2011 Yakima Reservation mare
Suitability: Companion, for Intermediate Handler
Markings: blaze, LH and RH socks
Height: 14 hh
Weight: 904 lbs
Adoption Fee: $300
Tiva is a chestnut mare from the Yakama Reservation. SAFE was contacted by a Good Samaritan who wanted advice finding a trainer to help her with a “wild mustang”. This horse came into her life when a very skinny mare and her filly were dropped off at the boarding barn where she kept her own horse. She was concerned about Tiva, and her filly who was nursing, and wanted to help the mare. It appeared the owner at the time, was unable to keep them and so the good Samaritan asked them to turn over ownership. Tiva remained in the stall at the boarding facility and the filly was placed in a rescue. For a few months the good samaritan worked on gentling the mare and worked with a vet on a refeeding program and was able to get her wormed. After realizing the mare was extremely sensitive and over her skill level, she tried to find a local trainer, no one would help with a “wild mustang”. Seeking advice, she contacted SAFE’s Outreach Team. This mare had already bounced around home to home since being rounded up from the Yakama Reservation and her future didn’t look to have many options, so SAFE agreed to bring her into our program.
Since then, Tiva has made massive progress. She has learned so much through groundwork, and wore a saddle for the first time towards the end of 2023. We plan to start Tiva as a riding horse in 2024.
All SAFE horses are adopted with a no-breeding clause, no exceptions.
Winter Washington weather (say that five times fast) does not often conjure visions of sunshine and blue skies. But every so often, the metaphorical stars align to grace us with a January or February day that feels more akin to early summer.
Such was the luck we had for our first off-property excursion of 2024, a trip down the road to Bridle Trails state park. We loaded eight horses into the trailers: Alums Owen and Fancy accompanied current SAFE horses Artie, Veronica, Pepper, Tiva, Violet, and Edward. For the majority of the horses in attendance, it was the first time they had been away from SAFE since their arrivals, though you might not have guessed it by how coolly they greeted their new surroundings.
We unloaded horses and tack, and brought everything and one to one of the park’s arenas. There, we helped the horses settle into the new space through a combination of exploratory walk-and-sniffs (turns out, white vinyl fencing is snort-worthy) and groundwork. The time it took for each horse to settle varied some, though no one was particularly unsettled to begin with. Soon, everyone was cinched up, and we followed the sun into an adjacent arena.
All the horses currently going under saddle (meaning everyone aside from Tiva) had at least one, if not two or three, rides that sunny Saturday afternoon. Faced with strangers walking alongside the arena, some shepherding very interested dogs or children, as well as a stop-and-start parade of mounted riders heading out to the adjacent trails, our modest herd did tremendously well. They were able to find support in their humans when it was required, but for the most part handled the new environment and wide open arena space with level-headed grace. The countless hours that had led up to this point for each of them helped to make the entire outing hugely successful, and check some major boxes for our horses.
After several hours under saddle, basking in the sunshine and the glow of a very productive afternoon, we untacked the horses and grabbed our snack bags, retiring to a shady spot to allow for a physical and mental cooldown slash lunch break. The horses shook out their coats while they sniffed at our sandwiches, taking sips from the water buckets we’d brought as we all rehydrated for the short drive home. One stud muffin each was in order, the equivalent of your dad stopping for ice cream at the end of a road trip. Then, we loaded our tack and our horses, and headed back for SAFE in time for afternoon hay.
Though it takes some work logistically, we plan to take the horses off-site multiple other times this year, be it to clinics or for more casual adventures like our trip to Bridle Trails. We could not be more proud of the SAFE horses, and extend our thanks and gratitude to the humans who helped them, and continue to help them, in all stages of their journeys.
Check out a little glimpse of our day below:
The transformative nature of the horse never fails to astound me. I suppose that in working with Tiva over the last year, it has been a bit like not being able to see the forest for the trees. Not that her progress does not feel like progress, but looking back to where she began, I can hardly believe she is the same mare as that petrified, snorting creature who arrived last February.
I’ve taken Tiva in all 4 of the Joel Conner clinics this year, two of them saddled. While we have been preparing to ride from the very beginning, it feels a bit more real now that we are doing our groundwork in the saddle. While we are still working on hindquarters, frontquarters, and the unified circle, we’re also putting more emphasis on being able to bend down to a stop, roll the hind with a stirrup, bump up to the panels, and step up in the stirrups, amongst many other things.
This clinic, we worked a lot on Tiva’s expression – which was really me working on my releases. Tiva is a Sensitive mare with a capital S. When I ask things of her, she often pins her ears, but when Joel works her and asks the same, she is ears forward. This says a lot about me (story of working a horse!), but what I was really trying to dial in this clinic was proving to Tiva that I could, in fact, release her. She is the first to tell you when you are asking too much, and that ‘too much’ is often incredibly subtle. But despite the frustrations that understandably come along with this (me at myself, not at this spectacular horse who is only just mirroring what I already know to be true), it is tremendously rewarding and quite amazing to see exactly what I am doing and feeling telegraphed so clearly back at me. While not perfect, by the end of the weekend, Tiva’s expression had definitely improved.
A lot of Tiva’s groundwork is checking out nicely, but I know that there are still troubled spots that remain in there. But I also know that she is overly capable of overcoming them. At one point over the weekend, I had Kaya wave a flag so I could change eyes on it, something that once sent Tiva into a panicked tizzy. Now, she is able to pass between myself and the flag with ease, with whatever initial trepidation she feels significantly more mild than it ever was before, and able to be sorted out within moments. She is incredibly smart, and learns quickly, even in the hands of a teacher who still has a lot to learn herself. But now the challenge comes in finding the things that will set her off. I don’t mean to make it sound like she is bombproof, but to go from hardly being able to wave a flag nearby without her fleeing the country to being able to bend her down to a stop with that flag flapping and petting on her off eye, the spots she struggles with have certainly become less obvious. As we work up to a ride in 2024, we will continue to spend lots of time on changing eyes, as well as doing more things like stepping up in the stirrups and working on closing in the boundaries a bit further in order to make her first ride as successful as it possibly can be!
It is always such a pleasure to work with this intelligent and forgiving mare, and I am grateful for the opportunity, always.
Tiva has been working hard this summer, if not to fit into a bikini, then for something infinitely better: a saddle. There had been talk of Tiva meeting a saddle from the beginning. Even in those earliest days when she was a wild creature, pinning her ears and cowering in fear, we held a vision of her in tack, small in the back of our minds, but no less clear for it.
Over the last year and a half, Tiva has been preparing to wear a saddle. We have spent countless hours with the flag, with the tarp, with the rope — touching, patting, petting. In this horsemanship, we are always trying to ask the question of not what the horse can do, but what she can’t, and work on those spots that present themselves. Over the months, Tiva’s ‘can’t’ spots have become more difficult to locate (this doesn’t mean they’re not in there, but rather they’re less obvious). She still has a changing eyes issue, and has a much harder time turning loose to her left eye (she’d rather keep you on her right), but knowing where she began and seeing her now, it’s difficult to even believe she’s the same horse.
So after a particularly good session with the tarp one evening, one that included flapping and draping and crunching and really most other verbs you can imagine being done at the intersection of a lightweight, crinkly object and a horse, we made the decision to saddle her. There are always variables to these scenarios, and plenty of unknowns that we can’t account for, but Tiva felt about as prepared as possible. After nearly a year of working together, hours and hours of work, it was time.
We took it quite slow, checking things out and then re-checking them out. We threw the saddle on, something she had since become accustomed to, and walked her around with it on her back, bringing the cinches down and snugging them up, touching her with the stirrups and other saddle parts to gauge her reaction. Throughout it all, she remained calm.
Then, the moment of truth came, and we cinched her up. She stood quite still for the entire process, and when she did get mildly bothered, we able to find comfort in a pet on the neck or face. Once the cinch was up and tight, it was time for the moment of truth. While yes, Tiva did not pull any shenanigans while being saddled, or during those initial moments after when we walked her around a few steps on the line to make any last-minute adjustments before letting her loose, Tiva had already had some practice standing with a saddle and walking with a saddle from all our prep work. It was the moving out that concerned us, as it is very difficult, I’d say even impossible, to safely replicate the feeling of a saddle and all of its parts squeezing and moving and rattling at a gait faster than the walk. So as we undid the halter and stepped carefully away from Tiva in the round pen, we crossed our fingers that all the work we had done to get her to this moment would be enough to get her through it.
Sending her loose at the walk was fine, and when we bumped her up to the trot, she was ok there as well. But when she hit the lope, as often happens, she grew bothered at the strange object on her back, and gave a good half-circle of bucking before settling back down. She was having a difficult time moving up and down smoothly through the gaits, clearly feeling a bit stuck, so that first day we worked on helping her find peace with the saddle and an ease of movement. Aside from that first round of bucking, she was clearly bothered by the stirrup in her off eye, and gave a few kicks at it as she went around. But we helped her line out by catching her attention before she became too engrossed with what was happening in her off eye, and by the end of the session, she was moving out with a lot more freedom and a lot less anxiety towards all of the saddle’s moving parts. After a little more work, we pulled the saddle off, told her how very, very proud we were, and put her away.
The next day, she was just as easy to saddle as the day before. She was also smoother moving up into a lope, and while she still showed signs of being bothered by those pesky stirrups, she did not feel inclined to buck.
Since that day, she has been regularly been wearing a saddle, something that will soon become second nature. We have been working on pushing her a bit further each time: purposefully moving the stirrups to get her used to it, using the flag and the tarp with the addition of the saddle, sending her out loose and having her change eyes on the rope, mostly all things she has done before, but now with an added element. And Tiva, smart and quick to learn, is doing great. It may still be a little while before she is ready to carry a rider, but with the work we are doing, when that day comes, hopefully she will be just as prepared as she was to wear her first saddle!
Recent observations regarding Tiva:
Her shoulders, in particular, are rather itchy this time of year, and she is not opposed to a little mutual grooming if you would be so inclined to scratch, yes, just there, above the elbow. A gentle mare, she rarely ever uses teeth, and those whose hides are a bit less thick much appreciate and prefer the ‘stiff upper lip’ technique to the ‘barber shop shark’ when it comes to being groomed on.
While she is a cautious creature still, greeting most unknown stimuli with a snort first, think later approach, when it comes to her grass time, she willingly throws herself into the hands of strangers. The bearer of The Halter between the hours of 10AM and 2PM is a revered figure, and one who is sought out with great fervor. No one climbs above Esme in the herd, but it is not uncommon for Tiva to be biding her time at the front of the line at the gate, her internal clock tick-tick-ticking closer to that coveted grass time.
If, however, you approach after business hours (AKA, when the act of the catch is more directly correlated to sweating in a round pen versus in the pasture), her hospitality is rather lacking.
Tiva’s stink eye is impressive, her entire head getting into it as she flattens her ears against her skull and extends her neck, her wrath affording her a level of aerodynamics usually only seen in sports cars. Perhaps dragons were fashioned after mares like Tiva, from whose nostrils you can practically see the steam billowing. However, unlike a dragon, she is all bark and no bite — she wears this nasty little face even as she is moved away by the more senior members of her herd. She may not be a lover, but she’s no fighter either, and the most I’ve ever seen her challenge is via a slow, not particularly aggressive ears pinned walk towards the horse in question.
If Tiva were a human in a corporate job, she likely sign her emails with “respectfully,” while flipping the recipient off through the screen.
Tiva is the queen of cat naps. On any given day, she goes down for a dirt-filled snooze at least three times, and I really do mean at least. In the sunshine, her coat shines like a new penny — until she rolls, that is, and then it’s more akin to a penny you find at the bottom of your bag: a little more dull, but not at all lacking in worth.
With each groundwork session, we creep incrementally closer to the day when Tiva can be saddled. When I say saddled, what I really mean is cinched up, because Tiva has technically worn a saddle now numerous times, walking little circles with it perched atop her back as I keep a careful hand on it to ensure it only comes off intentionally. While she still has an issue changing eyes, which will make turning her loose with a saddle on a bit more challenging, she has come a long, long way with having things in her off eye, or behind her, or beneath her. With each touch of the flag on her flank, each squeeze of the rope around her belly, each time something waves behind her as we go from left to right to left again, we work towards that first saddling being as low-drama as possible for this mare. This mare, who had gone the first ten or so years of her life without much trust in humans. This mare, who over the last year and a half has cracked herself open for us and allowed us to show her what it can be like to be cared for, to be loved, but most importantly, to find balance and confidence in herself.
I’d written an article some months ago documenting Tiva’s journey with the intention of having a video to accompany it, showcasing the immense amount of progress she has made since she first stepped off that trailer over a year ago, snorting and scared. But as it has a habit of doing, time got away from me, and the visual accompaniment to Tiva’s tale was delayed. However, in the months between Tiva’s last journal entry to now, a lot more of her story has been written, and while not all of it has been visually documented, a nice cross-section of her year here has.
Since she first arrived, Tiva has hit many milestones and conquered many fears. Not shown in the video are the baths she’s stood so well for, or the many times she’s been led in and out of her stall, or the trail walks she has taken in the neighboring park. Her introductions to her current herd are missing, as are the literal hours of footage of her taking naps in the sunshine amongst these new friends. It doesn’t show her getting her feet done, or her standing for a long grooming session, ground tied in a bustling arena. It also is missing some of the tougher moments – the times when her fear and mistrust made her slightly dangerous and unpredictable in those early days of paddock cleaning. The hours it took to get within a foot of her. The sweat (and tears, and blood, on the human side of things) required to repair and build a positive foundation for a horse who had for so long been shown that humans didn’t have a lot on offer. All those ‘ugly’ times are just as much a part of her story as the progress shots. These things you’ll just have to imagine, but below are some peeks of parts of Tiva’s journey I did capture, snippets of her months of hard, hard work condensed into a little under 5 minutes.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: we have a document that lists all our horses here at SAFE with all their different stats. Name, height, weight. When they last had their feet done, when they last were vaccinated. It’s a way to keep track of things, helps us organize appointment dates and have a place to house all of the data behind the creatures we know and love. The sense of fulfillment when the document is complete is second to none.
But when a horse first arrives at SAFE, their line on this document is patchy. For some horses, we can fill the lines in quickly. Gentle horses arrive and are measured same day. These are usually the same ones who quickly see the vet and the farrier – two more boxes, filled.
Certain other horses leave holes for longer. Perhaps we can get their height at intake, but having a weight tape around their belly is a no-go. Every horse is different, and we of course give them the time they individually need, but it is always a cause for celebration when that last box is ticked (or at least the completionist in me feels this way).
It may not surprise you to learn that Tiva had many empty boxes for a long while after her arrival. Next to her name, her height, weight, and blanket spaces sat vacant. Even as other horses arrived and were filled in, they were bracketed by her empty spaces. And this is not to sound impatient. The spaces represented all the great work Tiva was doing here, the time it was taking her to feel comfortable, to let people get close enough to touch her, let alone figure out what size rainsheet she would eventually need. The data points were just fun little markers of Tiva’s forward progress, to be added at her pace.
So when we could start filling them in, it was certainly an exciting time. She got her first farrier trim, and while it was only the fronts, it was still a date we could add. Hooves, check. She saw the vet for her vaccines, check! She would tolerate a height and weight tape, check check. Her line began to lose all the blank spaces, dates representing a steady march towards true domesticity.
All this to say, Tiva had her dental float recently, one of the last boxes to be filled, almost a year after her arrival. Despite how far she has come, having strangers touch her can still be a point of contention for Tiva, and she is no huge fan of being poked with a needle (who can blame her), so being sedated for her a dental was perhaps not out of the question, but not firmly in the question either. But we had a day of dental floats scheduled, and decided that it was time.
Because of her contentious history with needles, we felt that it would be better for all parties involved to give her a bit of oral sedation via dorm gel before her IV sedation. The day prior, Tiva and I practiced the whole, ‘syringe in her mouth’ thing, aided by our friend molasses. Really, a syringe tip coated in a delicious substance sounds good even to me, almost like a friend holding a spoon of ice cream to your face and saying ‘open up!’ Ye olde, ‘something yummy this way comes (via syringe)’ is a great way to practice for deworming and administration of other oral meds, but dorming adds a new added challenge – you must get the gel under the horse’s tongue. Efficacy is lowered or rendered inert if the horse swallows it, so proper placement is crucial.
As is so often the case, I shouldn’t have worried. Day of, Tiva let me (and my molasses-tipped dorm tube) root around in her mouth with the patience of a saint, hardly blinking when the contents of the syringe deposited themselves under her tongue – a little less tasty than applesauce, perhaps, but she didn’t seem too offended. And then, thirty minutes later, she was sleepy in her stall, making me wish that I too could get dorm’d before I saw the dentist.
What’s the song, a spoonful of sugar…? ‘A properly-dosed syringeful of dorm helps the IV needle go in’ doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it, but the idea is the same. Tiva sedated like a little dream, and after, as they removed the speculum and I watched her little lip droop in the cradle her head was slung upon, I practically could have shed a tear. Tiva, this previously wild creature, had just had one of her last boxes checked.
For never having had a dental before, her teeth were in good condition. Some sharp surfaces, as was to be expected, but no vampire hooks or other painful stalactite formations. Our vet aged her at around 12. More puzzle pieces falling into place, another little bit of domesticity, cemented.
It will be another year before Tiva needs another float, and considering how far she’s come in the year since she arrived, I can hardly wait to meet the horse who gets her teeth done again next February.
There is a journey each horse must make, a map laid out before them when they first arrive at SAFE, a pathway to a brighter future. Not every route looks the same. The topography and length vary as much as the horses themselves do – some are short and flat, some steep and winding, some end before they’ve even really began (and these particular paths, if using the map analogy, dump out into a sprawling meadow where the air is always warm and the grass is always green).
We at SAFE hope to be the outfitters for these horses, preparing them with what they need for their trips. And like the paths themselves, the supplies they need are not all the same. Some require very little, arriving with some gear, already well set up for success but needing a tune-up. Some come with gear that has been working against them, slowing them down, hurting them in some cases. Very few show up with nothing. Every experience they have before SAFE contributes to their story, in one way or another.
Tiva came to us with some baggage, a real heavy kind of load that was going to take some lightening. Her road was going to be a long one, but we would help her with traversal.
If she were to have a field journal, with excerpts cataloging her time spent at SAFE over the last 8 months, it might read something like this:
- I have arrived to a strange new place. It has been a while since I’ve lived outside, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. There are people around, but I want nothing to do with them.
- Well, for as disinterested as I am with the people, they also don’t seem to care much about me. Every day I see them. They bring me food, big piles of hay. When they drop it into my shelter, I make sure to stand way back, just in case. They also come in to my area, which makes me nervous, but they don’t pay any attention to me, they just clean up after me and go. How odd. I still don’t care much for them, but at least they’re not asking anything of me.
- There is one person here who does pay attention to me. She sends me into a smaller round area and asks me to move around. I really want to run away from her, it’s not comfortable to be so close to a person. Sometimes she will ask me to turn and there’s a moment when I can’t see her – I really hate that. I don’t always understand what she’s asking, or don’t feel I can do what she wants. It can make a girl feel like lashing out. But this person does give me lots of breaks, and I can sense that what’s in her heart is good… Still, I don’t want her too close to me. She might bite.
- I understand a little more what is being asked of me when I go into the round area. I still feel like running away, but the person tells me I don’t have to. Sometimes I listen to her.
- I arrived wearing a halter, but now I understand what it means when the people say a halter is ‘breakaway.’ Me: 1, halter: 0
- There’s a different person in the round area with me today. A man. I can tell that he knows things about me, and while he makes me nervous, there’s something good about him. He pantomimes like he’s petting me, just like the woman does. He’s quite interesting, and when I go to leave he draws my attention right back. Something tells me this is not the last I will see of him.
- People come and go in my space like they have from the beginning, but I don’t mind it as much anymore. Sometimes they move abruptly or make a noise that startles me, and I have to snort, but you understand that, right? I also usually stay in my shelter when they throw hay for me. Not too close – I don’t want them getting ideas – but it doesn’t seem as important to be so far away anymore.
- Another round area, but this one has a lid on it, and I had to walk through a chute to get here. The man is back, the one I can tell knows things about me. I know something about him too, which is that he’s good at throwing a rope. I run as fast as I can, but I can’t get away from him or the rope, and he’s asking me to do something, pulling on that rope, pulling pulling pulling until I – oh, he just wanted me to face him? All the pressure goes away when I do that. Ok. Easy enough.
But here’s a new thing, he’s getting closer, wanting to touch me. Now that is not as easy to allow. But he is going very slow. It’s like he knows what will be too much and stops right before he gets there. Mostly he is just touching my face with the rope, a little at a time. When his hand replaces the rope, it’s not too bad I guess. It’s the first time in months I’ve been touched by a person. It will take some getting used to.
- Covered round area. Man with the rope. I understand more today, and we get to the point we ended yesterday much earlier today. Then, my fri– that other person, who I spent time with in the smaller round area, she comes and swaps the man out. She stays with me for a long, long time. So long I almost fall asleep. And no, it’s NOT because she’s brushing my mane, I’m just tired from all the running, ok?
- No man with rope today, just the lady. When I walked to the round area today, my mane bounced against my neck in individual little pieces – the lady did something to it yesterday that keeps my neck a lot cooler, even if it feels kind of funny. The lady doesn’t have a rope either, but she does want to pet me. I like this person (there, I said it, happy?), but I still don’t really want her to touch me… well ok, it’s not so bad once she starts, but sometimes she’ll move a certain way or pet a certain spot and I have to move away. Boy is she persistent! She just follows me until I let her do it again. And again. And again. Then, she wants to pet me with something in her hand, a bit of rope, different than the one I got to know over the last two days. Oh, it’s a halter, but not the kind that stays on. So here I am, months later, wearing a halter again. But it feels different this time. We go for a little walk together, and she pets me some more. Really, not so bad.
- The people who drop hay for me seem surprised that I’m waiting for it to fall down into my shelter. I don’t get what the big deal is, I just want to eat sooner, is all.
- I go into the bigger round area a lot more now. I let the lady come and put the halter on me in my space, and we walk there together. She spends a lot of time petting me, with her hands and with some tools that feel pretty nice on my neck and back. Certain areas are still off-limits though, thanks very much.
- There are so many bugs out, and they are so irritating – landing on my legs and my face. Today, after spending time together in the round area, my friend misted some kinda smelly stuff on me. It made a weird noise, and felt strange, but I could handle it. Later, back in my space, I noticed the bugs weren’t as bad. Interesting.
- My friend wants me to pick up my front feet. I don’t really want to do that.
- I was introduced to some other people today, people who touched me and walked me around. I can’t say I wasn’t nervous at first, but they really just wanted to pet me. I could maybe get used to this. Maybe.
- Today I walked into the big barn for the first time. I really don’t like when things are behind me, in my blindspot, so I think my friend took extra caution to make it so I wouldn’t be startled. The barn has round areas too, and these ones are popular with other horses too.
- There’s some kind of event happening, lots of activity in the big covered space, with many horses and people in there together. My friend comes to get me, which I’m pretty used to by now, but we’re taking a different route today – going in to join the festivities. It’s overwhelming, I won’t lie, to be around so many other horses and people (mostly the people) who are moving in all sorts of directions. I can’t say I remain calm the entire time, but my friend helps remind me where my feet are when my head starts to come unglued, and I appreciate that.
- The round areas in the barn aren’t half bad, really. I come inside more frequently now, and that gets easier each time. I even will allow some other people to come up and put a halter on me and take me for little walks. That, too, gets easier with each time.
- I go on a walk to a new area today. There’s a new space for me to eat, a different location where my water is, and, most notably, a friend right next door. I knew this horse when we would go out and graze together, when the grass was still long, but now we’re even closer neighbors. I don’t mind.
- I met a person today who picked up my feet and filed them down. I’ve been working on the whole feet picking up thing, and I’ve become quite good at giving up my fronts. Today, the person holds them for a little longer, and moves them into odd positions, and it’s not always the most comfortable for me, but afterwards I do feel better. More balanced, maybe.
- Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I’ve really become quite brave. Today on my walk into the barn, a load of geese took off flying behind me, and I barely blinked.
- A man came to see me today. He had a long finger like a mosquito’s stinger, and it startled me when it came and bit me on the neck! I hear them say something about a ‘vaccine’ and ‘keeping me healthy,’ but I didn’t much care for the experience.
- There’s a woman at the end of the mosquito this time, and I know a little bit more about what to expect. But I think we were practicing for this – yesterday, people were walking up to me and poking me on the neck, which was only mildly troubling. I got used to that pretty quick. So today, when that little poke happens, I’m– well, I still don’t like it very much, but now I’m ‘fully vaccinated.’ Whatever that means.
- Another new area to live in, and this time, there are other horses to share it with: my long-time neighbor (the people call her Esme) and another white horse (they call her Darla). Esme rules the roost, and I mostly let her, but I can get her to move her feet if I really want to.
- This evening, I walked into the barn, but instead of the round area, they led me into a stall, like the one I used to live in. But this time was different somehow, and I knew that. I ate my hay and drank my water, and when the sun rose the next day, someone came and brought me back outside, to start a new day.
Tiva’s story is far from over, and her experiences here far exceed what has been catalogued above, but with each day that passes we hope to add another piece of gear to her tool box, so that the summits to come on her path feel far less daunting.
Our Operations Director, Terry, was able to halter Tiva for the first time here at SAFE, just last week. What is not shown in this video is the preparation in getting to this moment — the hours that were spent with Tiva in the round pen getting her to hook on, roping Tiva and going through the first pages of Buck’s ‘Red Book’ with her, the first touches at the end of the lariat rope on her face and neck, getting Tiva accustomed to a rope touching her muzzle — all that and more made it so that her first time having a halter put on here at SAFE went smoothly.
In the video below, Tiva continues to learn to free her movement through changing eyes, and get used to people being on all sides of her, including in her blind spots. We work on helping her relax as she moves around the round pen, letting her know that she doesn’t need to trot off all the time, and that walking is an option for her.
Putting a hand up by her face and mimicking petting is getting her used to the placement of a hand where it will eventually touch her. Because she is still so nervous, we are taking this slow, and waiting for her to accept the touch and not go away from it rather than forcing it upon her before she is ready.
Someone once told me that in their experience the Yakima Reservation horses were like trying to tame a “wild cat”. They are flighty, jumpy and in that person’s eyes almost impossible to domesticate. For us, the jury is still out. We have seen now our fair share of them come through SAFE, and each with their own personality. We have come across those that tend more on the anxious flighty side but really can feel no different than other breeds who tend towards the “hot” temperament. These horses can be either the greatest to work with or someone’s worst nightmare, it is all in the perspective the handler takes.
What is very rewarding right off the bat with this type of horse is the “life” sitting right on the surface. They are sensitive and responsive to the slightest amount of movement and feel from you. As the handler, you better have a TON of patience and stamina to keep up with their quick bodies and minds, and you must be able to quiet your “feel” so that you don’t add to the anxiety they create on their own. The best part is that you have to do very little to create life, it is in harnessing that life that real skill comes into play.
One of the most important steps to successfully working with this type of horse is helping them change their minds from their most natural response: to run, into the most unnatural response: to stay when energy rises or they feel at all anxious or nervous about what is happening around them. It is pure survival at its greatest and there is a level of respect you have to have for what they naturally are wired to do and a huge amount of respect for those that allow us to touch them. The second piece of this is that they start to switch from a reaction-based answer to more of a response to requests. Both mean literally the same thing, but a reaction is based deeply in fear and a response is through thought.
A big change can come when the “hot” horse’s mind starts to sink with the handler. Even their hoof falls and beat changes as they match the feel of the person working with them. There is a peace in their movement and as our friend Joel Conner once said: “Their skin starts to hang differently on their bodies”. It is in these areas you start to connect with them even, before you are able to lay hands on them.
So far, the biggest challenge with Tiva has not been her sensitivity or her natural reactions to flee, but that for many months she was unable to do just that, move. When trying to halter start her in such a confined area, she bottled up all of her anxiety and her feet became stuck. Even when she was first let out of the stall her steps were full of braces and the sound her hoof made along the ground was tight and stabby. When horses are stuck, and “feel” like they can not move, they can become frustrated and in the worst cases turn to fight whatever is frustrating them.
Tiva exhibits many visual signs of frustration. She repeatedly bumps her nose towards the handler, turns in and pushes towards them to try and move them and worst of all in frustration when standing still near someone she has tried to dive in towards them with a very bad expression. It is hard to imagine what her mental state has been over the last year. First gathered off the open land she was most likely born, nursing a filly on her side, shoved into trailers and moved from place to place and finally ran into a 12x24 box stall with absolutely none of the freedoms that are basic necessities of a horse. Not sure it gets much worse than this for a sensitive mare.
We are telling you all this to help explain these are “unnatural” feelings, Tiva wasn’t born this way, most, if not all, of this was learned with every experience she has had with humans. To be 100% honest, it is a WHOLE lot easier to gentle a mare with Tiva’s temperament that has had zero experience with humans than accomplish what we are set out to do and try to undo the trouble inside Tiva now.
So we begin. Her first groundwork lessons where not an attempt to draw her in to be touched, but rather allowing her to move and find the freedom in her feet. You could see how panicked she was with even the idea of standing and being asked to be near us. First, she needed to know that she was allowed to move and could move herself freely in all directions.
In the past, she had been told to turn in and face the handler, not a bad start for most horses but given her sensitivity and being in a small confined location of the stall it built in huge braces and anxiety. So, we literally “threw out the book” and did the exact opposite of turning in to draw in and instead we asked her to change eyes by turning away from the handler. We did this for a few reasons. First, we did this because she had so much anxiety turning in, we wanted to do something with her that she had probably never been asked to do. Partly to find some part of her that was still a “clean slate” and an opportunity to gain trust but also to show her how to work through something and find peace. Building search is a great way to gain trust and captivate their curiosity and build “try”.
Changing eyes was definitely not very pretty in the beginning, a lot of gravel flying and uncertainty about this different angle presented by the handler. There are a few other added benefits the changing eyes work will help her gain include getting more comfortable when things go into her blind spot behind her, allowing her to feel free to move her shoulders both directions (which is huge for haltering), to learn different angles of the handler mean different things, especially that when they are in the front you, you can’t blow past them and finally it allowed her to find a very comfortable walk that was not “running” away from the person.
This was a huge step that we will continue to build on as we gain trust and credibility with her. From these first sessions, it is evident that she is going to take a lot of time, patience and very skilled hands if she is going to make it as a domestic horse. Luckily, at SAFE, we have all of that along with loads of love and kindness to provide her with the best chance of a successful gentling, halter starting and experiences to have a lifetime of safety.
Introducing our newest mare, Tiva! She was picked up from a boarding barn in Olympia and arrived at SAFE in the late afternoon. After living in a stall for nearly a year, she was reluctant to leave it and or to get out of the trailer. Freedom was not something she had seen in a long time. Once off the trailer she stood in the far corner of her quarantine paddock taking in her surroundings with wide eyes and occasional snorting. The staff tries their best to always have another horse living close by to provide a little company and comfort to new horses whose lives have just been uprooted and are nervous about their new living situation. Cramer, calmly stood in the next-door paddock staring at in his cute new neighbor, occasionally pawing the ground and yawning.
SAFE was contacted by a good Samaritan who wanted advice finding a trainer to help her with a “wild mustang”. This horse came into her life when a very skinny mare and her filly were dropped off at the boarding barn she kept her own horse. This kind person was concerned about Tiva and her filly who was nursing, and wanted to help the mare. It appeared that the owner at the time was unable to keep them and so the good Samaritan had them turn over ownership. Tiva remained in the stall at the boarding facility and the filly was placed in a rescue. For a few months the good Samaritan worked on gentling the mare. She worked with a vet to refeed her and get her wormed. After realizing the mare was extremely sensitive and over her skill level, she tried to find a local trainer. No one would help with a “wild mustang”. Seeking advice, she contacted SAFE’s Outreach Team. This mare had already bounced around home to home, since being rounded up from the Yakima Reservation and her future didn’t look to have many options, so SAFE agreed to bring her into our program.
After working with Tiva in her first groundwork session, she appears to be sound and has a floaty gait. For now, we are being mindful of her sensitivity and only staff is cleaning her paddock while we get to know her. Tiva is a long project, but we give our horses all the time they need to find changes and lay a foundation that will keep them safe for the rest of their life. We look forward to helping this sweet mare, so she can live a happy life outside of small stall walls with horse friends and people who care about her future.
1. Wes A.
2. Lorrenda M.
3. Teri M.
4. Nancy S.
Every horse deserves at least ten friends! Even a small monthly donation can make a difference. Plus, SAFE horse sponsors receive discounts at local businesses through the SAFEkeepers program!