Our Domino is a very special boy. His days before he arrived at SAFE were lonely ones, and so now, with so many other horses around and the bustle of daily activity, Domino lives a very different life than he did for many of his years. But that sort of adjustment can be difficult, especially for an older guy. Domino, like many of us, has a hard time with change, and at SAFE where change is all but guaranteed as horses come and go, some days can be more challenging for our sweet man. We do our very best to support him through these triggering scenarios, like when his neighbor changes or when he has to switch paddocks, but for the most part we try to keep his environment as stable as we can.
Logistically, this is not always possible. It is yet another reason why we hold out hope for a permanent home to come along for this guy, one where the very nature of the place isn’t built around the coming and going of horses. But until then, we do our best to make things as easy as possible for Domino in tough situations.
Which brings me to my anecdote: Domino does not like coming into a stall. Once he loses sight of his friends, he becomes nervous. With the cold and wet of winter in full swing, we like to bring our horses inside at night to keep them out of the elements, but unfortunately this cannot be explained to Domino.
Last year, it was his friend Mac who got him through his nights in the barn. The two boys would have their adjacent windows opened immediately upon turn in, and Domino would not rest until Mac extended his nose out and showed his paint friend he was just around the corner. Mac’s presence for Domino was an immediate balm, settling him instantly.
But with Mac’s adoption, this year we knew we would have to adjust and find a new solution for Domino.
At first it was Tanis, his large lovely neighbor mare, we hoped would help soothe him. The two had a pair of stalls on the back of the barn where they could see one another – if the other’s head was out. This posed a problem early on, when Tanis would duck inside to eat her hay and Domino, despite his cries, could not coax her out (those first days we had to help her, drawing her head with a treat to say ‘see, Domino? She’s right here!’) And it did work – the two fell into a routine of walking in together and spending the evening with their windows opened. Domino was doing great!
The thing about the stalls on the back of the barn is, they open into our indoor arena. This is a cute feature, because their inside windows allow the horses to hang their heads into the barn to watch their friends at work (we call the Sienna, Declan, Owen side of the barn the peanut gallery for how much time they spend observing the going ons). For Domino, however, this was a worrisome element of his nighttime residence. When the flags started flagging and the horses began running, Domino grew upset. Not to mention the times when his friend, Tanis, disappeared from view momentarily while she went in for her turn in the round pen. Overall, it was not the right place for Domino to feel comfortable, and so another move was in order.
Here’s where the story tapers off into a happy ending: we decided to try Domino in an inside stall next to Lacey, seeing as he has quite the penchant for little red mares, and got to know Lacey over the summer when she was turned out next to him. We brought them both inside together, and when we let Domino into his new stall, making sure his window was open so he could stick his head out and survey the land, he seemed calm. But after he’d finished his grain, he began to grow nervous. Where were the other horses? We opened the windows of his across the way neighbors, Cramer and Otto, but their presence was not near enough to help him.
Then there was Lacey… but to open her window would mean the pair would have full access to each other’s faces. Both Domino and Lacey are bossy, to use one word. Lacey’s unique personality has meant we’ve had to keep her separate from other horses for fear that she will be injurious towards them – she is full Mare. And while Domino has had success in group turnout before, he requires a very specific (re: submissive) personality to be his direct buddy. On paper, it seemed the two of them together would be water and oil.
But a co-ed relationship is different, that’s for sure, and it quickly became apparent when we cracked Lacey’s window open and watched with baited breath the duo’s first interactions that a bossy red mare was exactly what the doctor ordered for Domino. Sure, there were some initial squeals – neither would be who they are without them – but after sharing some mouthfuls of hay, Lady and the Tramp style, it was clear this was something special. The first night they yipped and yelled in intermittent periods, but nothing escalated past vocalizing. And the second night, Domino, who used to call and pace and fret when he couldn’t see his buddy for even a moment, finished his dinner in total silence, and hung his head out of the window with the sleepiest, calmest eyes, waiting for Lacey to finish up so they could nap together. We have never seen Domino more content, inside or out, and Lacey certainly doesn’t seem to be complaining either. And until one of them finds a home outside of SAFE, the two will remain posted up beside one another at night, a special slumber party for two very special horses.