, and couldn't resist the taste of leather! Many a purse-strap, halter, etc he left his mark on! But who could be mad, with that sweet face and even sweeter attitude. He made you want to hug him, and hug him often did many!

My sister Hillary became an "Expert" groomer with Sketch. You see, he was a grey....who should have been a bay....!
She knows all of the best tricks of the trade for keeping a grey pony sparkling! She's had lots, and lots of practice to perfect this technique thanks to Sketch. They both spent much time together "pruning". Sketch liked dirt....and he LOVED MUD! Many a time did Hillary and I go to the barn in our youth, to find Sketch truly a horse of another color! Maybe he was trying to be a chameleon- one day brown, next day yellow, and a master at those darn stubborn green spots!!! But more likely, Sketch just liked MUD....and didn't pass up an opportunity in life to make the most of one of his passions!

Sketch was smarter than most people! He LIVED life to the fullest and was the BEST pony he could be. He never wished any malice or harm on ANYONE, and always tried his best. He was never jealous of his bigger cohorts in crime in the field....he joined in the fun!!! He also never missed an opportunity to lay his head on an inviting and allowing shoulder and then put all of his weight on you.....slowly ..... to test you, in order to see just how much he could get away with! He had a sense of humor- but never took it too far. Sketch also had a special game we played "tongue" He would nuzzle your hand, start licking you, then stick his tongue out and wait for you to grab it. Yes, he'd tongue wrestle! I know, kind of weird, but he loved it! And, Hillary, myself, and my baby sister Lauren spent much precious time playing "his game."

I taught my baby sister Lauren to ride on him. He was probably "a bit too much pony" for a then little seven year old, but we trusted him. Lauren got thrown on him bareback with a halter and lead rope often..... and well..... he taught her to stay on! Many a times she came off! But he still took care of her and never took things too far. Lauren and Sketch were my first students. He PATIENTLY and peacefully endured many a lesson where I yelled at her, she yelled back at me...and my first student, ALWAYS out-willed me! This is where I learned that Lauren is even MORE determined and stubborn than I am.....hard to believe? It's also where I learned that it is more rewarding to share a passion with others and see the one's you love succeed rather than keep it all to yourself! This is where I began my passion for teaching! Sketch taught me to be a good teacher! It all started with Sketch and Lauren!

Horses like Sketch contributed to the special bond I share with my sisters.Sketch taught us as little girl's the many life lessons that have made us the women we are today! God bless you sweet beloved Sketch! I know you are free and happy and running with a special herd of horses in heaven that have indeed already been angels on earth. Thank you for all of the lessons and for the wonderful memories my family and I have to cherish! Dear Sketch, the pony who should have been a horse, who was often a pony of another color, you were one of the most special threads in my sister's and my life that will forever bind us closer together. Enjoy your mud puddle "Pig Pen", you will be missed!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Horse Hero: Shannon Lack

Allow me to introduce you to another honest to goodness, Horse Hero- Shannon Lack. This special lady is working with a courageous and dedicated group of horse-lover’s to help horses who have fallen upon bad luck. Horses who’ve been forgotten, discarded, and whose value has become viewed as a by the pound commodity versus the value that most horse-owners place on their beloved equine companions. They may have been adored at some point in their lifetime by loving, caring owners. They may have served their owners faithfully and trustingly through their lifetime. They may, through no fault of their own, and with plenty of usefulness and potential left in them, have fallen upon the harsh, cruel, sad, unfathomable reality that is horse slaughter.

Shannon works to help find homes for horses that will end up shipping to slaughter and meeting their end at the hands of people who have no love, no respect, and no compassion for them. She is paying it forward for horses, and is courageously facing and battling this heart-wrenching reality that so many are unaware of, or unwilling to face, in order to help make a difference and help horses. She is working along with others like her, dedicated to getting down and dirty, in the trenches, and save lives. She and those she works with are making a difference, are creating awareness, and are saving lives.

Here is Shannon’s story of Paying it Forward for horses:

Shannon’s interest began from using social media and facebook. She began following Diana Tuorto from Horse Welfare Org. (Facebook page) and Lisa Drahorad from Another Chance For Horses. (AC4H) She found herself, compelled to help spread the word about slaughter bound horses in need. Although, Shannon is from North Carolina, she quickly found herself networking with others throughout the country to help horses. She began her horse advocacy work by cross-posting information about slaughter bound, healthy horses. Shannon, who does not own a horse, was called to action and compelled to help slaughter bound horses.

Shannon helps, by working weekly to raise funds and find owners for horses, dogs, and cats in need. Her group unites on open forum on Lisa Drahorad's facebook wall. Using this facebook wall, followers post information to help each other out. Simply by using social media, and facebook to network, this group rescues through Facebook alone, an average of 25-30 horses in matter of three days! That’s a lot of horses given a second chance at life and rescued from unimaginable suffering on their way to and at Mexican and Canadian slaughterhouses!

Shannon and her group works frequently with brokers that frequent New Holland, Pennsylvania auctions and other places. Sadly, brokers will frequently inflate prices to rescue groups in order to "make a profit" Many brokers have direct contracts with slaughter houses in Canada, and broker's can either sell privately or ship them out. Shannon and her group are well aware that prices will often be inflated to them and other rescues, but they forge ahead and continue to fight to raise the funds to save as many horses as they can. As Shannon points out, "It's a dirty business, but after all, it's not the horses fault they've ended up in such a horrible predicament." According to Shannon, Another Chance for Horses, is “the last bridge for these death doomed horses- their last chance to get out or go to slaughter. So we exhaust ourselves each week fund-raising and matching in homes. “

But Shannon’s efforts don’t end here. She also helps other groups with Camelot auction in New Jersey and she also manages posts for groups in Ohio as well for Greener Pastures that saves from Sugar Creek auction. This is an extremely difficult auction to save horses from, because sadly, the horses are shipped to Mexico that night. The auction owner does not even allow pictures. Making the task of rescue, very, very, difficult.

According to Shannon, each week brings numerous success stories and horses that have been given a second chance! One such memorable success story, involves two mustangs in Maryland whose owner could not afford due to a divorce. She was going to have them put down. One was eight and another nine. Shannon found out, and posted pleas for help out in order to help. Her efforts were successful. A Mustang Rescue in NC asked to help, and these two horses were saved.

Due to simply spreading the word about their story, these horses have a second chance! This is the power of social networking making change happen for horses and horse owners in need! This is saving lives! And as Shannon has proven, all it takes is an interest, some effort, and the courage to try to help, regardless of if the effort ends in success or failure. It takes effort, courage, and heart. These are the key ingredients that Shannon blends together to initiate change, and to do good for horses! Can you imagine, how many “forgotten” horses can be saved, if more people, like Shannon, were called to action, and willing to share information and spread awareness about the realities of horse slaughter?

Aside from networking to find homes for horses in danger, Shannon spends a lot of her time promoting horse advocacy issues and works to promote public awareness about the many state and national slaughter bills currently in existence.

……" A lot of people do not know what is happening to our horses. We must keep pressure on our government to change this and unite in numbers to make a change. These all wild and domestic and healthy horses going off to be on someone's plate. "

Many states including Tennessee, Missouri, are lobbying to pass legislation in order to re-open horse slaughter plants for human consumption.


Mexico: 12,919
Canada: 12,922
Japan: 4
total 21,776

Another Happy Ending- Lucky fellow saved!!!