breed: 2008 American Bashkir Curly Horse gelding
registered name: Willow Creeks Final Son
type of rescue: owner surrender
intake date: 2/27/2014
adoption date: 1/19/2015
length of time with SAFE: 11 months
Status: ADOPTED by Bonnie Hammond of Redmond WA
Owen’s Story: Owen came to SAFE as a 6 year old Curly stallion who was destined for euthanasia when his owner was no longer able to keep him. When we picked him up, he was completely unhanded, not even halter broken, and unwilling to allow himself even to be touched. We faced the challenge of getting him some basic handling before he could even be gelded. Fortunately, from day one, Owen seemed to want to make a connection, and proved himself to be gentle, smart, and fairly willing. With patient handling, he learned to trust and allow himself to be touched, haltered, and led. Once he recovered from being gelded, he was started under saddle by local trainer Matt Olson. With a solid education, Owen became a lovely riding horse, sensitive and responsive with forward gaits. He’s a great representative of the Curly Horse breed, and his unusual appearance attracts the interest and attention of people everywhere. Owen was adopted by SAFE’s Executive Director, Bonnie Hammond.
We had several SAFE Alumni come out to compete at the 2017 SAFE Benefit Horse Show. SAFE Alum Bucky B Lucky won the Champion SAFE Alumni award, competing successfully in English, Dressage, and Western Halter & Showmanship. SAFE Alums Owen, Moonshine, and Baxter also came out to the show.
Owen has been adopted, and it will probably come as no surprise to anyone that his adopter is SAFE Executive Director Bonnie Hammond.
It was never our intention that Owen would end up spending his first spring and summer as a SAFE Horse on Bonnie’s farm in Silverdale, but we didn’t know when we accepted him into our program that the young Curly Horse stallion was not only untrained, but completely untouchable. And Bonnie will be the first to tell you that she’s the last person SAFE would choose to tame a stallion! But she and Owen made it work, and Bonnie credits Owen’s kind and willing nature as the reason she was able to slowly gain his trust. Fortunately they weren’t on a timeline, so they were able to make slow, steady progress. Owen was never studdish or aggressive in Bonnie’s care — he was simply afraid. So with calm, patient, consistent handling, eventually Owen learned to wear a halter and walk on a lead. He was gelded about three months after he came to SAFE and since he didn’t know how to lunge, Owen did all his post-gelding exercise at liberty, catching on immediately to Bonnie’s hand signals and voice commands and dutifully trotting in large circles for 15 minutes twice a day.
Owen made amazing progress, but he was still fearful and difficult to catch when trainer Matt Olson entered his life. Matt may be young but he has a gift when it comes to working with young horses. After just a couple of training sessions on the ground, a brand new Owen emerged…one that was social and friendly and easy to catch. It was amazing how learning boundaries from a trainer like Matt changed Owen’s interactions with the world, first with Bonnie, and then with everyone he met. Owen would continue to make friends wherever he went, but it was Matt’s work that started him in that positive direction.
After a month of groundwork, Matt stepped into the stirrup and sat on Owen’s back for the first time. He was prepared for fireworks, but none came. Instead Owen seemed stunned at this new development, but willing to give it a chance. As he gained confidence as a riding horse, he did eventually throw out some resistance to being ridden, but it wasn’t bucking or bolting…Owen just refused to move forward. As bad behaviors go, this was one Matt could work with. Soon Owen was going nicely at the walk, trot, and lope, and he graduated from training at the end of January, less than a full year from the day we met him and realized we couldn’t even touch him.
Along the way, we learned a lot about American Bashkir Curly Horses — a fascinating breed that descended from curly haired wild horses in the American west who were crossed with a Morgan and an Arabian foundation sire in order to produce the perfect ranch horse: hardy, versatile, smart, and sensible. Owen embodies the best of the Curly breed — he’s built solidly and he’s smart as a whip, very teachable and very good natured. Owen is an extreme Curly who grows a coat of curly hair in the winter (right down to his curly eyelashes) and sheds out to a smoother coat in the summer. He also sheds his mane and tail, an oddity that is common to extreme Curlies, and raises a lot of questions (like “what happened to his tail?”)
Bonnie took an amazing journey with this horse, and the bond they created was one that she was unwilling to break. So for the first time in nine years with SAFE, Bonnie adopted a SAFE horse. The two are now learning Dressage with the help of a familiar friend: trainer Brittney Stewart. Brittney loves Owen and admires his willingness to learn. He’s already reaching for contact and learning to carry himself correctly like a dressage horse, and he’s got terrific, forward gaits too! Bonnie and Owen also enjoy trail riding in the Redmond Watershed with their good friend Teddy, a big Morgan gelding who looks a lot like one of Owen’s famous ancestors!
Because of Owen’s unusual appearance, he will probably always be an ambassador for SAFE Horse Rescue — he makes friends wherever he goes and people find his story fascinating. From untouchable stallion to a talented young riding horse, Owen’s transformation wasn’t physical, but his entire life changed because of SAFE.
Owen’s work under saddle with trainer Matt Olson is proceeding right on schedule…our curly boy is now walking, trotting, and cantering with a rider. If you’ve been following Owen’s story, you’ll know that we’ve all been a bit surprised at how well he’s done in his training…almost “too well” if you can believe that…
So it’s actually been somewhat of a relief to us that Owen has started to make things a little more difficult for Matt in recent training sessions! Nothing too awful…but he’s definitely been asserting himself a little more in the process. For example, Matt’s finding that Owen will sometimes object to moving forward when asked, and there have been occasional days when Owen’s actually put up a bit of a fight. Matt feels that this is a sign that Owen is testing his boundaries and trying to take on a more dominant role in their relationship, which isn’t too surprising if you consider that this horse has spent the majority of his life as an unhandled stallion, and “boundaries” never played much of a role with him until he came to SAFE. Matt has worked through these recent issues by being firm but fair, keeping their sessions positive but definitely not allowing Owen to have the upper hand. The arena where they work is typically filled with jumps and poles and other obstacles, and Matt uses these things to his advantage, asking Owen to trot over ground poles or hop over small jumps when asked. It’s almost like playing a game with him…Owen will hesitate to trot forward…Matt will remind him, gently but firmly, that he must…Owen will comply and get rewarded, and everyone has fun.
Matt started Owen in a halter and rode him that way for quite some time, but he’s been slowly introducing the snaffle bit, and Owen seems to be getting used to it pretty well. In the video below, you’ll see that Owen is a bit squirrelly from time to time, and he makes Matt work a lot harder to keep him moving as asked, but again, this is all so new to him, and he really does try hard for his rider:
Matt still does a lot of groundwork with Owen, and it’s pretty impressive what a good horse Owen is when worked in hand. Again, we play with the jumps in the arena a lot, and Owen will willingly jump these obstacles when “sent” over them. It’s pretty fun.
He’s also getting super curly now that the cold weather is with us!
One week under saddle and Owen is making astounding progress with trainer Matt Olson. Check out this video, taken at the end of Owen’s lesson last Thursday.
Did you notice how willingly Owen walked over the “bridge” from the trails course? How about that reinback? All this in a halter, no less. He has such a lovely willingness about him, he really wants to please.
Formal training has really changed the way Owen deals with what’s being asked of him in the rest of his life when Matt’s not around. His fear of new people has diminished, and his friendly and curious nature is blossoming, making him very popular with the people he meets at Sandamar Farm. He’s now joined the regular turnout rotation at the barn, something that wasn’t possible when he first arrived because he couldn’t be easily caught. He’s embraced the barn’s routine with enthusiasm, and is always happy when the feed cart rolls by. He’s been stalled next to a mare named Maybelle for the last several weeks, and the two of them co-exist peacefully with the help of Sandamar’s safe and secure Centaur fencing. Maybelle is quick to put Owen in his place whenever she feels the need, and when Maybelle gives him mare ears and a sharp squeal, he actually looks embarrassed and offers no backtalk.
Another awesome benefit of this newer, braver Owen is that he can stand in the cross ties for grooming! This, in turn, has given him the opportunity to learn how much he enjoys being groomed! His winter coat is making its way in, and he’s shedding a lot. Owen now submits to grooming like he’s been doing it all his life. Yesterday we had a marathon session (dirty horse!) and it suddenly dawned on me that I was currying his back legs with the soft curry and he was not even twitching! It’s moments like this where I just can’t believe that two months ago, no one could even touch his legs at all. He’s come so far.
But back to grooming…having done a fair bit of Curly Horse research online, I’ve read some interesting advice about helping one’s Curly Horse re-grow mane and tail more successfully. So I’m treating Owen’s skin with an anti-fungal solution and caring for what little hair he’s got with oils. It’s going to be a while before we know if this is going to work, but I’m cautiously optimistic. It took a bit for Owen to allow me to mess with his sad little tail, but now he stands for long sessions of while I massage it with oils (and chant “grow, grow, grow” under my breath).
Last week was a momentous one for Mr Curly Horse, and we could not be more proud of the amazing progress this horse has made.
Monday’s accomplishment was a successful first standing hoof trim. Matt’s been working with Owen on picking up his feet since he took over his training, and he’s done really well with it. But the last time Owen saw farrier Joe Marceau was the day of his gelding surgery, and at that point in his life, Owen seemed to be especially fearful of men, especially tall men. So we did not know what to expect when the two met again. Matt presented Joe’s rasp and hoof stand for Owen to examine, and once he demonstrated little or no excitement towards either object, Joe moved in and asked Owen to pick up a foot for him. And lo and behold, Owen picked up his foot, just like he’d been doing it his whole life. His front hooves were quite long, since they hadn’t been trimmed since the day he was gelded, but he allowed Joe to use the nippers and the rasp without fuss. His back hooves didn’t need as much work since they were naturally pretty nicely balanced, so they just required rasping. But Owen cooperated throughout, and before long, his hooves were looking really nice. As Matt remarked when it was over, we expected things to end well, we just didn’t expect them to START so well! Matt deserves a lot of credit for the work he put in to get Owen ready for his trim…the first of many he will have over the course of his lifetime.
The next day, Owen was introduced to the saddle. Matt prepared him for this with a full month of ground work, and he’d already desensitized Owen to the girth by looping the lead rope around his barrel and slowly adding pressure, and by putting a bareback pad with a girth on him. But this was a big step, and Matt was fully prepared for some fireworks from Owen when he introduced a western saddle for the first time. As you’ll see in the video below, Owen accepted the strange new saddle calmly. Really, his only reaction after the saddle was set onto his back was to slowly lift his right leg and sort of stomp it back down, followed by the same odd movement with the left. But that was it. Once the girths were both in place, Matt asked him to move out on the lunge line, and Owen did just that, no fussing, no bucking, no kicking, no nothing. So Matt decided to up the ante and put his weight into one of the stirrups…and as you’ll see in the video, Owen was okay with that too. Granted he looked a tiny bit bewildered by the experience…but he was calm, pretty relaxed, and had no major objections to anything he was asked to do.
So the next day, having checked with Owen to make sure he was ready, Matt decided it was time for Owen’s first ride. Matt prefers to start horses in just a halter so that there’s no risk of clonking the horse in the mouth with the bit if he starts to buck, and also to avoid the dangerous situations that might occur if he came off and the horse ended up with the reins over his head. Once again, Owen did not react when Matt climbed into the saddle, and we might have thought that he’d been ridden before except for the fact that he had no idea whatsoever about what to do next! At first, he could only step backwards in a circle, so Matt had me lead him forward for a few steps to help him get the general idea of what was being asked of him. After that, it was only a matter of time before he started tentatively stepping forward, and then he was walking with a rider on his back.
Owen’s been in training with Matt Olson for just over three weeks, and the progress he is making is fantastic. I had the pleasure of watching one of their training sessions yesterday, and I am so impressed with what Matt’s been able to do with him. They are still doing ground work in preparation for starting Owen under saddle — Matt says Owen will tell him when he’s ready — and Owen is proving to be a very quick study! He retains what he’s taught from one day to the next, and he is showing more signs of wanting to please. Matt’s working on things like “sending” Owen forward over obstacles or poles; respecting space and moving off of pressure; picking up all four feet for the farrier; and desensitization to all sorts of things. He’s also doing liberty work with Owen, as you’ll see in this video clip:
Yesterday during Owen’s session with Matt, the head trainer at Sandamar Farm had a jump chute set up for her horses in training, and I couldn’t resist asking if Owen could give it a try. Matt said it would be okay, so we gave Owen a very short go at free jumping! His first time through he hopped over the cross rail and stopped in front of the oxer, but with mild encouragement, he jumped the oxen too. Here’s his second time through:
Is he a cute jumper, or what?
Owen is doing just terrific. He’s a very smart and thoughtful horse, and even when something scares him, he’s willing to investigate the scary object and quickly convince himself there is nothing to fear. He’s become very easy for Matt and I to catch; in fact, I was a tiny bit worried when we turned him loose in the big arena to free jump, but he let me walk right up to him after he finished the run in the video posted above. Matt is often heard to remark “A lot of horses would not like that!” when he’s desensitizing Owen, but I just smile and say “I told you he was special.” Couldn’t be prouder of our Curly boy!
Yesterday was a big day for Mr Curly Pants: he left his foster home, where he’s spent the last 6 months, and headed off to officially start his training. He’ll be spending the next three months with trainer Matt Olson, who will work with Owen in hand and then start him under saddle when Owen is ready.
Owen is a very lucky horse because not long after he was surrendered to SAFE, his story caught the attention of one of our long time supporters, Liesel Filkowski. Liesel is the donor who bought us our trusty Kawasaki Mule with her donation in 2013, and she was looking for something special to help us with in 2014. As soon as she read Owen’s intake story, she immediately called and said she’d like to designate her annual donation for his education. So before Owen even knew how to wear a halter, he had a scholarship fund in his name! A lucky horse indeed!
The trainer that we selected for Owen came highly recommended to us as a gifted horseman with a talent for starting horses under saddle, especially the challenging ones. He’s been around horses his whole life, and recently graduated from the Equine Studies program at Feather River College in California. Matt is just getting started as a professional trainer, but he has plenty of experience working with horses very similar to Owen. He’s got incredible timing and feel, a solid understanding of natural horsemanship techniques, and a genuine love for horses, no matter how easy or difficult. After meeting him and seeing him handle Owen, we decided that Matt was the trainer we were looking for to take Owen to the next level in his education.
We had to wait a couple of weeks for a stall to open up at Matt’s barn, so Matt came out and did some training sessions with Owen at his foster home. At the point when Matt took over Owen’s training, he was very resistant to allowing himself to be caught, but within a couple sessions, Matt was able to catch him easily and work with him in hand. He spent a good amount of time teaching Owen to allow him to pick up his feet in preparation to see a farrier…which is a bonus since Owen hasn’t been trimmed since the day he was gelded. Not surprisingly, Owen did great in his pre-training sessions with Matt.
But for me, the moment of truth was yesterday when it was time to leave. Since Matt started working with Owen, I’ve made no attempt to catch him or even touch him, so that Matt could be the only one handling him. But yesterday when he was heading over to pick Owen up, Matt said it’d be okay for me to try to catch him if I felt like it. Keep in mind that this horse has not voluntarily let me touch him for almost two months, not since the day of the dreaded spray bottle incident. But yesterday, not only was I able to catch him in the paddock with very little trouble, Owen also calmly and sweetly let me pet him, touch him all over, even hug him, without a lead rope. The change in him was utterly amazing to me. And this was after just four sessions with Matt. My old friend was back!
The next “moment of truth” was loading into the trailer, but Owen literally hopped right in like he’d been doing it all his life. However, when it was time to unload at Matt’s barn, he got a little panicky and left the trailer in a less-than-dignified manner, which meant that he had to get back in and try it again. But this time, Owen decided to resist re-loading, so his first day of school started the moment he arrived, with a trailer loading lesson! It took some doing but in the end, Matt was the winner, and it was interesting to watch Owen having to re-evaluate his place in the world. Owen has a stubborn side, but he was also smart enough to realize that it was going to be far more work to remain outside the trailer than to just get back inside. The lesson ended with a nice calm loading and unloading, and then we headed off to his new stall to meet his neighbors and get him settled in for the night.
We’ve encouraged Matt to share as much of the training process as he wants to using SAFE’s Tumblr feed, and of course I can’t wait to go visit him. Especially now that he’s so friendly again! Best wishes to Owen in his new adventure and our sincere thanks to Liesel for making this possible for this amazing horse!
Owen is always teaching me things, which makes interacting with him such a joyful experience. His smarts and his willingness make our sessions a lot of fun. He takes most everything he’s asked to do in stride…he always tries and he hardly ever overreacts. Which led me, a few days ago, to make a pretty big mistake with him…
It started with a horsefly. This sucker was as big as a baseball and as mean as the day was blisteringly hot. It attacked Owen and Jay in the pasture, and the two horses were extremely upset about this thing that would not stop chasing and biting them. Since Owen doesn’t have a tail, I worry about him a lot when it comes to evil biting insects. So I decided it would be a good idea to put some high octane fly spray on him to hopefully provide him some relief.
Owen’s made great progress over the past few months, but in retrospect, I understand now that he was no where near ready to be introduced to Mr Spray Bottle. It only took a couple squirts for me to figure out that he was having none of it. But what took a lot longer to dawn on me was that Owen was seriously offended by the fact that I even tried. For the next three days, he would have nothing whatsoever to do with me. Not only could I not halter him, I could not even touch him! It was as if all the work that we had done has simply vanished, and the feral stallion who showed up here last spring was back. Even the look in his eyes had changed. The horse that had become so accepting of my friendship was gone, and in his place was this creature who did not want me anywhere near him. It was baffling, and a little bit heartbreaking!
Fortunately, as the heat wave started to ebb, so did Owen’s standoffishness. By last night, he was again allowing himself to be petted, and by this morning, I was able to put a halter on him again. I think our relationship is more or less back to normal. But it was a huge lesson for me to never assume that just because Owen is good about most things that he will be good about everything. It sounds dumb, but it just did not occur to me that he might not accept the spray bottle right away. It was a good reminder that one should never take a horse’s good nature for granted. Owen will get past this particular gaffe, and I think he will forgive me, but hopefully I won’t forget to take things slow and never make careless assumptions about what he can and can’t handle.
So what’s so remarkable about this photo of Owen? It actually represents some pretty amazing progress that our newest gelding has made over the past several weeks. Owen is now allowing himself to be caught easily in his paddock when it’s time for a ground work lesson…so well, in fact, that he no longer has to wear his halter all the time. He’ll now allow me to approach him, pet him, even give him a hug…while completely free in his paddock. So walking up to him and putting his rope halter on for a lesson is no big deal at all.
Now that Owen’s post-surgical forced exercise is over, we’ve gone back to our ground work training. The first big lesson that needed to be learned was not to point one’s bum at one’s caretaker…something that Owen habitually did from the day he arrived here. While this behavior initially felt like a threat, I came to realize that it was more of a position of comfort for him, allowing him to keep his distance and prevent me from approaching him…his way of keeping me at arm’s length. For quite a long time, the only parts of him I could touch were the left side of his haunches and occasionally his back and left side. Shoulders, neck, and his entire right side were strictly off limits, and by maneuvering his butt in my direction, he could pretty easily restrict my access to him.
Once he was wearing a halter on a regular basis, Owen would become a changed horse as soon as a lead rope was attached, allowing me to touch his shoulders, neck, and head from both sides. But getting that lead rope attached still proved difficult, even in his stall. Even with his halter on, I could spend 5–10 minutes working to catch him in his stall every time I wanted to work with him. It was time to teach Owen to stop pointing his bum at me. And to do that, he had to learn to yield his hindquarters, which essentially means stepping away with his hind end when asked to do so.
This was a pretty big concept for Owen to grasp, especially considering that I’d been permitting him to do the “wrong” thing for several months! So it took two or three sessions for him to get it…sessions in which I’d give him the command “Over!” while using various methods to encourage him to step away from me with his hind end. Keep in mind he was loose in his stall during these lessons, and I had to be very careful not to cause myself to get kicked (not that he ever offered to kick, but he’s still a horse after all!) I experimented with different ways to encourage that step away. Too much pressure would just result in him pushing right back at me. Poking him with the carrot stick seemed to have no effect whatsoever. Interestingly, I got the best results by pointing at his rump or pretending to use invisible energy emanating from my hands to move him over! Whatever the catalyst, any step in the right direction was rewarded with release of pressure and high praise! After I’d tell him what a good, good boy he was, I’d ask him if he understood. At first he’d just stare at me, but sometimes he’d lick & chew, and I took that to mean yes.
As I said, it took two or three sessions like this for the lesson to sink in. But with each session, I was able to catch him and attach the lead rope a little more quickly. Once he was caught, we’d head outside and practice yielding our hindquarters again, which was infinitely more easy with a lead rope and halter. Also, in addition to refresher work on leading, halting, and backing, we started working on lowering his head when asked. Owen is nothing if not consistent: with any new idea presented to him, he offers gentle resistance at first but when rewarded with a release of pressure and verbal praise just couple times, he says “Oh I get this!” and he’s got it. I am constantly telling him what a smart horse he is.
So, within a day or two of introducing the concept of yielding his hindquarters, I was able to walk up to Owen in his paddock, face him, say hello, and reach out and grasp his halter without a fuss. A few days of this, and I decided that Owen no longer needed to keep his halter on all the time. I must say, this was a pretty exciting realization to come to, because it took me nearly three months to get that halter onto him! And now, just three weeks later, I was taking his halter off, confident that I could put it back on whenever I needed to.
We’ve added a few more exercises to our ground work sessions. Yielding the hindquarters continues to be pretty easy for him, so today we started working on yielding the forehand. As with everything else, when I get one step in the right direction, I stop asking and make a big fuss. We’re also starting to make some exciting progress introducing lunging…at least when I ask him to go to the right. To the right, he’ll walk forward quite nicely. But to the left…well, we’re lucky to get a single step forward. Mostly he just stares at me, or moves backwards. But a single step is enough for now. When it comes to backing up, Owen is a superstar…he’s really easy to back up. He’s actually better at backing up than walking forward. But by far, his best exercise is the “following pressure exercise” where you loop the rope around his hindquarters so that you’re applying pressure from the opposite side? Owen did this exercise perfectly the first time we tried, and every time since then!
Just for fun, I introduced him to a saddle pad (mildly alarming at first, but once it touched his back, he decided it was no threat) and even a bareback pad with a girth (no reaction to the girth being tightened, seemed a little unsure as to whether or not he could walk with this thing on his back, but after a step or two, quickly realized that it was not an issue).
In case it’s not painfully obvious, I am pretty impressed with this horse! I’ve done some reading online about the Curly Horse breed, and I have to say seem like pretty remarkable horses! Smart, calm, sensible…not to mention hardy and healthy! I’ve learned that Owen is an Extreme Curly, which means that not only does he have a very tightly curled winter coat, he also sheds his mane and tail. Owen’s summer coat is actually fairly smooth with some amount of curl to it, which makes him look brindled. And I am sad to report that he has shed out most of his magnificent forelock, just a few curls remain. But he’s still awfully handsome!
Owen joined the ranks of happy geldings everywhere this week, when he underwent a successful procedure to rid him of his family jewels. Getting there was a bit of an adventure, but now that he’s a gelding, Owen starts the next phase in what is sure to be a wonderful life.
Owen’s initial gelding appointment was scheduled for last week, one month following the tetanus shot he got at his last vet appointment. The shiny leather halter that had been put on Owen while he was sedated stayed on for nearly a week before the Houdini Horse managed to unclip it and take it off without the benefit of opposable thumbs, or in fact any fingers at all. Attempts to replace that halter were met with evasion, but the day before Owen’s gelding appointment, I was finally able to successfully get a neck rope on him that would allow me to at least start to introduce concepts like giving to pressure and standing still when asked. Things were finally starting to look up!On the morning of Owen’s first appointment, the vet’s arrival was delayed by two emergency calls which meant we had a couple hours to wait for him to arrive. We used that time to work some more on haltering, and lo and behold, I was able to get a rope halter onto Owen! In fact, once I was able to get the noseband in place, he actually stood quietly for me to tie it! Hallelujah! After clipping on the lead rope, Owen made it pretty clear to me that he had no idea what to do next, but we practiced taking a few steps to the side and he seemed fairly willing to yield to pressure.
When the vet arrived, we were waiting for him in Owen’s stall, ready to face the music. But while Owen had just made some major league progress in his education, he was in no way ready to stand still for an IV injection from a rather large and unfamiliar man like my vet. He accepted the needle going in with a minimal amount of shock and a quick jump to the side, but when the vet moved towards him to complete the injection, he reacted with fear and scrambled to get away. My vet immediately declared “game over” and said that with the day’s delays he did not have time to go through the process of darting and IM sedation, like he did for Owen’s dental float. He left me with a tube of oral sedatives and instructions to reschedule the gelding appointment and plan to administer the oral sedative 30 minutes before his arrival for the new appointment. So Owen would remain a stallion for another week.
We spent that week working on a new skill: learning to walk on a lead rope like a big horse. For safety, we worked outside in the paddock, using a lunge line in place of a lead rope, so that if Owen decided to panic or throw a fit, he could do so from a safe distance from me. With the rope halter on, it was just a matter of him allowing me to catch him in his stall to attach the lead, and then moving outside for his lesson. This would continue to be the pattern for several days, since Owen continued to be reluctant to allow himself to be caught, even with a halter on.
On Day One, Owen proved to be quite easy to move to the side, both towards me and away from me, but when asked to step straight forward, he’s completely baffled. So I stand in front of him, put on-and-off pressure on the lead (putting pressure on his poll) and ask him to “Walk.” It takes about nine “pulses” with him gently resisting the pressure until he finally relents and takes a single step forward. I immediate release the pressure and celebrate this achievement, telling him what a good, good boy he is! The next time I ask, he takes a step forward immediately! What a smart boy! We go back to yielding his hindquarters on a circle, try a little backing, and then return to the forward step. Again, one ask, and he immediately takes a step forward. We end the lesson right then and there and consider it a complete and total success.
On Day Two, we get ambitious and attempt a series of forward steps with me in front of him, facing him and asking him to step towards me. But this is just too easy! We repeatedly cross the paddock going forward, and then cross the paddock going backwards. Owen is calm, agreeable, and willing to please. Not only that but he is perfectly willing to let me rub his face, touch his ears, and pet his shoulder and neck on both the “safe” left side of his body and the previously forbidden right side of his body! He also accepts being groomed, and I dare say he might even like it. After months of glacially slow progress, Owen is suddenly acting like a completely new horse! And he’s still a stallion.
Day Three we begin to work on leading from a more traditional leading position — that is to say with me walking in the same direction as opposed to walking backwards in front of him. He takes to this immediately, and we practice walking patterns around cones, walking through the pasture, and even enjoying some hand grazing time. Again, Owen is perfect for me. Back in the paddock, we try an experiment: I unclip his lead rope and walk away from him, then I walk back to him and give him a rub on his neck. He doesn’t have to allow me to do this, but he does. After several more tries at this, I come back and ask him to move his feet, just in case he doesn’t realize that he is loose again. He still allows me to touch him, rub his neck and face, even though he is loose in the paddock. We are making such great progress. Afterwards, we stand together and reflect on the day’s lesson, and as I absently stroke his muzzle, he lowers his head and leans into my chest a little bit.
On the day of Owen’s gelding, we were ready for anything. To prepare him for the oral sedative, I fed him some applesauce from a syringe, and he thought that was just dandy! When offered the syringe, he’d chomp right down on it and refuse to let go, obviously loving the applesauce that was being squirted into his mouth. This may have been a little bit of a problem, to be honest because when it came time to give him the oral sedation, he gobbled it right down with gusto, when actually it’s supposed to remain in the mouth under the tongue for several minutes in order to be absorbed into the bloodstream. But nevertheless, it ended up inside him and not down the front of my shirt, so I considered it a win.
But when my vet arrived, I came to a sudden realization that I might have overlooked one important fact. Owen trusted me, so for me, he had been acting as gentle as a lamb. But once again, when my vet approached him with a syringe in hand, Owen’s immediate response was to attempt to flee. This strange man was frightening, and Owen was not going to stand still and allow himself to be poked.So it was back to the darts. In the end, it took four of them before Owen started to show signs that he was slowing down. He was fighting the sedation, and adrenaline was counteracting its effect. Finally, with the help of a twitch and a farrier to hold his line, Owen received enough IV sedation to end the battle. He was guided to the ground, and the gelding procedure went forward without further ado. Both testicles (“as big as mangos!” my vet remarked) were cleanly removed and Owen was given a tetanus booster and an injection of antibiotics to carry him through the next four days.
We left him in the field to wake up on his own. When he got back to his feet, he was so groggy that he seemed to have forgotten how to walk. But he steadfastly made his way back into his paddock and into his stall.
Now that we have achieved a successful gelding, Owen is forced to endure two daily 15 minute sessions of exercise to help reduce swelling and promote proper healing. Since Owen doesn’t know how to lunge, and I’m too old to chase him around the pasture, we’re doing his exercise sessions in his paddock, where he has learned to free lunge at the trot, including changes of direction, with just hand gestures, verbals cues, and a little prompting from the lunge whip. He’s remarkable. We attempted to video this morning’s exercise session, and while some of the action takes place off camera, this will still give you a sense for how nicely he is doing with this. My hope is that we can graduate to doing this on a lunge line this weekend so he can move in a bigger circle out in the pasture.
Today was full of new experiences for our man Owen. As you know, Owen is a stallion, and it has always been our intention to change him into a happy gelding, as we do with all intact male horses that end up in our rescue program. When we agreed to take Owen in, we were unaware that he was not only not halter broken, he was untouchable, and so gelding him immediately was not possible. Fortunately Owen is a very mild mannered fellow who doesn’t act studdy, and may or may not even be aware what those rather large things hanging between his legs are for. And living with a gang of geldings without a mare in sight, his behavior has remained pretty manageable. So we’ve been able to take our time and work out a plan for his future gelding.
Since he came to us without medical records or a vaccination history, we were advised that the best and safest way to proceed would be to give Owen a tetanus shot, and then follow up in a month with a tetanus booster. His gelding procedure could take place on the same day as the booster shot.
So today Dr Hills of Sound Equine came out to the farm to see Owen for the first time and, hopefully, administer his first tetanus shot. When he arrived, I had Owen waiting, standing calmly in his stall. To get an initial dose of sedation into him, Dr Hills loaded up a pair of special syringes with an IM sedative, placed one of the syringes (which had a feathered end just like a dart) into a hollow tube, pointed the end of the tube at Owen’s hind end, and from a distance of about 3 feet away, he blew into the end of the tube and shot the syringe/dart right into Owen’s bum! It happened so fast that Owen barely had any reaction at all, and I could not help but laugh at the sight of him standing there with a surprised look on his face and a dart sticking from his butt.
After a second dart in the butt, it was time to wait for the sedative to take effect. After sufficient time had passed, Dr Hills entered the stall and carefully looped a lead rope around Owen’s neck. He then was able to put a leather halter on him, and administer his tetanus shot. Owen was doing so well that we decided to proceed with giving him a dental exam, and then he was even able to have his first dental float! Dr Hills reported that Owen’s teeth were in decent shape with just a few sharp points that were causing ulceration in his mouth. Owen remained in a drugged stupor that allowed Dr Hills to take care of those sharp points with a power float, the first of many that Owen will have over the course of his lifetime as a tame and well-cared-for horse.
Owen is scheduled to be gelded on Tuesday June 3rd. In the meantime, he’s now wearing a halter which will hopefully help with the process of gentling him. He’s still very curious and interested, but any attempts to touch him result in him moving away. Gaining his trust has been a slow process and he’s done very well, but he has a long way to go!
If you follow Honeycutt’s blog, you know that he shares a lot of secrets about horses and their interactions. Today’s update on Owen comes straight from the horse’s mouth…
Owen is a new SAFE horse who lives here with me for now. There’s something about Owen that is Different, and that thing is that Owen does not want any peoples to touch him. Maybe you are thinking that Owen is a baby horse who hides behind his momma? No, Owen is this many years old: six. Maybe you are thinking that Owen is a wild horse who has lived away from peoples all his life? No, Owen is a thing called a Curly Horse and Curly Horses don’t run free on the wild plains of Merica. What Owen is is a thing called a Neglected Horse, because he got to be six years old with no one touching him. Owen won’t even let Mom put a Face Harness on him, which means that when it is time to go to the field, Owen has to stay behind because before you go to the field, you have to let Mom put on your Face Harness and Owen just runs away.
Owen is also a thing called a stallion, do you know that thing? You should know that thing because I explained that thing when I told you about Chip. But I will say again that a stallion is a horse that you use to make baby horses. Baby horses are great, but when there are many many horses who need homes and many many horses who are pointy because of not enough lovely hays to eat, then maybe we don’t need so many baby horses to be made, now do we? Owen can make babies but he’s never done a single thing in his life worth passing on to a baby except be born a Curly Horse. Are we running out of Curly Horses? Owen is the only Curly Horse I have ever seen, but I don’t think that means there is a shortage of Curly Horses. We probably don’t need Owen to make any more Curly Horses.
I spent many times watching Mom work with Owen. She tells him he is a good boy when he lets her pet him on his shoulder, and I try not to laugh because I know that Mom has a thing called Low Expectations when it comes to Owen, do you know that thing? Low Expectations is when you don’t expect very much, so getting to pet someone’s shoulder is still a pretty big deal. Mom would probably not tell me I am a good boy for letting her pet my shoulder. Maybe she would, she loves me an awful lot. But anyway, she spends many times trying to pet Owen’s shoulder, and I watch them carefully to make sure that Owen doesn’t hurt my mom. Owen is scared. I’m scared too, but Mom says I am Different than most horses because even though I am scared, I am gentle and I have a thing called Excellent Ground Manners. Owen is not a mean horse, but he’s big and clumsy so Mom has to be extra careful when he gets scared that he doesn’t do anything to hurt her, even by accident.
Owen makes a pretty big deal out of things that are not very scary, and I think that is kind of dumb. But Mom says that Owen is very smart and that he thinks very hard about everything that is happening around him. This might be another case of Low Expectations. But I want to say to Owen, “Oh Owen! No peoples are trying to hurt you! So please stop making Big Deals out of Not Scary things, and let Mom put the Face Harness on you!” But I think that when Mom gets to put the Face Harness on Owen that maybe he won’t be a stallion any more, and I can’t really remember how you get to be not a stallion anymore. I’m not a stallion, but I’ve been Not a Stallion for a long time.
Owen had made so much progress since our last update, but yesterday was a stellar day for this fine young man. Owen is now wearing a halter — on his face!
But before we tell you how that milestone was reached, we have to say a great big thank you to Jenny M, who you may remember as one of the founders of SAFE and a member of SAFE’s first Board of Directors. Jenny came up from Portland last weekend to farmsit for me while I was out of town, and she spent some time doing ground work with Owen while she was here. There is no doubt that her work contributed in a big way to the progress that Owen has made — she did great work with him. She also managed to completely fall in love with him, and is now trying to concoct a plan to be able to adopt him and keep him forever. Jenny was completely impressed with his mind, his demeanor, his willingness, and, of course, his cute bod. Unfortunately Jen’s not in a position to own two horses, and her OTTB Laddie might have a thing or two to say about it, but it’s fun to dream.
Owen has been letting me scratch the top of his butt with the end of the carrot stick, which has allowed me to start touching him while keeping a safe distance. We soon graduated to scratches along his back and then scratches on his withers. Once that seemed okay, I started draping the string over his back while scratching him with the stick, and he seemed completely unfazed by that.
We’ve been doing short sessions, 5 or 10 minutes at a time, a couple times a day. Once he submitted to being scratched with the stick, I’ve been able to get close enough to him to scratch and pet him with my hand. I watch him carefully to make sure he’s okay, and while he doesn’t exactly seem to like being touched, he tolerates it, and doesn’t pin his ears or display anger. If it gets to be too much for him, he will move away. But he will also choose to stand still for it, which I take as a positive sign. I’m dying to get to work on him with a soft rubber curry…he is SO badly in need of some good old fashioned grooming!
A few days ago I came home to discover that the broken halter that’s been hanging around Owen’s neck since his arrival was gone! I found the halter itself draped neatly over the fence. Owen isn’t talking, so I have no clue how it got removed. We’ve been calling it “the halter of shame” so I was pretty glad to see it was finally off his neck.
Yesterday I decided to try working with Owen in his stall. This was not the first time working in the stall — we usually do some kind of work in the stall every night, like when I ask him to put his nose through a halter to get a treat. But this was the first time I’d felt comfortable working with the door to the paddock closed. With nowhere to trot off to, Owen completely submitted to being scratched and petted…on his withers, his shoulders, and even his neck. So I decided it was time to give haltering a try. I unbuckled the crown of the halter and draped it over his back…no problem…then over his neck…no problem. I reached under and grasped the noseband, and raised it up onto Owen’s nose. This was also not a problem, possibly because we’d been practicing with the noseband already as I mentioned before. Once the noseband was in place, it was just a matter of buckling the crown piece. He backed up a step but I was able to steady him and then I buckled the crown and just like that, Owen was wearing a halter! It didn’t even take that long, we got it on the first try, and it was accomplished with just praise and petting.
Afterwards, I let him back into the paddock so we could take some pictures of him in his new halter. He yawned about six times, which made for some funny pictures. Today I will attach a short lead rope to the halter so we can get started learning how to be caught and led. Great work, Owen, you’re a winner!
Owen continues to make steady progress adjusting to his new life as a SAFE horse. We’re taking things very slow with him to earn his trust. Fortunately Owen is a very good boy, gentle and willing and easy to deal with. It’s lucky for us that his behavior is so mild because until we’re able to get him halter-broken, it’s going to be tough to move forward with our plans to geld him. Thankfully Owen is cooperating with this and giving us a little breathing room. He’s really a good boy.
So, what’s new with Owen? First of all, he’s no longer living out of a horse trailer in the far pasture; he’s moved into the barn. He was moved using a cunning strategy of open gates and roadblocks, and he reached his new home without incident. He now has in-and-out access to a stall and a fenced paddock with a big tree where he spends most of his time. He’s still separated from the rest of my herd of geldings by an empty paddock, mainly to avoid squealing and striking through the fence, but also to keep him a little more inclined to seek out human friends for companionship. He eats his meals in the stall, and seems fairly comfortable doing so, although he doesn’t seem to hang out in his stall when the food is gone.
The gentling of Owen took a big leap forward once the rains stopped last week. I was able to drag a chair out to his paddock and spend some time just hanging out with him while working on my laptop. The first time I did this, he was immediately quite curious about what I was up to, and within minutes, he was standing behind my chair, sniffing my hair, while I watched his reflection on my laptop screen. After about 5 minutes of this, he approached again, this time from the side of my chair. I had a little bottle of peppermint oil with me, and I offered that to him and he was quite interested in this wonderful smell. I took the opportunity to subtly start scratching his nose, and within minutes, he was happily allowing me to give him a good scratch. So good in fact, that he allowed me to also touch his forehead, under his chin, even pass my hand over his eyes. He drew the line at his ears, not surprisingly, but even when he’d back away from me, he’d immediately move forward again and ask for more scratches. He seemed quite a bit more comfortable with me, as long as I was seated and relaxed and didn’t make any sudden movements.
Owen also got a visit from SAFE President Debi Shatos, who came out to Silverdale last week just to meet Mr Curly Pants. Debi brought him some apples and carrots, and we discovered quite quickly that Owen likes treats, and that they have a definite impact on his bravery! Debi also introduced him to some groundwork techniques which he responded very well to. We also spent some time getting him acclimated to being touched by a halter by asking him to touch it and even reach through the noseband in order to get a carrot. Debi was very impressed with Owen’s willingness to try, and she agrees that once he gets over his fear of being touched, he’s going to move forward very quickly.
So things are going well with Owen. More updates to follow as he continues making progress!
This is Owen, a 6 year old American Curly stallion who was surrendered to SAFE by his owner. He’s a handsome young horse, healthy and sound, and he seems bright, curious, and smart. He’s also 6 years old and completely unhandled, not even halter broken. He doesn’t even want to be touched. Make a mild attempt to touch him and he moves away. Anything stronger and he will run away, hiking his rear end to emphasize his point.
To be honest, when I went to pick Owen up, I had no idea that we were about to take in an unhanded stallion. I might have had second thoughts about accepting him as a surrender into our program once I found out, but if ever there was a horse who deserved an upgrade in life, it was Owen. I can’t go into detail about his past situation, except to say that his owner loaded him into my trailer using panels, and that was a terrifying experience for him. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so badly for a horse before.
Once he was in the trailer, it was time to start re-examining the plans we’d had in place for Owen. Initially, he was going to spend a night or two at my farm and then I’d haul him over to NWESC to be gelded. Instead, I had to take him home, back my trailer into the gateway of my side pasture, open the trailer door, and turn him loose. The halter that had been put on him while he was pinched in the panels was too big, and had slipped off his nose and now hung from his neck. Any attempts to fix it or remove it were futile, as Owen was not going to let me close enough to do any of that. This horse was going to be staying put for a while.
I’ve said this before and I’ll likely say it again: I think that letting horses grow up wild and unhandled is a form of abuse. Horses are just too darn big to be allowed to grow up not knowing how to be caught and haltered and led safely. Owen is 6 years old and he doesn’t even wear a halter. And because of this, Owen was headed to death by euthanasia because that was the only option his owner had left for him. All because no one took the time to gentle him and teach him to be handled safely when he was small. It’s goes beyond the basic convenience of having a horse that you can lead from place to place…what are you going to do when the horse needs his feet trimmed? When he needs shots and dental care? What if he hurts himself? Or what if you can’t keep him anymore and nobody wants a six year old stallion that they can’t even touch? It’s the unhandled horse that will pay the price in the end.
The bright spot in all of this is Owen himself. I think he wants to make a connection. He will approach me and as long as I don’t try to touch him, he is cautiously engaged. He has soft, soulful eyes (with curly lashes!) and he listens closely when I talk to him. He’s a thinker, and he is clearly very smart and sensible. Even from the day he arrived, he’s been willing to accept handfuls of hay from me, as long as I didn’t try to touch him. He gets fed in my trailer, and he’s now getting inside of it of his own free will to eat his meals. He seems happy for company when I come out to see him, and he’ll even trot down from the top of the pasture to say hello now.
But this morning we took the biggest step of all. I put his breakfast in the trailer, and went over to him to say good morning. I had a nice long talk with him about all sorts of things, and then, using just my voice to praise him, he allowed me to put my hand on his muzzle. If it got to be too much for him, I’d back off and wait for him to come up to me, which he immediately did. Pretty soon, he allowed me to put both hands on his face, and the next thing I knew, I was gently scratching the sides of his muzzle! He was licking & chewing and yawning, and it was wonderful. I could not be more proud of this horse. Looking into his eyes, I told him about the future and how happy he is going to be.
He wants to believe me.
It’s going to be a long road for Owen, but I think he is just the horse to make the journey. I’m already jealous of his future adopter because they are going to get an absolute gem.