When I evaluate a horse I always begin with them free in a large area to see how they move on their own, what they choose to do, what their coordination and character is. This shows me what they are capable of without the interference of a human to contend with. As they are ready, I work with verbal and non verbal cues to assess their willingness to communicate. Next follows a thorough grooming to establish trust, bonding and check for any physical issues. Then, and only then, well fitting tack joins the mix.
In the case of the barn where we had found our new pony I had to lead the prospects past a gauntlet of rescued animals of all varieties. There were potbellied pigs, ex holiday turkeys, dogs, ducks, turtles and even emus. A large gate, needing a bit of dragging to open stood between us and perhaps forty or so other horses, some interested in what we were up to (thankfully most not) wandering about in the middle of a multi acre field which held in the midst of it a sizeable enough round pen to suit my purpose. Here I introduced a lunge line, then bridle and saddle until they were steady and comfortable with my cues and I with theirs before even thinking of putting our daughter up.
The little mare we eventually picked was smooth as glass and steady in rhythm. Although her life was filled with trepidation she faced its situations with my favorite reaction. Eyes bulging, ears pricked (but one rotating back quickly here and there to check on the rider) neck poised with head raised. Forelegs slightly braced in hesitation and stillness she would hover in time waiting to make some decision about her circumstances. No spin. After careful consideration of the threat she would eventually progress when asked. Although shaking in fear, she tried to comply. She wanted so much to trust. She hungered for it.
Underweight and under nourished she also hungered for food. The bucket became both an eagerly anticipated part of the grooming ritual and a source of humor for us. Grabbing at the mixture she would stir about with her nose luxuriating in the yummy goodness until her lead rope clip would clank on the side (or other such high offense) and go racing back a step or three to the end of her tether eying it suspiciously before gathering immense courage and having another go. A braver soul in action I have rarely witnessed.
Her back healed quickly with appropriate saddle fitting, a light weight rider (our daughter is a slip of a thing) and exercise. Her coat became a source of pride as it’s coppery chestnut hairs began to shine with constant grooming from an attentive new owner with whom she saw eye to eye. After trying out different names we settled on “Peaches” for Peaches ‘n’ Cream. I always give a horse a new barn name if possible when they have a checkered past as it lends them a fresh start without associations that may come with the previous moniker. By then it had become certain, she would not be returning to the consignment barn. We had a new family member.
Initially she faced every fearsome step of the way alongside our other horses. I would pony the ponies, one on each side of my solid motherly mare Belle. Really it is not that hard when one has been accustomed over decades to handling simultaneously a double bridle (two sets of reins attached to two different bits), draw reins (handled sparingly) and two whips, (tapping, no hitting). With my daughter up we would stroll gently around the facility with Peaches peering at everything, Smoky nonplussed about his environment except potential competition from “the new horse” on the other side vying for Belle’s affections and everyone doing their best to soothingly ignore her machinations. Being an intelligent little thing she soon realized life with us was truly going to be different than anything she had experienced in the past.
Eventually we headed down the street and out onto the trials, Peaches still on line. She took to her new job with obvious relish, quietly stepping along near Belle, content. Feather light to the touch she moved quite differently from Smoky. Across varying terrain she proved reliable and attentive to our cues. We were on our way down the trail to success, measuring by the effect this little creature had upon us all. The void that had opened in our equine experience was once again filled… To the brim.