description: 2004 chestnut Thoroughbred gelding
registered name: Babe Hoolihan
type of rescue: Animal Control seizure
intake date: 12/18/2014
adoption date: 11/1/2018
length of time with SAFE: 3 years 10 months
ADOPTED!! by Lisa G of Gig Harbor WA
Ben was seized from his owner by Pierce County Animal Control after he was discovered running down a road by a pizza delivery driver. He was thin and neglected. He was signed over to SAFE after 3 months in AC custody. After his rescue, we discovered that he had been at risk since he left the track at age 3, having had several different owners over the next seven years. Ben is a very nice boy, sweet and friendly, and he has a ton of personality. He had a lot of issues to overcome, both physical and mental, and he did so remarkably well! He was helped along the way by one particular SAFE volunteer, Lisa G, who became Ben’s principal rider. The progress that these two made together was nothing short of remarkable. They formed a bond that could not be broken, and in Nov 2018, Lisa decided to officially made Ben her horse. We miss this big goofy guy, but we’re so happy that he found his place and his person.
SAFE is so excited to announce that Ben’s adoption to long‐time volunteer Lisa G is final! Ben and Lisa have developed an unbelievably strong bond and together have overcome many training obstacles. Ben only had a chance to be a riding horse if someone was willing to take the time and fix the trouble that was deeply rooted in him. Going through this process with Lisa cemented their connection and when he was adopted earlier this year by another very capable rider and things went so wrong it was clear that Ben had made his choice…he only wanted Lisa. Lisa knew it too and when the time was right she was able to responsibly commit to this big goofball for life! Congratulations you two, and all the best for many happy years together!
Checking in with Lisa and Ben:
Ben is doing so well! He is soft, tuned in to my feel, learning to pick up and carry a soft feel at the canter, and figuring out how to lift and shape himself around my leg on a gentle bend. This last piece was actually something I was missing, but thanks to Roscoe and Joel at the last clinic, I finally REALLY felt leads at the trot and it is making a huge difference for myself and the Booger.
Checking in with Ben and Lisa!!
It’s been very interesting getting to work with Ben every day, with no other horses on my roster. I’m able to get down to some nitty gritty details, get back to some Super Basics, and really work on some holes that I knew were in there, but I continuously overlooked or pushed through in order to get him to a good place for other people to ride him. I am going to be revisiting some things that, due to lack of knowledge, time, or understanding, I skipped over or brushed through in his early learning.
Ben and Lisa’s June Training update:
Yesterday during our morning ride, we were joined by three Hunter/Jumper students and their instructor. I was invited to stay for the lesson, as the instructor believed it would be good for her students and their horses to have another body in the arena. I knew it would be good for to work with other horses around, and the energy H/Js bring; so I asked a random teenager who was there to watch the ride to video a little bit. Later (not on the video), Ben went through the course several times, with the cross rails dropped down to ground poles, at the trot. After we agreed that trotting over the poles and through the gate, was not tantamount to, “okay now GO!!! WHEEE!!!”, He did really well!! 😂
If you’ve come to visit Safe Harbor Stables, recently you may have noticed we are missing one very large chestnut boy who has been a long time resident of SAFE. So where is our handsome boy Ben? Well…After a brief adoption trial that did not work out, we decided that the best place for him to continue to grow and learn is with his wonderful friend Lisa. Lisa has been working with him for the last two years but due to a recent move to Gig Harbor, she is unable to ride regularly for us in Redmond. So we packed his bags sent him to be reunited with his bestie Lisa. Here is an update about how things are going so far:
Ben arrived at Stormy Acres Farm last Monday evening, got a couple days of Round Pen turn out (several times throughout the 2 days) and some work sessions, then had his 1st day (well, about 2 hours ‘cause that’s a lot of grass!) of “real” turnout‐ these fields are awesome! The redheads next door were SUPER excited for the Ginger Convention!
He is, overall, super laid back, the employees adore him, and he has a CUTE little Friesian 2 year‐old named Andromeda in the stall next door; her run goes behind his stall so they can snuffle noses through the wire and she LOVES HIM. She didn’t want to go outside today until he left his stall! 😍😍
Ben had a pretty mellow first week with only 2 VERY light rides (to get to know the arena spaces, mostly) and 4 days of good groundwork. He was rather more stiff through the back and hips than when he left, so we’ve been doing lots of stretching, light massage, and moving out freely at liberty. This week he has been looking MUCH better so we rode yesterday in the outdoor (which is set back in some trees and LOVELY), and today in the indoor.
We have some work to do to get back to where we were a month ago, but already there are vast improvements. He skittered around a couple times each day and bolted in the indoor today (not in a big way, just in asking for a trot, I got 3 strides of GALLOP then a half lap of canter before coming back down to the trot… I was laughing like a maniac, of course… 🤣😜) In his defense, it was windy and there’s a ripped up plastic sheeting on the upper portion of the arena wall, where the viewing area is… it was flappin’ like mad! After that little moment (and a goodly amount of pony abashment: “AAAGGGHHHH! …Wait… oh… I mean.… what? …I wasn’t scared, I just… uh…ok, I got this…we coo.”), he RELAXED and was moving up & down off my seat on a loose rein in a nice, soft trot that I could sit for days.…. SUCH A GOOD BOY!!
Boys will be boys. In December, Ben played a little too rough in turnout and got himself a nice swift kick to the left knee by one of his buddies. His knee swelled to the size of a grapefruit and had a minor laceration. Our Barn Manager, Lori, put her equine bodyworker skills to use immediately and applied equi‐tape to the knee to bring the inflammation down. Luckily the injury didn’t cause any lameness, but we dealt with swelling for several days. Dr. Devine from Pilchuck came out to examine it and determined that he just needed stall rest and time off.
Ben had to be separated from his herd mates and placed in a smaller turnout for a few weeks. He was unhappy about this decision, but the injury has healed completely and he is now back in his regular turnout with his friends Anderson, Valor, and Owen. Ben lost a bit of his topline after having that time off, but he is back in full work and is building that up again.
Ben and I participated in the riding portion of the Joel Conner clinic in November. I’ve just recently started riding him a few days per week so it was great timing to get some insight from Joel. Ben and I developed a rapport when I started doing groundwork with him at one of last year’s clinics, so I have enjoyed this opportunity to continue working with him. He’s a really fun horse!
Ben did great for the clinic. He was level‐headed and calm with the busy activity level in the arena. He focused really well for the majority of the session, only fading a little bit at the very end–but in reality this was likely me that was fading, and him just going along with it.
One of my favorite things about Ben is how responsive he is. He’s a very sensitive man and picks up on the slightest cues from his rider. Joel was able to give me some good goals to work toward. Ben and I are going to focus on transitions off of seat aids, and figure 8’s to help keep him balanced.
This clinic was a lot of fun for me, because I have gotten to watch Ben’s progression in previous clinics with his other rider, Lisa. He’s come a long way and I look forward to getting to continue this work with him.
Here is what volunteer rider Lisa had to share about her time spent with Ben at a Horsemanship and Ranch Riding clinic October 6th:
This past weekend, Ben and I attended the Ricky Quinn clinic in Ellensburg and, yet again, this horse has blown me away. We started each of the 3 days in a Horsemanship class, improving the finesse of some seemingly‐basic skills; balance, flexion, collection, and transitions. By the third morning, Ben was moving calmly and punctually off of my seat and leg on even circles and figure‐eights, and up and down through transitions. Before the clinic, he was doing all of this, but it was just a little late, and just a little sloppy… what a huge change!
The afternoon sessions were a ranch roping & cow working clinic. On day one we worked on roping some dummies, including one that was drug around. Ben did just fine, following the dragged dummy and having a rope (poorly) swung over and off of him … despite the occasional flick on his ears! Day 2 was a whole new world‐ Ben saw real live cows for, as far as we know, the first time in his life! He did alright at first, following the herd around the round pen, until we were asked to come around the front of the herd and turn them. Ben was, at first, afraid of them, backing and spinning away, even nearly unseating me a couple of times. With Ricky constantly reminding me that I needed to have confidence so that Ben could have confidence, and that I had to support him to help him through his fear, we slowly closed in on the herd and (with a lot of me yelling at the cows) turned them. Ben became very focused and attentive, and we moved them back and forth several times, Ben getting quieter and less afraid with every pass. By the end of the clinic he even got to a point where he WANTED to approach the cows, and would even stomp a foot at them, just rarin’ ter go!
Thank you Jami Davis for capturing a few photos of Ben and Lisa working! You can find more about Jami’s work on her website: jamidavis.com
Ben had an amazing showing at this years SAFE show. Everyday he was more and more relaxed. Lisa has been working hard gaining his trust and supporting him through his anxieties to feel calm and relaxed. He did a great job in the trail course and looked right at home! He even came home with a few pretty ribbons!
Here are just a few of the photos from Jessica Farren of the current SAFE horses that competed at the SAFE Benefit Horse Show. It was a fabulous weekend of competition, and we all had a marvelous time!
Click to enlarge:
Here is a wonderful training update from Lisa, Ben’s volunteer rider:
Ben continues to amaze! When I broke my wrist in December and was forced to take a 3‐month hiatus from his training, volunteer rider Jolene took over, continuing his groundwork, re‐introducing lunging, and teaching him to stretch while in movement, which helps him connect comfort and relaxation to movement and work, instead of… well, just plain ol’ work! I came back mid‐march to a horse that was even softer in responses than when I had last worked him, and seemed more comfortable reaching in both front and back.
When Ben was restarted in regular work, he never missed a step; which, for our big, goofy, handsome thoroughbred, is a great thing! He still seems to genuinely look forward to his time under saddle, learning new movements, tying his education to more advanced riding skills, and even hacking out around the beautiful new SAFE property. Ben still gets excited and a little nervous about new environments, so any time he is introduced to a new space (the indoor arena… then the covered outdoor arena…. Then the uncovered outdoor arena….), he needs some time to revisit his groundwork routine, then a good bout of basics from the saddle. Returning to his basic education calms him and reassures him that, no matter WHERE we are, he will not be made physically uncomfortable or asked to do too much, too fast. When he does settle into the space and move into our session calmly, this horse’s willingness to TRY and to THINK about what is being asked is absolutely amazing. He no longer gets frustrated when he doesn’t understand (he literally used to STOMP his feet in frustration like a toddler!), but he waits, watches, thinks, then moves… and if I continue to ask, he keeps thinking and tries something else, without panicking and flipping through is “Rolodex” of answers in anticipation.
Ben is progressing BEAUTIFULLY at the walk and trot (including a (*gasp!*) VARIETY of speeds and movements in each gait!) and continues to improve his canter transitions in terms of balance and smoothness. He still exhibits the occasional, “canter… canter… can‐RUN!!” tendency, but those moments are fewer, farther between, and calmly collected and slowed.
With the weather FINALLY moving toward a real spring and some dry days, I am working on getting Ben out of the arenas more often, with the hopes of introducing him to and working on the trails in Farrel McWhirter Park (right next door to our new home!) and into a couple of spring schooling shows and ride & reviews around the area.
SAFE’s volunteer riders and their horses spent last weekend working with Joel Conner. Here’s a report from Melinda SAFE’s Herd Health Manager about her session with Ben:
I had the pleasure of working with Ben for both groundwork sessions of the Joel Conner clinic over the weekend. He was a rock star! Lisa has done an incredible job in building his confidence and getting him to relax and focus. I wasn’t sure at first about how he would behave with a relative stranger at the other end of the rope, but from the get‐go he was attentive and respectful of me. There were a few times when something would distract him, but just a gentle reminder to pay attention was all he ever needed.
He knows the groundwork exercises well. He responds with a soft feel easily when backing and is sensitive enough to body language that he picks up on what you’re about to ask him almost before even needing to ask it. It was like he was the “old pro” in the arena, there to show all the newcomers how things are done. Heck, he was the old pro in the arena who was there to show me how things are done! Whenever I fumbled, he’d wait for me to get my act together and try again. I was very appreciative of his patience.
I wasn’t able to make it to the most recent clinic in August, but I audited the two clinics prior and got to see Ben’s progression. The work that has gone into getting him where he is now has paid off tenfold. The gelding who first came to us as a bundle of energy mixed with fear and insecurity is now a calm, cool, collected kind of guy. Even when one of the other horses spooked and caused a bit of commotion, Ben just stood there and watched on, totally unfazed.
It warms my heart when I think about the changes we’ve seen in Ben. I really can’t say enough about how much he impressed me this weekend. He really is something special and I’m glad I got the chance to know him a little better.
(as reported by his regular rider, Lisa Garr)
In September, Ben and I once again worked under the tutelage of Joel Conner at a SAFE‐hosted clinic. This weekend showed a completely new horse in our big ol’ redheaded fellow. Now able to handle pressure from the bit without panicking, we worked on soft feel, isolating front‐quarters and hindquarters, and transitioning down off of two reins (although, always, continuing to use the seat to ask for transitions as well) for more punctuality. Ben is learning to reach for a soft feel and to collect himself at the walk and trot so he can stay balanced throughout his body. He worked through the entire weekend without ONCE mentally “checking out”, staying relaxed and confident. As we did in April, we worked on walk‐trot‐canter transitions around the group, but this time Ben was able to work THROUGH these transitions, up, down, and back up again, with my seat, my feel, and the bit as aids.
Ben has started progressing in leaps and bounds throughout the past six months. While we are still working on balance, proper engagement, punctual responses, and calm transitions, I can say with utter confidence that, with support, understanding, patience, and a FAIR approach, this lanky redhead is going to make someone a willing, smart, hardworking equine partner with enough heart and “try” to blow you away. I can’t express how proud I am of this horse nor how honored I am to be a part of the SAFE Training Team that gives these animals a chance to prove how truly amazing they can be.
Stevie and Ben have a whale of a time together in turnout. Geldings love to pretend that they are fierce stallions battling it out on the wild plains. Well, Stevie does, anyway. From Ben’s expression, he might be wishing he was back with Oscar, who was a bit less rambunctious than Stevie is! Thanks to SAFE volunteer Caren M — who also sponsors Stevie with a monthly donation — for catching this action photo.
(as reported by his regular rider, Lisa Garr)
On July 27, 3 days before our annual SAFE Benefit Horse Show, I decided to go for it and ask if our biggest redhead could go along – even if just to BE at the show, competing or not. Ben was reported to have a lot of anxiety in a show environment the previous summer, even when not participating, to an almost‐dangerous degree. But he had come SO FAR in the 10 months we had been working together in his ability to accept new situations calmly and to work through trouble, I really wanted to give him the chance to have a positive experience in a high‐energy environment. We got the go‐ahead, and we loaded everyone up on Friday afternoon and headed out.
Ben did indeed have a lot of anxiety on that first evening, as horses were constantly being hauled in, excited competitors were everywhere, and trucks and trailers were constantly coming and going. So, Friday evening, several times over, we exited his stall, grabbed our gear, and worked‐ on the same things we did at home every day. We did a little groundwork at a time, in various locations throughout the (extensive and beautiful) showgrounds, and when he focused on me and worked calmly for a minute, we went back to the stall and he had some hay. We took a walk with all the other SAFE horses to check out the grounds. We did some work. We gave everyone baths. Everyone munched on some grass. We did some work‐ all with breaks in between.
On Saturday, it was the same idea, but sometimes we were in a show ring for a little while and he was asked to stand still for a bit. If he was too anxious, we went to work for a little while. Then he was asked to stand, walk a little, work a little, and back to the stall. A few times in the morning, in the warm‐up ring and even once in a class, he got so worked up he reared (his former go‐to escape from mental pressure). “No big deal, big guy, but now to work – if you’re going to move your feet, it needs to be forward, not up.” This utter lack of pressure and reaction between times in his stall, I feel, was great for him. By mid‐day Saturday, I could approach his stall and, instead of his head snapping up, eyes wide, ears LOCKED forward, he just looked at me… like, “Oh, hey. We’re going out again? Cool.” WHAT A TRANSFORMATION! We did in‐hand obstacle courses, walked (more‐or‐less) over bridges, through (OK, UP to) cowboy curtains, across tarps, serpentines through cones and trotted over ground poles, all while staying relaxed and willing. Ben even scored HUGE on an in‐hand dressage test!
Ben may not have taken home many ribbons, but this guy was without doubt the biggest winner in my book.
(as reported by Ben’s regular rider, Lisa Garr)
In December of 2015, Ben and I participated in a clinic at SAFE with trainer Joel Conner and I was just hoping he would stay calm enough to participate safely. Well, he blew me away then with his focus, willingness, and trust, and in April we once again joined Joel for a clinic… and Ben was a STAR!
Since December we had been focusing on moving up and down through transitions calmly off of the seat, from walk to trot and back down again, stopping off of one rein, finding a soft feel, moving his body in a straight(ish) manner, and really just continuing to help Ben understand that when he is asked to bring his energy up a little and move at a slightly faster pace, that does not necessarily mean RUN. Ben had been described at one point the previous summer (2015) as a bolter… but really he just had never been taught to listen; he had just been taught to GO. He was then taught to GO and JUMP but then STOP and HOLD YOUR HEAD HERE but still GO but NOT TOO FAST and KEEP YOUR HIP THERE and HEAD HERE and…. well, I’M confused… and so was he. It felt like he was with me (mentally) until I asked for a trot, and he would stay with me for a bit but then “check out”… his brain turned off, his feet got to moving, and goodbye Ben, hello Babe Hoolihan the Racehorse! He was imbalanced (hip out, shoulder in, head out and often tipped slightly… he rather resembled Gumby, actually) at the trot, but especially in the canter, even without a rider, and didn’t know how to coordinate himself.
I was already so proud of the progress Ben had made by the time Joel arrived for April’s clinic, I couldn’t wait to see how much more he could accomplish with his guidance. Throughout the weekend, Ben was focused, relaxed, incredibly willing and soft, and picking up new material like crazy. At the end of the riding portion each day, Joel had each horse‐and‐rider pair move out and work on something specific to their training needs. For Ben, it was moving up and down off of the seat (as opposed to pressure from the reins & bit) and staying checked‐in, mentally. Day one was OK – The rest of the class was gathered in the center of the arena and we were working around the outside, trying to trot at a good pace without jumping into the canter. In the end, when he DID hook back on and come down, it was a huge emotional release for both of us and a HUGE step forward in our work together. On the second day at this time, we DID canter… and then some. All while receiving instruction and support from Joel, it was the same idea as day one but at Ben’s “Trigger Pace”– at which he was taught to GO and GO and GO and GO (regardless of form or balance) until someone hauled on his face to stop him. So, he ran. I quieted my seat, pet him constantly, and kept him out to the wall (again, the rest of the group was gathered in the center of the arena), while trying to help him stay balanced. Did I mention he ran? Maybe 15 full laps around the arena, but at one point his ears flipped forward (he “checked back in”), his poll straightened, and he came down to a fast trot… and as he was only given support and continued quiet praise, he slowed through the trot, then the walk, and when he finally stopped altogether, he sighed, licked, chewed, sighed some more, and his entire body relaxed. It’s difficult to describe, but his entire FEEL changed in that moment. This would take a LOT of continued work, but with Joel’s guidance, we made huge leap in teaching Ben to trust that he would be supported and treated fairly and that he did not need to protect himself by mentally checking out. What an amazing horse this guy is!
We had a great time hosting Joel again at Safe Harbor. The horses and volunteers had an amazing weekend and everyone progressed in their feel and training. Here are a few accounts from the volunteer participants about what they learned about the horses they were working with during the clinic:
Jolene D:Khianna- At the time of the clinic Khianna had a total of 4 or 5 rides on her since her return from foster. She was nervous, but did so well! She tries so hard. She is coming along nicely and I believe will develop into an incredible partner for someone.
Sara E: Jewel — Jewel was an all‐star for the clinic, Claire has done such a great job with her. She felt flawless going from hind‐end to front‐end turns. I learned so much while riding her during the clinic. She is going to make someone a really great horse.
Sara E: Khianna — Did ground work with Khianna and at the beginning she was a nervous trotting mess, but Joel came over and helped me get her front feet moving and she calmed right down. She is so loving and tries so hard. Once she figures out you aren’t going to eat her, she just wants to please you and be loved on, I don’t know if I have ever worked with a horse that tries to give you 150% all the time.
Lisa G: Ben- I can’t say enough about how the horsemanship that Joel has helped bring to SAFE amazes me. I had Ben in all 4 sessions, GW and riding, and I was honestly just hoping I could get him to stay focused on me with all of the excitement, maybe get some nice serpentines down in the riding portion, and work on soft feel and stopping/moving forward off of the seat. Well.…. He did all of those things and SO MUCH MORE. Every exercise that Joel moved the participants through, beginning to advanced, Ben tried. And SUCCEEDED, at least on some level. I am so impressed with the effort this big guy puts into everything; as long as he understands that there are no consequences if he doesn’t understand, and he knows that I will wait for him to figure it out, I believe this horse would be willing to try anything under the sun. In the few days since the clinic, Ben had maintained a quiet, willing attitude, with TONS of deep, relaxed sighs, even during the riding work. SO proud of the progress he has made and so grateful that this work was brought to the SAFE horses.
Sara S: Khianna- I worked with Khianna for the first time doing GW on Saturday morning, and was so impressed by her “try”. She does get a little nervous about the rope and flag coming at her while moving (though not at all while standing still in the comfort of the “herd” (me)). I particularly enjoyed the backing exercises, and she was so in tune with my feet and body language it felt like we were dancing partners! She is such a sweet girl.
Sara S: Phoenix- I did GW and rode Phoenix on Saturday afternoon. He hadn’t been ridden in weeks, and it was raining on the tin roof, so he was extra “special” to start, but after just a bit of GW he calmed down and started paying attention to me. Riding, he was great. He’s getting very good at backing circles, front and hind yields (he’s so bendy!). Over the few months I’ve been working with Phoenix, I’ve noticed he tries very hard to anticipate what I want (if he’s in the mood), but as soon as I push too hard and/or he doesn’t understand what I’m asking, he shuts down. On Saturday, I didn’t feel him shut down at all which is probably a combination of both of us getting better at this!
And many thanks again to Joel and Terry for putting on such an inspiring clinic!!! I wish I could come out to SAFE every day, but I’m glad to be even a small part of this great community and cherish this opportunity!
Claire C: Mesquite- It was my first official time working with Mesquite, and I think we made some really good changes. He is super sensitive so it was interesting to experiment with him and see how much pressure he needed. I only did the groundwork session with him and it was fun learning to time up with his feet better.
Claire C: Phoenix- For the afternoon session, I rode Phoenix, who I have not done a whole lot with either. He was also good; we worked a lot on more forward motion and keeping him focused on what I was asking. We did lots of bending and yielding, which was so good for him. Overall, he did very well.
Casey A: Stella- I worked with Stella, who is turning out to be a great little horse. We worked on slowing down and developing balance on both the ground and under saddle. We were both so much lighter by the end of Sunday, and I know we got a big change in our partnership. She was so relaxed through the entire clinic, even when horses around her were nervous. She’s also pretty resilient and forgiving of my mistakes. She has taught me so much, and she is going to make someone really lucky!
Erika S: Maggie- I worked with Maggie for all 4 sessions, and she did fantastic! She’s such a smart, willing mare, and we connected early on. One idea that I heard this weekend was that eventually it will feel like your horse is reading your mind… Well, I’m here to tell you that that’s the truth! Maggie remained tuned in for everything we learned about, and worked in sync with me. It honestly helped me more than I think it helped her!
Ann A: Bridgit- Bridgit is a friendly girl and likes getting attention. She is a bit on the lazy side and I had some trouble getting the life up in her while doing circling exercises. She just wanted to come into the center and hang out with me. She made good progress under saddle in the afternoon sessions. She was learning how to pick up a soft feel at the walk by the end of the first day and we had some nice walk/trot transitions. She needs more work backing straight and in a circle both on the ground and under saddle. She also needs more work reaching with her front foot and disengaging her hindquarters under saddle. She felt much more balanced to me than she did when I rode her last summer.
Jane M: Oscar- As a relative novice to practicing Joel’s horsemanship skills, the greatest lesson I took away from GW and riding Oscar during this most recent Joel clinic is the impact GW has on riding. Yielding hindquarters, circling to achieve bend and balance, it all makes such a difference when aboard the horse. I’m able to apply lessons learned under Joel’s guidance to my regular riding lessons. It’s quite remarkable to me, and I look forward to Joel’s next visit and my next “aha” takeaway!
Here is a lovely write up from Lisa G who is training Ben at Safe Harbor. He is gaining a lot of confidence from her steady and caring approach.
I worked with Ben in a lesson with Michael Sparling the other night, and have a lot of things, big and small, to work on over the next couple of weeks. First and foremost is something that we have been focusing on, but need to up the game on a little, and that is building strength, flexibility, and coordination in his whole body, as well as his confidence. We will focus primarily on rolling his hindquarters around his forehand, working up to backing straight out of this movement, and backing in circles. Ben has shown a LOT of improvement in this over the past month, but still has a long way to go, and we are focusing now on doing the movements with softness throughout his body, and moving smoothly and calmly.
Ben has had a snaffle bit put on a couple of times recently, and he reacts very poorly, just to carrying it; head twisting, jaw stretching, tongue out… basically trying to relieve mental pressure via his “funny faces”. I am attempting to reintroduce him to the bit in a way that lets him disassociate pressure, fear, and discomfort from carrying a bit in his mouth. I have started to, and will continue to, do groundwork with a bridle on over his halter, utilizing only the halter and lead to guide him. Michael thought this step was a good choice, but warned against letting it go too long and allowing his fear of the bit become a Big Deal (to paraphrase Buck Brannaman: get to it when it’s a small issue; before it becomes a big problem!), so I will play it by ear, but plan to start utilizing the bit and working off of the slobber strap relatively soon.
I worked Ben a little from the saddle, just in a rope halter, and practiced a lot of hindquarter rolling, gentle directing from the lead, working into 1‐rein stops… which he was doing GREAT with by the end of the session! We did a couple rounds of drawing up to the fence, mounting, moving off, and building a good working walk, then easing back down in pace, and rolling into a 1‐rein stop, all while he stayed relaxed and without bracing against any of my cues.
All in all, I am thrilled to see the changes in Big Ben, and look forward to helping him find confidence and comfort in his body and movement.
Some pictures are worth a thousand words, and some, like these, a whole bucket of laughs. Ben is a big goofball with as many expressions as that of a great stand‐up comedian. We love hanging out with this big guy as his antics always put a smile on everyone’s face.
Jolene, a volunteer rider, enjoys working with Ben and understands his personality well. Jessica, another volunteer, snapped some very entertaining photos of Ben and Jolene when he was being groomed after his workout. You can see how much he loves all the attention, especially the scratches. It is so wonderful to see the transformation in this gentle boy with the big heart!
A few weeks ago, we had a wonderful group from Microsoft come to SAFE for a Day of Caring. All the horses had to be out of the barns since the group was pressure washing and replacing gravel and mats in the stalls. So we were a little short of places to put all the horses while the work was going on. I decided to see if Ben and Oscar might be able to co‐habitate in the arena together for the day. To my surprise and relief, they became fast friends and really enjoyed each other’s company! So much so that they are now turned out together every day! Here are some great pictures of them playing together. As you can see they are like two young colts with their funny faces! But I have to admit I think Oscar is the boss…which is really funny since Ben towers over this little guy!
Dr. Christin Finn came to see Ben on Friday for his third bodywork session. Each time, the work has made changes to how he moves and even the shape of his back. This time it was clear that we needed to push through some very tight back and pelvic muscles. While the adjustments and acupuncture in the past sessions had helped loosen a lot of this area up, Dr. Finn suggested we speed the process up by using a laser on these tight areas. You never know how they are going to react to this treatment and sometimes you can’t even tell if they like it or if they are feeling anything. Well Ben helped us know we were on the right track! He began stretching and moving his neck during the laser treatment. He had lot some nice yawns and was very well behaved for the work. The best result was seeing the movement he had after the work was complete. His stride was much more forward and you could see his back and hips moving softly with his steps. Let’s be honest: he is a beautiful boy but Dr. Finn helped this boy find his stride! He looks amazing and with just a few more weeks of conditioning at Safe Harbor he will be ready for professional training with Joel Conner.
Volunteer Jessica Farren was out to the stables last week and took some beautiful photos of Ben and volunteer Ann working in the arena. We also had a few others with Ben and Terry in the arena a few weeks ago. He is truly a stunning boy and his looking healthy and content with his new life. Getting excited to see where this boys journey takes him. He is going to be a very special horse for someone who understands him.
It was a pleasure this past weekend to have Joel Conner visit the SAFE horses and teach our volunteers. We began each morning, with a colt starting demonstration where Joel worked with Hickory, Mesquite and Ben. Joel is an expert when it comes to working with un‐started horses and it was clearly evident that his years of experience have giving him the timing and insight to know exactly what they need to have a successful start.
This method of horsemanship and starting horses has the horse’s wellbeing at the top of the priorities. It is fair and prepares the horses for each new step in the process. They may not understand fully what is happening but Joel was there to help them through each part and they were not surprised or made to feel any undue stress or pressure did not have a release. As many of us know, you don’t have to start horses in a way that takes anything away from their spirit. That’s what we love about them and when we ask them to partner with us, to become our riding companions, they can do so with out force or fear. Joel said that his work is about the horse; it is finding ways each day to do right by them and helping them have a clear and clam understanding of the work they do together. Watching him work this weekend it was clear he has a true gift and our horses are benefitting for his kindness.
Hickory has a very inquisitive and gentle disposition, which made him one of the star pupils. This great personality will inevitably make him a wonderful partner and this weekend it helped him accept the saddle and rider without stress. Joel prepared him for saddling through groundwork and gaining Hickory’s trust. We were all amazed at both Joel’s skill and Hickory’s willingness to accept being ridden. I knew that we were lucky to have Joel working with the SAFE horses but after watching him work with both Hickory and Mesquite, our two most recent intakes and gelded Arabians, I feel blessed and grateful he is on our team. Hickory did so well that we decided that he would be the first to go down for training with Joel. He loaded on Joel’s trailer Sunday afternoon and headed to get a few more weeks of training before returning to SAFE Harbor and having our volunteers begin riding him. He is going to be an amazing riding horse!
Mesquite is a bit more reserved than Hickory. He is the older of the two and had more years as a stallion and at the hands of his abusers. He is wary of new people approaching him and has an eye on what is going on around him. He is thoughtful to new things but was willing to work with Joel and see what he had to offer him. The changes Mesquite made over just the few short days were outstanding. Joel allowed him to take the time he needed to accept and move out in the saddle. By the second morning Mesquite was walk, trot and cantering without any worry. All the horses were hardly sweating under their saddles and were calm and relaxed throughout the work. Mesquite is going to make someone a very lucky adopter! He is going to take a little bit longer to open up to new people but there is a very kind boy under all that mane and we are feeling lucky to have been given the responsibility to find him a perfect forever home!
Last up for the demonstrations was Big Ben! Before going into work with him, I explained to Joel that we want the best for Ben and if riding is not in his future we are ok with that. I was again reconfirmed why Joel is such a perfect fit for these troubled horses. Ben has years of people letting him down, passing him around, starving and forgetting about him. SAFE will never let that happen again and is giving him the opportunity to understand people are not afraid of him. Past experiences have put braces in his body that don’t need to be there. Joel worked to help Ben free up his body and left go of the baggage someone else had put in there. It will take some time sorting this out for our big boy but the changes we saw though the work with Joel have us optimistic that Ben can make it though. Our plan is to send Ben down to Joel’s for an extended amount time and allow him to move through the process without being rushed or pressured. He continues to put on more weight and is more comfortable and happy everyday. SAFE is committed to this sweet boy and he has a very bright future ahead of him.
When Michael Sparling came to town for his most recent clinic at SHS, we asked him to work with Ben for a short session to help us assess him for training. Michael worked with Ben on the ground before getting into the saddle. Ben demonstrated both the anxiety under saddle reported by his previous trainer, and his tendency to try to bolt away when asked to trot on a long rein. Fortunately Michael is very capable of shutting down a bolting Thoroughbred by disengaging the hindquarters. Michael felt that Ben would likely need a bit more professional re‐training time than most of our horses do, but he certainly felt that Ben’s issues could be worked through. Michael found clear signs that Ben has been ridden with too much contact in the past, and pointed out that Ben doesn’t break at the poll, but instead his neck breaks over about 6 inches behind the poll. He has developed muscle in the wrong places and needs to relax his neck to get flexion in those top vertebrae. Ben will have a few more bodywork sessions with Dr Finn before we send him out for training. We continue to work with him on the ground at SAFE to help him relax and learn to use his body in a different way. We have already see some amazing changes in his posture, his back, and croup. Can’t wait to post some before and after pictures!
photos by Jessica Farren
For the past 60 days or so, Ben has been on an extended trial with a Hunter/Jumper trainer who was interested in finding out if he had a future as a sporthorse. This was a wonderful opportunity for Ben, and a tremendous help to us because it meant that he would receive two months of professional training with Leah at Cypress Farm at no cost to our donors. Leah took things very slow with Ben, and introduced him to a whole new world of experiences. The first month of the trial was promising. Ben was put on a high calorie diet to help him gain the remaining weight he needed to put on, and Leah started lunging him under saddle to slowly start him back to work. From the beginning, he showed a lot of anxiety in the arena, and Leah focused a lot of helping him gain confidence and relax. Ben made close friends with a pony named Elmer, and he seemed quite content as he adjusted to life at Cypress Farm. Leah even took him on a field trip to the Washington Horse Park in Cle Elum, where he got to hang out at a rated Hunter/Jumper show.
But there were problems. Leah was able to start riding Ben again, but the anxiety he showed under saddle was not getting better. Given the opportunity, he might suddenly decide to relocate himself from one end of the arena to the other. Leah worked exceptionally hard to help Ben gain confidence…treating him with patience, kindness, and encouragement; creating the most positive experiences possible for the big red gelding. And she gave him so many chances to show that he was able to relax…but in the end, Leah had to admit to herself that Ben was not going to get there for her. He definitely seemed to be telling her that he didn’t want to be a Jumper…but she feared he might be saying that about being ridden at all. Sadly, at the end of the trial, Leah made the difficult decision to not move forward with the adoption.
Yesterday, Ben returned to Safe Harbor Stables. We have not given up on him by any stretch of the imagination, but we need to try to understand what is going on with him. We need to figure out if his anxiety is behavioral or if there are any underlying physical problems that are causing his issues. A lot of “next steps” are being considered, and we hope there are answers that we can uncover. For right now, we know that big Ben does enjoy a life of leisure as long as there are plenty of entertaining and interesting things to watch. Safe Harbor provides him with the sort of lively environment that he loves best. Our Ben has come a long way, and while his journey isn’t over, we enjoy this big goofy Thoroughbred gelding and we’re happy he’s home again for a while.
We are very grateful to Leah and Kim at Cypress Farm for giving Ben the opportunity to be adopted, and for being so committed to his well being. He looks terrific and happy, and that’s what really counts in the end.
Some horses just have that sparkle in their eye from the moment they arrive at SAFE. Within the abused or neglected body is a personality that’s just waiting for the energy and life to come back. Since the day he arrived at Safe Harbor, Ben has been one of those great horses. Outwardly he can be quite the goofball / class clown type, playing Catch Me with Sunny D along the fence line.. Other times, he’s the handsome gentleman, giving soft nickers to the mares as the pass his stall. Deep down, he is a sweet boy whose heart has been tossed around from owner to owner, and he seems to long for a person to connect with.
Ben spent three and a half months at Safe Harbor, gaining weight and slowly easing back into work. Using groundwork, We had some nice break‐through moments and found some good connection with him. Ben’s a big boy and he requires a handler that is not timid but will still be mindful of his sensitive and playful nature and channel it in a productive way.
We are hopeful that we have found such a home and partner for Ben. He is currently out on trial with Leah and Kim of Cypress Farm! He just finished the first 30‐days of his 60‐day trial, and we can’t wait to share this great news for a minute longer. Fortunately, everything seems to be going well. Leah and Kim are keeping him on a high calorie diet to gain the last bit of weight he still needed and Leah is taking the training slow to help make sure he is comfortable for the steps back to being a riding horse. The pictures already show some significant weight and muscle gain since leaving SAFE just a few weeks ago.
We have a few glowing reports to share:
From the first day at their farm: “Ben settled in nicely and spent the day kissing with our mini horse, Elmer, his new best friend! Content and sun bathing all day.”
“He is such a character. He and Gunther (the appy) are buddies when they are inside, and outside, Ben and Elmer are always playing through the fence! He’s been doing really well. I’m giving him this week just lunging in gear but will wait until later next week to get on. He is very quiet in gear so I don’t think he will be anything crazy to sit on for the first few times. He won’t “work” under saddle for a few weeks though, just walking at first to make sure he’s comfortable! I had to order a new halter for him because our extras are too small for him but that’s no biggie!”
“Ben has been doing really well! He is settling in much better…eating and dealing with a new routine and barn. I started with just working him in gear on the lunge line and he took to that nicely. Now I am lunging him with his tack and then getting on and walking for about 10 minutes at a time. He gets very nervous under saddle so we are just walking and relaxing mostly. His anxiety under saddle has gone from about an 8 to a 5 this week (1–10 scale, 10 being horrified). Overall everything is getting so content with him, even being brushed is now becoming a calm thing for him haha! His weight is looking very good and his topline and little butt are trying to tone up! He is the type that appreciates baby steps so I have been letting him lead the way, the more calm he is the longer we go but he doesn’t like feeling the pressure of high expectations so I have been super easy on him to keep him happy and content!”
“Yes he is coming along very well! We’re getting past the big hurdles and now that he trusts me under saddle everything will come together for him much easier. So for now I am very happy with him.”
We have high hopes that Ben’s trial will continue in a positive direction and that we will be able to announce his adoption very soon. Leah and Kim tell us he’s a keeper, and that brings us great joy. The purpose of an extended trial, however, is to do our very best to make certain that an adoption is a good fit. Because we sent Ben out on trial as a prospect, rather than a riding horse, we want to allow Leah some extra time before asking her to make a lifetime commitment to this horse. But so far, all signs point to yes, so who knows, we might be seeing Ben in the jumper ring in the future!
Ben has been getting some good work with our volunteer riders. He is a very interesting fellow who has a playful side that has to be carefully managed. He is not for an inexperienced horse person. Even walking him to and from turnout requires the handler to be mindful of Ben’s energy and helping him to make good decisions. He’s like an overgrown puppy, unaware of his size or that he can’t play with people the same way he plays with other horses! We groom him regularly, and have even given him a bath but he is still extremely itchy! He does make the cutest faces when you scratch his withers. We’ll continue to work on improving his coat condition…hopefully all the good grooming, food, and oil will help his coat.
Ben also took part in the Michael Sparling clinic last month. He really impressed us how contained and manageable he was on the ground. Even in an arena with 7 other horses doing ground work at the same time, he had no major issues. Sydney did a good job keeping his attention and he was very well behaved. After the clinic, Sydney had this to say about working with Ben: “Every time Michael visits I learn something new, or an improved way to carry out a specific task. His most recent trip was the first time I got to work with horses other than my own in quite a while. Ben and Karma both reinforced the fact that all horses seek is peace. Ben is quite an interesting horse, at times calm and friendly, but can also be unconfident and unaware of his surroundings. Working with Ben, I learned to give him space, and reward him for any hint of connection. Ben is so keen on doing what I ask, that I had to be careful to reward him, because if I missed a chance, he would lose his try. By the end of the workshop, Ben improved on using his body properly, allowing him to relax and connect even more.
Ben really seems to enjoy free jumping! Terry set up this little jump chute in the arena, and Ben was more than willing to show us how easily he can soar over a 6″ cavaletti! Go Ben go!
Ben is looking great! He needs to gain about 100 more pounds or so but his appetite is up and he is eating very well. We are doing light liberty and ground work with him while he recovers from starvation. He is a very smart and fast learner. We will start to reintroduce tack to him later this month in the hopes of having him ready to be sent out to be restarted under saddle soon.
…and Steph knows right where it is! This is a happy horse.
Ben is steadily gaining weight and winning the hearts of our volunteers! He is a sweet boy and very smart and willing to work. We are just lightly working him at liberty and adding a little bit of groundwork off the rope halter. He needs to gain more weight before we can ask much of him but for right now we are working on simple foundation things and some desensitizing. He is a big boy so it will be important that he has very good manners for his future adopter. He is already proving to be very kind. As a younger thoroughbred, he does like to play and it’s important that he is allowed to get that extra energy out during turn out and play time. After he’s had a chance to blow off some steam, he is very calm and easy to work with.
Ben arrived safely at Safe Harbor Stables and Terry & Laura spent some time with him, getting him cleaned up and taking photos. As we suspected, this guy is a sweetheart!
We picked up Ben today from Pierce County Animal Control. He’s a 12 year old Thoroughbred gelding, tall, chestnut, with a blaze and one hind sock. He was picked up by Animal Control after a pizza delivery driver found him running down the road — he was in pitifully thin condition with a BCS of 1.5. He’s been in AC custody since August and has made a decent recovery, but he still need to gain some weight, get cleaned up, and get healthy. He like a very nice boy…he was reluctant to load into the trailer, but like most Thoroughbreds, he consented to getting in once he understood we were serious about it.