breed: 2004 grey Arab mare
type of rescue: owner surrender
intake date: 7/17/2013
date of passing: 8/29/2015
length of time with SAFE: 2 years, 1 month

Sapphire’s Story: Sapphire was living in a situation of neglect on a local reservation. Animal Control officers in King County had been monitoring the mare’s condition for a period of time, but when tribal police found her running loose down a road, SAFE was called in to negotiate a surrender with the horse’s owner. Sapphire was signed over to SAFE, and taken immediately to a vet hospital to treat several wounds she had sustained, most notably a series of infected lacerations caused by a rope that had been wound around her hind legs. A large section of her tail had been burnt off at some point as well. Though it took a significant amount of time and patience to get through to her, Sapphire eventually came to the understanding that she was never going to be hurt again. She started into training about ten months after her rescue and was making great progress under saddle. Tragically, Sapphire’s life was cut short by a very serious bout of colic from which she could not be saved. She was humanely euthanized to end her suffering on Aug 29, 2015. Rest in peace, sweet brave soul.

A hard day to say goodbye

There’s no real way to properly express what happens when we lose a horse. Today, we said a too-early goodbye to Sapphire due to a colic.

Sapphire was discovered down in her stall this morning by her foster caretakers in deep distress. Dr Holohan from Pilchuck was called out, and Sapphire was tubed and medicated in an attempt to relieve her discomfort. Unfortunately her condition continued to worsen, and early this afternoon she was transported to Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital. She was down in the trailer when she arrived. Everything possible short of surgery was tried to give her a chance but her condition was declining very rapidly, and she was suffering. The decision was made to end that suffering and let her go. Sapphire was humanely euthanized at 3pm this afternoon.

Terry Phelps, SAFE’s trainer and Operations Director, came home to a power outage and wrote the following words about Sapphire’s passing:

It never gets easier when making the decision euthanize a horse. It plain sucks and is without a doubt is one of the most difficult things we have to do as stewards for the animals in our care. Today was one of those hard days.

sapphire_08_29_2015_cropWhat happened isn’t a bad thing or even a bad day. A bad thing would have been Sapphire never getting rescued. A bad thing would have been her spending the rest of her life tied to a tree, unloved, uncared for and simply forgotten. A bad thing would have been SAFE never stepping in, pulling her from the hell in which she had been living for years and giving her the chance for a new life.

Today was a hard day. It was a hard day to say goodbye to a beautiful girl who against all odds had survived the inferno. It was hard holding my friend who had trusted enough in me to protect her, to help her accept humans back into her life, and today having to let her go. It was hard to watch the volunteer who had a special bond with Sapphire spend an entire day loving and supporting her, providing all the healing energy and strength she could, and in the end having to say goodbye. It was hard to watch a kind trainer who took Sapphire into her home, gave her friendship and taught her it was ok to let someone ride her as she made an amazing transformation, and today stand beside her in the final moments. It was hard to watch the woman who was on the rescue team that pulled her from the wreckage and took on chance on this mare to come stand by her side once again as she let go of a body that could not take any more pain.

Rescuing horses is not for the faint of heart. It takes tremendous amounts of courage by the people and the horses involved. All of the SAFE horses have incredible transformations, but I consider Sapphire’s remarkable.

Today was a good day. Sapphire was surrounded by those who loved her dearly – not alone or forgotten. She is at peace now, having known real love and kindness, and she will never suffer again. Sapphire’s ability to trust and let us into her life was a gift. Setting her free from pain was the last gift we could have given back to her. The day I met Sapphire I made her a heartfelt promise to never hurt her, always protect her and provide a safe environment for her to live. I was blessed to have earned her friendship, her love and her sweet nickers. Today, saying goodbye, I kept my promise and we were there for her until the end. We love you, sweet grey mare. We will carry you forever in our hearts. Thank you for your friendship and your trust.

Training & Heath Update: Sapphire

Since last fall, our “Arabian Gem” Sapphire has had 3 separate mild colic episodes. The first two were easily managed with pain reliever, walking and monitoring. The most recent event, at the end of March, required an emergency vet call to get her feeling better.

Having eliminated parasites and sand as factors, we are now looking a little deeper for the potential cause of her digestive issues. She is a sensitive Arabian mare who sometimes worries about things, so we are currently exploring treatment for ulcers as a possibility to keep her healthy. Dr. Mueller is scheduled to evaluate her shortly and we will keep you updated on what decisions are made.

Aside from the occasional tummy ache, Sapphire continues to do well under the guidance of trainer Kim Lacy. She is going walk, trot and canter but Kim reports she is still a bit “sticky” to the leg and opinionated. They are able to work through it and it is progressively getting better. Kim thinks Sapphire would enjoy a trail ride. We will see if we can make that happen soon! Also Kim has yet to put any other riders on her yet but feels she is ready to have someone else try her. I will be planning a trip up there shortly and will take more videos and pictures of her. She had a possible stone bruise this past week so we are waiting for her to get over that and then plan a visit.

A visit with Sapphire

SAFE Volunteer Manager Heather shared these photos of Sapphire on the SAFE Tumblr page. I asked her to fill us in on how our girl is faring at her foster home. “I take lesson there on Saturdays,” Heather explained, “and I get to spend time with Sapphire. She spent the summer taking it easy. We all know how much Sapphire loves relaxing and grazing. She also gets to enjoy the company of SAFE Alumni Ginger. Now that summer is over, it’s time to start back to work for her. I can’t wait to hear how she does and see her in action!”

August Training Notes

Phoenix: Going well under saddle with strengthening exercises in the walk including: shoulder fore, hauls, halt rein backs, and collected walk. He’s up to 7 minutes at the trot and continues to look sound. We’ve been working in some trot poles during the rides.

Skittles: Skittles is doing well with riding. She will have good days but others she is stiff and unhappy to use her back if I don’t give her a long warm-up

Jewel: Doing well at foster and looks to have filled out quite a bit this summer. She been turned out with Ruby and everything seems to be fine, the two are “cohabiting” well.

Lola: Lola continues to do well with both ground manners and riding. The canter has been our main focus this month and she is now consistently picking it up when asked and is learning to keep the gait for longer amounts of time. She is a bit grumpy about this at first but it is getting better. Some nice long canter moments have been happening. The key to improving this is achieving a true inside bend. This will take a bit of strength building but she is getting some lovely forward and soft canters now.

Kai: He does still have his moments of exuberant energy so I am continuing to work him in hand only. He is doing well over the trot poles and is stretching nicely. I have raised them up to keep them challenging and added polls to both sides of the arena. When he isn’t showing his nutty side, he is very lovely.

Sapphire: I saw Sapphire 3 weeks ago at Kim’s. She is looking happy and was sweet when I came to talk to her. Kim is lunging her and has some very loose side reins on her and she is doing well.

Oscar: He’s has three months off work, and he’ll have another three before we trot him again to evaluate soundness. Helga said she can trot him on the lunge for us to see if he is sound when the time is up.

Finn: While he remains sound with the work there is still a slight “offness” when traking to the left. I have to think this may always slightly be there but it is dramatically better than it was before the shoe package.

Cameo: Working on a nice balanced trot and feeling much stronger. Her left shoulder is still much more developed than the right due to the club foot. I have to use a pad with buildup of the right side so that the saddle sits level and on the middle of her, otherwise it will slide crooked the entire time.

Skye: Skye has been a really great girl this last month. So much that I used her as my riding demo for the Chamber of Commerce evening. She was great with the crowd and did a nice walk, trot, and canter for them. She is a beautiful girl and a lot of fun to ride! We continue to work on trailer loading and things are going well, all 4 feet into the trailer and quietly coming out.

Ruby: Doing well at foster. We’ve been talking about her growth and whether we should wait to start her until she has more time to grow. I think not putting too much weight and heavy rides on her are a good idea. If this is SAFE’s choice, I suggest since her personality can be a bit young, big and head strong, would be a great idea to start getting the basics on her and working towards saddling well before she has a rider.

Misty: (From Kellie:) Bottom line is that Misty has improved, but, not as much as I hoped.  She is better at bending left and taking weight on the left hind than she was before the stifle injections. Fewer missteps as well. However, she is still very stiff to start out, for about 15 minutes, and this is in addition to the lunging time.  Sometimes she gets a short lunge if she is not too silly and other times, she might be lunging 15 minutes. She has also improved from the donated chiro and the muscle relaxants.

As the chiro vet said, it is best to bring them back to full work/strength slowly with the stifles. My goal is to get Misty out 4–5 times a week again, like she was before her May “stiffnesses and swollen legs”, but still low key work.  Some riding, some lunging, and to start some trot poles.

I guess it was too much to hope that the stifle issue was going to be a “ quick fix.”  Since, it has probably been going on for awhile– just like a person with a similar problem—it is probably going to be a longer rehab period for her.

Lucky: Doing well WTC. The 7 doses of Pentosan have helped him look less stiff in the hind end. He shows no more hesitations going into the trot. He does fuss a little when first asked for the canter but the next transitions up are usually better. He still looks a little stiff when tracking to the right. Also he is pretty tender on his front feet so we’re looking at putting front shoes on.

Happy saddle day, Sapphire!

Sapphire wore a saddle for the first time today as a SAFE horse, and she was a champ! Terry was even able to lay across her back and have a volunteer lead her around the arena for a few steps. Great work, Sapphy!!

April Training Notes: Sapphire

We had a pretty big setback with Sapphire after Sasha’s passing. We’ve been doing ground work with her to gain her trust, and she regressed quite a bit and started showing some aggressive behavior again. But thankfully, by the end of the month, she was getting back to where she’d been before. Sadly she may always have aggressive tendencies, especially around food. It remains very important that our volunteers remember this and do not attempt to clean around her in her stall when there is hay or grain present. We’ve already had at least one incident of a volunteer forgetting this rule and being kicked at after disturbing Sapphire during a meal. And although the volunteer admitted that she knew better, it is still alarming to us to see Sapphire behave that way. Like many horses who have been starved, Sapphire will always need to be handled with care and focus. She’s not a bad horse, but she’s lived through some bad times. Hopefully with consistent handling, she will learn that we mean her no harm.

Volunteer Update on Sapphire

SAFE Harbor volunteer Heather E has been interacting with Sapphire since her arrival at SAFE, and they’ve developed an interesting relationship. We asked Heather to share her experience with this lovely but troubled horse:

Sapphire is one of the most welcoming horses at SHS. She will pop her head out of her window and nicker a warm “Hello” every morning. I like to think it’s because she’s happy to see us but it might be more about the hay we bring her. 

sapphyEarly on, I decided to try and spend as much time with her as I can. In the beginning, she just barely tolerated me. I got the pinned ears, stiff body, and mean face. But slowly we’ve established a relationship. She walks to turn out with me, like the grey lady she is. I am now able to groom her with no problems. I’ve also noticed she is not as reactive to having her legs touched. Sapphire and I are working up to me picking her hooves and I’m looking forward to that day. She is such an affectionate horse. She follows you around the arena seeking attention or stand at her gate for a nose scratch. I’m still trying to convince her that she wants my kisses! It’s a work in progress…

Terry has invited me to watch Sapphire during her training with Laura. The first session I saw was not a stellar day for Sapphire. She was testing her limits and challenging who was in charge. By the end, she pulled herself together and was doing what was asked, grudgingly. The next training session was better. Sapphire was more willing, less questioning, and she was learning. She still, however, has her moments of acting out inappropriately. It hasn’t been unprovoked behavior lately but more because she’s being asked to do something that’s hard or new. 

I am truly hopeful that Sapphire has turned a corner in her life and mindset. There is still a lot of work ahead but her cheering section is big. All of us at SAFE are Sapphire’s 12th man. 

Dances with Horses — a Visit from Trainer Laura Nurss

Thank you to Eve Tai for this writeup and for the attached videos!

A few weeks ago, SAFE hosted Laura Nurss, a horsemanship and liberty work teacher at Horse Haven at Bear Creek. We asked Laura to come to SAFE Harbor to work with Dottie, Sapphire, and Lola to help them feel more settled in their bodies and with the SAFE human community. As much as we love and care for our SAFE horses, it can be tough to forge a bond with them. Liberty work gives us an avenue through which to build trust, mutual respect, and connection.

Laura started out by sharing that attending to a relationship with a horse out of the saddle directly affects our riding relationship. She demonstrated — through the use of body language, gestures, and movements such as rope twirling — how to establish a connection with our first horse, Dottie. Laura applied pressure (e.g. stepping into Dottie’s space) when she wanted something and released it as soon as Dottie complied. Soon Dottie was trotting and even cantering with ease.

Always give a horse a choice, Laura says, whether between one path that leads to an unpleasant outcome (more work) and another path that might lead to a reward (stroking). Laura also showed us that different horses require different approaches. When Sapphire entered the arena all pinned ears and attitude, Laura applied more pressure by upping the energy and frequently changing Sapphire’s pacing and direction. Laura noted that because Sapphire is a sassy, smart horse, that sessions with her should be active and strong, whereas with Dottie, a more nervous horse, sessions should be slower-paced and with smoother gestures.

SAFE trainer Terry Phelps-Peddy was a quick study, first watching, then shadowing Laura. By the time Lola arrived, Terry was ready. After careening around and testing boundaries, Lola settled down and began running with ease. By session’s end, Lola – yes, LOLA — walked up to Terry, licking and chewing and bowing her head. “At last,” she seemed to be saying, “You are speaking my language.”

A big thank you to Laura for volunteering an afternoon to work with our SAFE ponies!

Ups and Downs with Sapphire

Our pretty grey Arab Sapphire has been a challenge since the moment we met her, displaying unpredictable bouts of overreactive behavior that make her the sort of horse that you don’t want to turn your back on. From what little we know about her background and where she came from, she probably has fairly good reasons for being on her guard with humans, having suffered abusive treatment in the past. But now we need Sapphire to adapt to her new life where she will always be treated fairly, and it’s a struggle for her at times.

Sapphire and Sasha

Sapphire and Sasha

Sapphire has a nickering welcome for the people around her, and she can be a very good girl when she wants to be. But we’ve had more than one episode where she has bitten or attempted to bite the volunteers who clean her stall, causing us to have to put restrictions on who is allowed to handle or get near her. Terry is doing ground work with her on a daily basis in an attempt to teach her what types of behavior are acceptable and unacceptable. She’s also being lunged at all three gaits, and is finally starting to get the hang of that exercise. Sapphire is bright and responsive, and quite able to learn, which is a positive thing. It is just going to take time and patience to undo the damage that was done to her in her former life, and establish new behaviors.

She’s spending her time with her doppleganger, Sasha, and the two mares get along well in turnout and side by side in their paddocks.

Seeing Triple?

sasha_sapphy_nora_10_15_2013SEEING TRIPLE? Nora, Sapphire, and new intake Sasha make a nice matching set in the field at SAFE Harbor. One more grey mare and we’ll have to change our name from SAFE to SAGE (Save a Grey Equine?)

Meet the “new girl” Sapphire!

sapphire_09_19_2013_02This lovely creature is Sapphire, a 9 year old Arabian mare who was rescued from a neglect/abuse situation. She came to us with lacerations around her hind legs from being tangled in rope, several feet of her tail burnt off, and some alarming behavior. She’s been sequestered at NWESC for the last seven weeks while Dr Hannah worked on her injuries and got her accustomed to being handled and now she is at SAFE Harbor, where we have finally gotten to see her sweet side! She’s being handled very very carefully, but she has made tremendous progress since her rescue. Welcome, Sapphire!!

Updated photos of Sapphire and a video too!

Terry had this to report about Sapphire, who has been at SAFE Harbor for one week now:

She was a great girl today. Stood for grooming, all good except for back feet, we didn’t push it today. She haltered a few times and over all just took sometime letting her know I’m a friend. She is very sweet with lots of nickers when you go to her stall.”

Here are some photos that Terry took of Sapphire today. As you see, she is looking much better than she did at intake, but her leg still shows signs of her injury, even after two months of treatment. You can also see what was left of her tail after the burned parts were removed. 

Here’s video of Sapphire playing in the arena after the work party ended. She seemed to be having a blast!

Sapphire Intake Information

sapphire_intakeSapphire was living in a situation of neglect on a local reservation. Animal Control officers in King County had been monitoring the mare’s condition for a period of time, but when tribal police found her running loose down a road, SAFE was called in to negotiate a surrender with the horse’s owner. Sapphire was signed over to SAFE, and taken immediately to NWESC for treatment of several wounds she had sustained, most notably a series of infected lacerations caused by a rope that had been wound around her hind legs. A large section of her tail had been burnt off at some point as well. Sapphire also displayed some alarming behavior — squealing, striking, and cow-kicking to be specific — that left us very concerned that she might be too dangerous to be handled safely by the volunteers at SAFE Harbor Stables. Because of this, we chose to sequester her at NWESC while her wounds were being treated by Dr Hannah. Hannah was able to make a great deal of progress with her during the seven weeks they were together, and she was released to SAFE Harbor Stables. Since she’s been home, we’ve been treated to glimpses of Sapphire’s sweet side…nickering, watching the activity around her with great interest, enjoying a romp in the arena, and best of all, forming the start of a friendship with barn manager, Terry Phelps. We are still handling her with great care, but we are starting to think that she is going to be okay.