We have an old friend back in the herd…Bucky B Lucky has been returned to SAFE. He will be undergoing some remedial training and vet care before he will be once again offered for adoption as a SAFE horse.

It is our intention — and our fondest hope — that when a SAFE horse is adopted, it has a home for life. That is why we put so much care and effort into our adoption process, and why we work so hard to ensure the best possible match for both horse and human. We look for adopters who are willing and able to make a commitment to their new horse, through good times and bad, and who will care for the horse to the best of their ability until the day the horse is laid to rest. We feel that all horses deserve safety and stability in their lives, and the last thing we want is to see a horse that we have rescued end up in a bad situation once again.

So we do our best to find “forever homes” for our horses.But despite our best efforts, not every horse we place will end up in a home for life. It doesn’t happen often, fortunately, but occasionally we’ll be contacted by an adopter who lets us know that they can no longer keep their horse. Sometimes it’s because of a change in the adopter’s life and sometimes it’s because of a problem with the horse. We assess these situations on an individual basis, and try our best to work with the adopter to come up with a reasonable solution. If the horse needs to be rehomed, we ask that the adopter exercise the same care and caution in finding a new home as we do when we evaluate a potential adopter—by asking questions, checking references, and conducting a site visit of the new home. We also ask the new owner to sign an Adoption Contract with SAFE before taking the horse. This is an attempt to ensure that the horse ends up in a good environment, and we ask this of our adopters strictly out of concern for the future well-being of the horse.

Bucky B Lucky’s adoption, which took place in October 2011, seemed like a match made in heaven. His adopter was someone who had ridden for more than 23 years, had experience with green horses, and had even taught lessons in lower level dressage. She came to us looking for a young Thoroughbred or warmblood gelding who was tall enough for her and suitable for competition in dressage. Lucky was 5 years old at the time of the adoption, and while he was fairly calm and easy to handle, he was also a young horse straight off the track who would certainly benefit from additional training and a steady program of work. The adopter assured us she would continue his training and she seemed quite capable of giving Lucky the consistent work and training that a young Thoroughbred needs to succeed.

In May 2012, Lucky’s adopter notified us that due to some changes in her life, including a fairly serious back injury, she was having trouble keeping Lucky in consistent work. She asked us for some trainer recommendations, and we discussed her options for rehoming him at that time. She began working with one of the trainers we recommended, and soon let us know that things with the new trainer were working out, and that she did not wish to rehome him after all. In November 2012, we got a very happy update from her, along with some terrific photos of her and Lucky in the arena, saying that things were going very well and that she was very pleased with his progress. (Note: According to the trainer and others at the barn where Lucky was boarded, Lucky continued to do very well with regular rides from the trainer, until he was suddenly taken out of training in late January.)

Imagine our surprise, then, when in early February 2013, we were contacted, not by the adopter, but by a local barn owner, telling us that Lucky was now being boarded at her facility, that he was having behavioral problems including rearing and striking, and that she would like to return him to SAFE. Our attempts to communicate directly with the adopter from this point out were thwarted by the barn owner, who insisted that SAFE had acted “unethically” in its adoption of Lucky and that we had treated the adopter poorly when she attempted to give the horse back in May 2012. The situation went from bad to worse when the barn owner threatened to have Lucky “shipped to one of the carnivore rescues where he will be shot and fed to the animals.”  Fearing for Lucky’s safety, we immediately made arrangements to pick him up from the boarding facility. Inexplicably, the barn owner actually physically assaulted the SAFE representative who went to pick up the horse, after the SAFE representative indicated that she did not wish to discuss the terms of the Surrender Agreement with the barn owner.

The good news is that Bucky B Lucky is back at SAFE and he is…safe. Our trainer, Brittney Stewart, evaluated him under saddle and has determined that he will need 30-60 days of re-training under saddle before we can even think about offering him for adoption. Brittney has him in “boot camp” and he is not allowed to display any misbehavior under saddle or on the ground. The first time she rode him, he did make a few attempts to rear but after sharp correction, gave that up fairly quickly. She’s seen very little in the way of resistance or disobedience from him since. She has seen nothing to indicate that there are severe behavioral problems in Lucky, just a horse that was not ridden consistently who developed some bad habits designed to intimidate his rider and get himself out of work. This is why young Thoroughbred horses are not for everyone — most of them thrive on hard work and in the absence of that, they can start to act out. This does not make them “bad ponies.”

It’s disappointing to us when an adoption fails, not only because we had hoped for so much better for the horse, but also because a horse returning to SAFE means that a spot is being taken away from a neglected or starved horse that really needs our help. We are sharing Lucky’s story because we want you to understand why we are so particular about choosing adopters for our horses and why we are so concerned about matching the right horse to the right person. Lucky’s story also illustrates why we stress the importance of owner responsibility: Lucky left SAFE 16 months ago as a track-broke green thoroughbred with a lot of potential, and returns to us as a horse with behavioral problems that need to be trained out of him, who now has a failed adoption on his record. We have horses available for adoption that can go several days without being worked. We have others that must stay in consistent work in order to be successful. Lucky was one that needed work and training, and he did not get it. The responsibility for Lucky’s problems falls squarely on the shoulders of his former adopter. And by allowing her barn owner to bully us and threaten our horse’s life, Lucky’s adopter is now the only one who will not be paying for her mistakes.

Below — video of Lucky and Strider at SAFE Harbor shortly after Lucky’s arrival. They seem quite fond of each other!