Stormy’s story is truly a fairy tale! She came to SAFE scared and hurt, with little to look forward to. Today she lives like a princess, and although her “little girl” is a proper grown up, the love between these two is absolute magic. Thank you to Leigh for sharing Stormy’s story with us, and for giving this sweet girl the life she always deserved!
“It’s been just over a year exactly since I brought Stormy home. What a year it has been!
Like many of us, I loved horses growing up; however, for a suburban Canadian kid, the dream of horse ownership was pretty far off! I sated my equestrian yearnings by reading horse magazines, wrote (embarrassing) short stories about horses, collected the Canuck version of Breyer horses, and was contented with lessons and trail riding in the summer. I still dreamed of that ‘one day’ when I could own my own horse and forge that special bond with my favorite animal.
Fast forward to March 2018, and I was sitting in a cafe in Olympia, WA, browsing online for local animal charities. SAFE popped up, and immediately piqued my interest. As I scrolled through pages of adoptable riding horses and companion horses, one equine friend in particular caught my eye.
There was Stormy’s story, and the video working with Melinda on clicker training and under saddle. I started to cry in public, which is unlike me, but I immediately knew I wanted to a) donate money to SAFE to be a Stormy sponsor and b) meet this wonderful courageous creature who had been through so much. My husband, David and I made a plan to meet her and I think he knew then that if I met her, I would want to do everything in my power to bring her home.
We drove from Rochester, WA to Redmond on a beautiful, cool spring day in late March 2018. Ian was there to show us into the paddock that Mason (another SAFE alumni) and Stormy shared. David pet Mason while I approached the shy-but-curious Stormy (I may have brought some carrots; soon learning that treats are a great motivator for my girl. We are alike in that way!) Stormy walked up to us, and let me pet her and give her scritches. Ian was so patient and answered all of my questions about Stormy’s history. I was smitten, from the top of her notched piglet ear to the tip of her tail.
Driving home that evening, I was pretty convinced I was going to finagle a way to bring this adorable appaloosa home.
Here’s my PSA: Most people do not adopt blind horses as their first horse and I wouldn’t want anyone to get the idea that it’s a walk in the park. The success of the partnership depends entirely on the horse, the support system, and the level of skill you have. My advice would be to listen to the older/more experienced horse people around you, and soak up everything you can from learning opportunities before taking on a special needs horse. SAFE made sure I was committed and had a lot of support on this journey. I think the only reason it really worked for us is because we did our research and I was realistic: I didn’t adopt an older blind horse because I wanted to turn her into some kind of dressage superstar; I adopted an older blind horse because I wanted to give her a home.
The fact that Stormy has always gone above and beyond my expectations is because I didn’t really have any to start with! I just wanted a friend, and I ended up with so much more. Admittedly, some of the folks around me were skeptical of this decision, but once they met Stormy they realized she’s a steady partner and has the right attitude for a beginner.
Stormy and I have built our relationship on compassion, trust, fairness and trying to find common ground and a common language. She is incredibly patient, a hard worker, and has hilarious moments of ‘sassy Appy-tude’ where she lets you know her opinion. Usually said opinion can be swayed with a firm word and then she’s back to her eager-to-please self, licking and chewing all the way.
So much of building good ground manners and responsiveness in the saddle is ‘feel’ and pressure/release. In this scenario, the horsey half of the partnership can’t see my body language and can’t predict what I’ll do next, so we have to get creative. It’s also interesting that whereas Stormy was most certainly trained under saddle at some point in her life, the neglect she suffered and her blindness basically meant restarting from scratch. SAFE gave her the foundation she needed to be a solid citizen and we are continuing that work.
Our partnership is trial and error, taking baby steps, and re-evaluating constantly. For example, early on we figured out that a plain lunge whip was probably not going to work to move her out on the circle all the time, because unlike sighted horses, she can’t see it coming and thus has no impetus to move away from that pressure. We started to lunge with a stick and flag, because Stormy can hear the ‘whoosh’ of the flag and that’s what she uses to stay out on the circle. When we started walking trails in hand, I sometimes forgot Stormy couldn’t see, so when branches crackled or a bird swooped low and noisily, her spook response was ‘let me climb into your pocket please’ and swinging her head around suddenly to listen better (I now wear a helmet when hand walking trails with her). When she first came home to the barn, we always had a companion in turnout with her or right alongside her. As she’s grown in confidence, she now has turnout on her own in a lovely big paddock, where she miraculously navigates hot wire to chomp delicately on the grass that grows right beneath it.
Learning to ‘unlock’ Stormy’s potential for movement has been a long and rewarding process. We are always working on getting her balanced (due to arthritis she can be a little tight in the haunches), and more relaxed and elastic in her walk and trot. We train on behaviors with the clicker several times a week, whether it’s a refresher on ‘whoa’ or ‘walk on’ or more complex movements like turning on the forehand, trotting over jumps or navigating obstacles using only voice. If something isn’t working, it’s usually my fault, because when I put myself in her ‘hooves’, it’s easy to see that a command wasn’t clear, or that my intention wasn’t easy to follow through with. Stormy has taught me so much patience, and is so willing to try new things, especially if there’s a good crunchy treat in the vicinity. I love that she keeps one ear on me at all times, and the other swiveling to pick up on the rest of the environment.
Stormy’s “Likes” include her gelding neighbor Cecil, having a good lie down in her stall after dinner, rolling around in the arena after a workout, and being groomed on her face until she falls asleep in the cross ties. Dislikes include baths (yuck), being rushed at unexpectedly by baby cows, and summertime flies. She is still on the fence about her hay rations.
Sometimes I like to think that when I was a ten-year old girl daydreaming about my dream horse, Stormy was a little filly taking her first steps in the world. All it took was for me to move 3,000 miles to Washington, a miraculous equine rescue and for 25 years to go by. Stormy was worth the wait.