As I built a barn to bring home my horse Grace, I prepared to bring home another horse, Atticus. This feisty, athletic gelding, with a curiosity that would put cats to shame, daunted and thrilled me to become his caretaker.
Horses, like people, are social creatures. As herd animals, they need company, preferably one of their own species. Having a friend is immeasurably important for them mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
I first met Atticus nearly seven years ago when he was bought by one of our clients as a yearling to become a racehorse. The man who bought him had a breeding and training operation for racing Thoroughbreds. At the tender age of one year Atticus began his training, learning to carry a person on his back. By two years old, he was being ridden on a tight schedule, conditioning him mentally and physically to run. While we regularly trimmed and eventually shod his hooves, he stood with a noble poise uncommon for horses in his peer group.
Mature as he was, he was no match for the track. Atticus raced four times, coming last in every race and winning no money. His owner pulled him out of the competitions and put him up for sale. As time passed, this strong and proud gelding became increasingly thin, dim, and lame. Each time my farrier business partner, Rodd and I would trim his hooves, we shook our heads remembering what a horse he used to be. I had to swallow my tears as I saw more ribs and pelvic bone protrusions exposed in his emaciated figure.
With no potential buyers in sight, his owner decided it was time to ship him to an auction, which usually results in a variety of horrible endings for horses.
We could stand it no more.
With a little coaxing from my end, Rodd, who hadn’t owned a horse for many years, decided it was time to get “back in the saddle”. The next farrier visit to that barn, Rodd wrote a cheque on the spot, buying Atticus and securing a home far away from any auction. I am happy to say I contributed two dollars to his purchase price, ensuring I could feel like his human too.
Five years, some therapeutic shoeing, and thousands of pounds of food later, Atticus is once again a strong, empowered, sound and impressive horse. He has a better sense of humour than I probably ever will, and the smarts that make him challenging to train since you only need to show him something once. Better make sure you showed him right the first time!
Most days, Atticus will self-exercise doing laps in the field. Watching him I can’t help but wonder what he would have been like as a racehorse had they waited till his body was more mature to start training. Would he have left the other horses in the dust if he wasn’t fighting against regular growth spurts and unset joints? Then I laugh with relief, realizing that being slow is what saved him from being stuck in that life, and able to leave the track without serious injury.
Atticus and Grace now live together at my farm, usually getting along. Each interaction brings something new, and I am always learning from their completely different personalities. I am honoured to look after these vibrant beings that I consider part of my family.
Who have you welcomed into your chosen family?
This is part of a continuing story, click here to start from the beginning.
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