2015 Yakima Reservation mare
Suitability: In Training, For Advanced Rider (green horse)
Height: 14.2 hh
Weight: 730 lbs
Adoption Fee: $500 (will increase with training)
Veronica is one of 24 wild Yakima Reservation horses seized in December 2019 by King County Sheriff’s Office, in cooperation with Regional Animal Services of King County and SAFE. Veronica recently has been saddled and making great progress as a riding horse.
All SAFE horses are adopted with a no-breeding clause, no exceptions.
A Horse’s Best Friend
Veronica loves dogs! Not only if they just happen to be walking by her as she snoozes next to the fence line, but when she spots them, she comes right over and wants kisses. Our Saturday Barn Staff, Trudy, brings Titan her adorable husky to work each weekend. Trudy goes about her busy day with Titan always in tow or sometimes towing her along. Since he was a wee puppy, he has grown up at SAFE making him very accustomed to all the “large dogs” on the property and apparently Veronica is quite fond of him.
When Trudy recently shared this little unknown fact with the staff and we had to share the cuteness that is Veronica and Titan. It looks as though our Veronica may love a future home with not only fellow hoofed friends, but also one with wagging tails.
Veronica Under Saddle
Veronica is a riding horse!
There is a spectrum here, of course. Veronica’s first rides would have been more suited to a rodeo setting – she would have made a fine saddle bronc, don’t let her size fool you. And while she’s still quite some time away from being ‘grandma’s horse,’ she has certainly made some serious progress from those first few times with a rider.
Veronica’s sense of self-preservation is immense. This might work to her advantage if she were a wild horse, because she would be on high-alert for predators and ready to run (not to mention kick) at the drop of a hat. But for a horse bound for domesticity, and ideally one with a future as a riding partner, these traits are not the most beneficial. She is a sweet, sensitive mare, but when she enters her flight or fight mode, it becomes difficult for her to look to us humans for support. There are points where you can see her ability to rationalize vanish, and all she can do is run or buck or kick. With each hour spent in the round pen with Veronica, having her change eyes on the rope around her legs, drag a tarp around, hook on, get touched by the flag, bump up to the panel, and all manner of other activities, we train Veronica’s thinking brain to be the one that takes the driver’s seat when the road gets bumpy, with the hopes that eventually she will know that she has all the tools she needs to handle any situation she encounters.
One of her major challenges is turning loose to her outside eye, which means that a stirrup moving (or sometimes just being present) can set her off. It was hugely important that a skilled horseman like Joel was able to put the first few rides on Veronica, because he was able to really ‘go with her’ while she moved and not reflexively squeeze or touch her with his legs. As she grew a bit more confident with a rider, he would pet her a little with his leg as they rode, just so she could get used to the sensation, since eventually there will come a time when someone gets on her who might squeeze a little (or a lot!), and it’s important for her continued success that she be able to handle all kinds of differences amongst riders. It starts slow, in the beginning, but the goal remains the same – for Veronica to be safe for people, with security in her own self a crucial step in helping achieve that goal.
With each ride, Veronica gets a bit more accustomed to having a rider, and is continuously rewarded for her try. What started out as a veritable bronc ride, with Joel having to talk her out of trouble, has now become a much more relaxed journey through the gaits – now with a snaffle bit!
You can see a pretty comprehensive cross-section of Veronica’s rides documented here — from her very first, to her most recent at the time of this post. Veronica would not be where she is today without the sweat, tears, and very hard work of Candi, Joel, and Terry, whose dedication, patience, and tenacity help empower Veronica every time they interact with her. This is a special little mare, and we all look forward to continuing the journey alongside her.
Blazing New Trails
One of our Volunteer Riders had this to say about Veronica:
You could say Ms. Veronica is “Walking on Sunshine” as a whole new world has opened up to her beyond the main gate of SAFE Harbor Stables. Just a few weeks ago Veronica and I prepared to make a trek to the great unknown. Well really it is just the trails the connect from SAFE to Farrel-McWhirter Farm Park, but it sounds more adventurous, right? We joined the seasoned group of riders, hand walkers and horses to see the new world. Ahh the sights and smells! Big trees, logs to step over, strange looking plants like ferns and ivy, bridges over creeks, cars whizzing by and kids playing in the park. All new experiences for this sensitive mare. A little anxious at first but as the walk continued, she became more relaxed and seem to enjoy herself.
Do you know what a bug catcher is? Veronica didn’t know until that day either. It is a person on a bicycle. As part of learning to be a solid trail horse she will need to know about obstacles that may occur without notice. We turned to face the bicyclist straight on with the rest of the horses and watched it go by. She was curious but remained calm.
As the days get warmer and hopefully there will be less rain, we hope to take more trail walks. There is even an arena just off the trail where we can practice groundwork.
I am pretty sure I can hear Veronica singing this tune as she has come so far over the last several months. She is definitely loved by everyone at SAFE.
“Walking on sunshine Walking on sunshine
I feel alive, I feel the love, I feel the love that’s really real I feel alive, I feel the love, I feel the love that’s really real”
Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and The Waves
Veronica Melts Candi
A sweet note and reminder how special horses are in our lives. Candi recently had this to say about her relationship with Veronica: “It has been two weeks since I have been able to be with Veronica. Today she ran to me when she saw me at the gate of her turn out. Being with her made all of the crazy, chaotic, emotional days of the past two weeks drift away.”
Veronica and the Tarp
One of our volunteer riders, Candi, had this to say about working with Veronica:
“The barn is on fire! Let’s go!” It really isn’t on fire but, that was my mantra with Veronica for the last several months as we worked through some recurring haltering issues while she was turned out in her paddock. Even though she has spent well over a year of being haltered every once in a while she gets a bee in her bonnet and decides to run away and play catch me if you can. Rather than walking up to her slowly to gain her trust and hope she won’t take off, the approach of the barn is on fire sister we have to go was taken. I have spent countless hours of changing eyes, catch and release and haltering her in the as quickly as possible. It is paying off! She is no longer running off in the paddock from the volunteers and she is beginning to come to us to be haltered.
Veronica has also been introduced to the big and scary blue tarp. The tarp is used to help grow the horse’s confidence and remain calm and self-assured for an eventual rider. At first it was on the ground so she could walk across it like an object on a trail. Then I switched to moving it around beside her while waving it in the air and making a lot of noise. Eventually I had the tarp on her and moving it all around her body. She is now wearing the tarp while working on her hindquarters and moving up to the fence. I will continue to work with her on this as she still needs to build a great deal of confidence to work out the wiggles.
She is also making great strides in her hindquarters and becoming very soft in her feel. We will begin to work more on the front quarters as well. Even though she was saddled in the November clinic we are taking our time with her. We want to be sure she is ready for a rider and does not panic. She needs to be able to look to that person and feel that support.
Veronica is a sweet, sensitive and inquisitive mare. She has come a long way in the last several months, but she definitely needs a lot of continued horsemanship to prepare her for her future. Time is on her side.
Check out Veronica in action below!
Veronica’s Training Continues
Our major goal for Veronica is to help her to be responsive instead of reactive. Over the next weeks we will work to get her feeling 100% confident with the saddle before anyone needs to ride her. She is working on relaxing into a one rein stop from the ground and doing so without a brace. She needs to accept people walking up to her and her feeling like she’s grandma’s horse rather than tiptoeing around her. She needs work on changing eyes in her front quarters. We are doing this by getting the flag transferred from one side to the other while she frees up her feet. We are bumping her up to the fence and will get her used to flags and ropes thrown over her while she stays calm and relaxed at the fence. We can also start standing up in the stirrup from the ground and throwing a leg over her while she is bumped up to the fence. Since she is more of a reactionary mare, we will help prepare her and only when she is comfortable we will put the first rides on her. There is no point rushing her to be a riding horse and having panic in her with a rider. She will have some trouble with a rider but we hope to prepare her so that it is a minimal as possible.
Veronica still needs to look more to the person for support than running off in a panic. She needs to feel of the person and realize that no one is driving her to run. We can support her through this but she also needs us to allow her to find peace on her own. We’re working with Joel Conner on helping her change eyes by drawing her off the panels and making a full circle in front of the person, changing eyes, and heading back to the rail without panicking. This seemed to be a great way of helping her find more peace and relaxation.
Veronica is Saddled
Over the past several months, Veronica has made great progress in her ground work with volunteer Candi. She is a sensitive mare who is eager to learn and please. These changes allowed for another milestone as she experienced her first saddling with Joel Conner in the October clinic/colt starting.
Joel has years of experience working with challenging horses like Veronica. Even with preparation on the ground she was uncomfortable and explosive under saddle. For the next five days Veronica was saddled and unsaddled countless times consecutively and throughout the day.
Joel and Candi spent a lot of time freeing up her feet, working on her bracing on the right, bending and changing eyes. By the end of the fifth day, she was beginning to understand the presence of the saddle as she was standing still being unsaddled.
While this is a significant step for this beautiful mare, she has a very long way to go before she will ever experience a rider. She will continue to be saddled every time she works. Continuing to prepare her from the ground will give her the best opportunity for success in the future.
In the days after the clinic, Terry and Candi were able to work and saddle Veronica. She made great progress in the clinic and those changes carried over. We will continue to help her and saddle her during our groundwork sessions. Our goal is she will become more and more comfortable wearing it and eventually accept a rider.
Veronica is a diamond in the rough who is definitely beginning to shine!
A Summer of Progress for Veronica
Veronica has progressed well in her training. Although she is still a bit shy, she is doing much better about getting caught and haltered, and she will now come up to the fence to be petted and told how pretty she is. Veronica stands patiently while tied and is well-behaved for bathing and being fly sprayed. Earlier in the summer, she started with walking around with a lightly cinched saddle to become accustomed to carrying it. When Joel visited in August, Veronica was saddled and unsaddled repeatedly to help her be comfortable with the saddle, and in September, she worked with Candi in Joel’s groundwork clinic. It will take ongoing groundwork to help Veronica reach the point where she will accept a rider, but we expect she will achieve that goal.
We are working on preparing Veronica to be saddled. She has calmed so much compared to the fearful horse, distrustful of humans, that arrived at SAFE in early 2020. It has been wonderful to watch her transition. She recently worked in the Joel Connor clinic with Candi in June. Veronica can still be tricky to catch in her large paddock, so they focused a lot on catching and releasing.
Veronica shares her large paddock with Pepper and Sienna. Pepper seems to have recognized Veronica from their shared history as part of the Fall City 40, a group of horses rescued from a hoarder. Sienna took a little longer to accept Veronica, but now all three are napping next to each other. Veronica is a beautiful mare who likes scratches and as long as you aren’t trying to catch her, she walks right up to you for attention and has become a volunteer favorite.
Veronica’s First Dental
Veronica Out and About
SAFE’s volunteer, Candi, has been a huge part of Veronica’s gentling process. Her kind and patient feel has been key to the successful haltering of this extremely sensitive and touchy mare. We have slowly gained her trust and she is allowing for basic grooming and picking up her hooves. The first video shows Veronica’s first walk outside of her paddock. As you can see, she was very nervous, but connected back with her handler to find the comfort and support she needed. Veronica ended the session in a really good place. In the second video you can see the first time Veronica was led into a trailer. We will continue to work with her in baby steps. She is worth the time, effort, and patience to help her succeed.
One thing I love about SAFE is that we have no expectations or deadlines that our horses have to fulfill for us. We accept them as individuals and recognize that one size doesn’t fit all.
As we got to know the Fall City 40 horses better, we found there were many different personalities among them. But there were two mares in particular who seemed far more troubled than the rest of the group. Both ended up joining SAFE’s herd when homes couldn’t be found for them right away. They were scared, and we knew that pressure from humans could make them feel like their lives were in danger. So we made a conscious decision to turn the pressure way down and begin their reeducation by just spending time near them.
Over the last year, Veronica and Caramel have been slowly brought into domestic life. Veronica, while clearly a sensitive mare, was a bit more confident and willing accept human’s touch. SAFE volunteer Candi was asked to make Veronica her special friend and to spend time visiting her whenever she could make it out to SAFE. Candi has spent HOURS sitting with Veronica, calmly petting and eventually grooming her. She then starting haltering her and eventually leading her, then began groundwork: freeing her hind and shoulders and walking and trotting on a unified circle. Last Friday I checked in on their progress and I was very impressed. Veronica is SOFT, willing, and gentle on the lead. She allowed me to lift all four hooves and to walk her out of her pen and into the outdoor arena. The other “yahoos” in the paddocks nearby erupted with excitement and Veronica was ready to fly…but instead of leaving me, she listened to my supporting feel as I asked her to stay with me and to drop down the excitement. She was hunting and searching for my support, even in an excited state she looked to me, this strange two-legged human, to give her the comfort she desired. We were able to end the session grazing along the grass of the “yahoos” pens and show them that good girls get yummy grass! HA!
Caramel, is a very inquisitive and smart little mare but her flight response is out of this world. She would rather run as fast and as far away from something that scares her than take a moment to see it really was nothing to be afraid of in the first place. Her instinctual nature to save herself is deeply ingrained. Unlike Veronica, there is a lack of confidence keeps her from checking in before checking out. Nevertheless the progress she’s made is really quite huge. Today when visiting with her, she was very curious and interested in being near enough for a stroke on the face or neck. But make any sudden movement, and she said goodbye. I actually think she really wanted her hind scratched but couldn’t bring herself to getting close enough to be touched without the fence between us. From the other side of the fence, Caramel is pretty open to being touched just about anywhere. The fence gives her the comfort, since she can’t be caught by someone on the other side of it. If she even sees a rope or halter in your hands, she is very unlikely to approach.
We’ve thought a lot of about Caramel to try to figure out why she is so different that other mares in our herd. Many vets and horse professionals have told me that the Yakima Reservation horses are like “Wild Cats”. I’ve seen it in a few of them, and clearly Caramel is the wildest of the horses we kept from the Fall City 40. She might be like this because of inbreeding, missing important nutritional elements in her early years, or being traumatized by living on such a small property with multiple stallions fighting for herd position and limited food.
Bonnie sent out numerous letters to wild horse sanctuaries on the west coast in hopes that one might be willing to take her. They all declined. But even if they had said yes, it still didn’t feel like the right answer for Caramel. She was born in captivity in Fall City, not on the open plains of some romantic western scene we want to dream for wild horses. In a sanctuary herd, her basic needs as a domestic horse might not be met. She would have no one to take care of her if she was injured or needed medical assistance. It just isn’t the life we would want to give her, nor would it keep with our promise to provide her a lifetime of safety.
Where do we go from here? How do we help Caramel reach a point in her gentleness that her basic needs like farrier, dental and emergency care are able to be met? Time and a slow approach is making progress. It is also allowing her to not be hurt in the process because when her flight response is triggered she could literally kill herself in trying to flee. She needs someone with a quiet place to let her absorb natural life along with a small herd that is constant and relaxed. She needs daily consistent interactions with one person so she can gain trust and eventually learn to trust other humans. In order to make it to the other side of this, she needs a very special friend.
When we first visited the Fall City horses in July of 2019, Trisha was a volunteer that came to help. She was drawn to the herd, their plight, and how she might be of service to them. Trisha had connected with a beautiful dark bay mare that was originally on the side of the property with Veronica and Caramel. She was a very skittish mare, similar to our two, constantly moving and “leaving the scene” whenever approached. Sadly, we had to walk away from the Fall City 40 for several dark months before we were able to get them seized by Animal Control. But in December of 2019, when the rest of the horses were ours, I reconnected with Trisha and asked if she was willing to take the mare. She wholeheartedly agreed and has done a wonderful job gaining her trust and gentling her.
When the sanctuaries unanimously turned Caramel down, I felt a bit deflated. I was losing hope that we’d ever get her over her fear. I decided to call Trisha and get her thoughts. Her Fall City 40 mare was a lot like Caramel and Trish had successfully brought her through it. Trisha was open to meeting Caramel.
Caramel really turned on the charm for their first meeting. She was very interested in us and especially in Trisha’s mask. We talked a lot about our hope to give her time and consistency in a calm and quiet environment. We agreed it was important to not the pressure of a timeline or expectations on Caramel. We are so excited that Carmel will be moving to Trisha’s farm as a foster some time next week! This will be a great chance for Caramel to grow her trust through dedicated one-on-one handling. We are optimistic for Caramel’s future and grateful that Trisha and her family are willing to give her this opportunity.
Veronica’s Brighter Future
SAFE volunteer Candi K. has taken Veronica under her wing and has been consistently working with her for the past few months. Candi’s patient gentling work was exactly what Veronica needed. It’s moving to see Veronica opening up to human contact. Together they are creating a foundation that will be an enormous part of Veronica’s future success as a domesticated horse.
Candi wrote this very thoughtful article about Veronica’s progress:
Remember the excitement of learning something new and how it opened a whole new world of possibilities for you? Now imagine that as a horse. Imagine how freeing your life will become as you can navigate your days more confidently. Veronica is now successfully halter broken and will stand quiet and still to be groomed. She has the most gorgeous thick tail and much to her delight, she has figured out that it feels really good to have it brushed out.
In the last couple of weeks, she has learned how to walk and stop alongside me as I lead her. She has become a champ at unified circles to the left. Her right eye is her non-dominant eye so she feels less confident on circling to the right. Slowly but surely, she is taking more strides in that direction. We have been practicing approaching the gate of the round pen, opening and closing it while she is haltered and in hand. She is waits patiently and enters and exits without any issues.
Last week we had great success worming her for the first time. She spent several days learning about a syringe and the yummy applesauce that comes out of it. She was happy to take the worming medication and only stuck her tongue out at the end to let us know it tasted a little funny.
Veronica is also getting used to having the lead line touch her all over her body. At first, she was very jumpy and unsure. She is getting more accustomed to it now. This will help as we progress further into her training and future saddling.
Veronica is very loving and eager to learn. Her movement at a trot looks like she is floating on air. She is truly a beautiful mare with a bright future.
Veronica is Learning the Ropes
What a change Veronica has made in the last few months! She has gone from not wanting to be touched to greeting us at the fence with a nicker and inquisitive eyes.
Over the summer Dylan has spent time with this sweet mare to be able to gain her trust to groom and begin haltering her. SAFE volunteer Candi was able to spend quite a bit of time getting her accustomed to being brushed and having her beautiful mane untangled. Over time she began to realize that this felt good and she would stand in place and enjoy the spa treatment.
Last week we moved Veronica and Caramel into new turnouts where they share a round pen in between their panels to further their training. Veronica is working on entering the round pen and is getting better at it each day. She moves around beautifully and Dylan has been roping her with ease. Not only has he roped her for halter work he has also done work with all 4 feet to prepare her for the farrier.
Veronica is making great progress with haltering. The first haltering of the day can be a little challenging, but once her halter is on, she will let it be taken off and put back on again repeatedly. Candi has spent a lot of time rubbing her head, ears, and neck to reassure her. She will now rest her head in Candi’s hands and stand still.
She hooks on easily and is learning to walk alongside and backup. She’ll be learning hindquarters and front quarters soon. This beautiful girl definitely has a bright future. She is smart, and she wants to learn and to please.
1. Judy C.
2. Candi K.
3. Marcella H.
4. Jeanne and John A.
5. Whitney-Bear B.
6. Jean E.
7. Carrie 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!