sophie_09_29_2016_07Today Sophie was officially upgraded from a Prospect to a Riding Horse. Admittedly, this is a fairly minor development in Sophie’s career, but quietly behind the scenes, Sophie is making a big impact on how we think about horses here at SAFE.

As a SAFE horse, Sophie is what most of us would consider a Rescue Horse. A near-death experience was what turned Sophie into a Rescue Horse: she was impaled in the neck by an uncapped t‑post. The only way this filly was going to get the vet care needed to save her life was by being taken in by SAFE, and fortunately we got to her in time. Sophie impressed us from Day One with her gentle, good nature, which was fortunate because it made cleaning and caring for her gaping wound much easier. In time, the wound healed, and now, only a small scar remains as a reminder of the avoidable injury which almost cost Sophie her life.

So, an injury that happened in a less than a minute, plus the four days it took for her owner to call for help…and for the rest of her life, Sophie is a Rescue Horse. Nothing in that brief interlude of time was her fault. The t‑post that she was injured on wasn’t just uncapped, it was leaning into her pen at the perfect angle to impale any large animal who happened by. Sophie got hurt by a great big dose of stupid followed by a healthy slug of irresponsibility. She can’t be blamed for what happened to her.

And isn’t that true of just about every horse that comes through our doors here at SAFE? Can any of our horses be blamed for what happened to them, for the event or series of events that landed them in the care of a rescue? Of course not. But from that moment on, they’re not just race horses, or trail horses, or Curly Horses, or sport horses…they’re also Rescue Horses.

Being a Rescue Horse has its ups and downs. On the plus side, being a Rescue Horse beats the heck out of being a Hungry Horse, or a Frightened Horse, or a Dying Horse. And we LOVE our Rescue Horses! We admire their strength and beauty, we celebrate their accomplishments, and we promise them that they will be safe for the rest of their lives. Here at SAFE, we work with our supporters to give these horses every advantage possible: the best veterinary and farrier care; compassionate and comprehensive training; lovely hays and tasty tasty grain. They are cared for every day by people who treat them kindly, people who notice when they hurt themselves. I can say without reservation that being a SAFE Rescue Horse is a pretty great thing to be.

But let’s be honest: there is a stigma that comes from being a Rescue Horse. They’re seen as damaged goods, as somehow lesser than other horses. For some, adopting a Rescue Horse is an act of charity…which is a wonderful thing to do, no question! But what if that wasn’t the best reason to adopt a SAFE horse? What if people adopted SAFE horses because most of them are exceptionally well trained animals? Not because of the days in which they were neglected or abused, but because of the months that they spent in SAFE’s training program. No one should have to be defined by the misery of their past! I think Robyn Hitchcock summed it up best when he wrote “It doesn’t matter what you WAS, it’s what you IS, and what you IS is what you ARE.

So back to Sophie…

After Sophie’s injury healed, she was put out to pasture with a couple of mares to give her time to grow up. Last May, she came back to Safe Harbor and started groundwork training. As expected, this brave and easy-going young mare was delightful to work with in hand. By September, she was ready to take the next step, and jumped into trainer Joel Conner’s horse trailer and headed for his ranch in Ellensburg. Days later, Sophie became a riding horse. Joel says she the easiest SAFE horse he’s ever started. Not only is she physically well suited to the type of riding she’s doing, she’s got a terrific mind and an amazing temperament. And she was thoroughly prepared to start her under-saddle training by all of the groundwork that was done at SAFE before she went to him. Joel is riding her walk, trot, lope, and he can also swing and throw a rope while sitting on her back. RUMOR HAS IT that Sophie met Ricky Quinn Jr a few weekends ago and that Ricky was hugely impressed after riding her and was completely surprised to learn that she was a Rescue Horse! (I call it a rumor because no one has coughed up a photo of this yet…I am more than ready to redact this if a photo turns up!)

Seeing the amazing horse that Sophie has become gets us SO excited about our training program here at SAFE. Our goal is to help all of our riding horses reach a level of skill where folks looking to buy a horse will seek out a SAFE horse because of the quality of their training. We are so fortunate for the guidance that our volunteer riders receive from Joel Conner, who comes to SAFE at least three times each year to help us develop our horsemanship skills. All of this work is done for the love of the horse, to set them up for success, and get them ready for wonderful and safe new lives.

And finally, take a look at Sophie (click the first image for a slideshow):