There is a journey each horse must make, a map laid out before them when they first arrive at SAFE, a pathway to a brighter future. Not every route looks the same. The topography and length vary as much as the horses themselves do – some are short and flat, some steep and winding, some end before they’ve even really began (and these particular paths, if using the map analogy, dump out into a sprawling meadow where the air is always warm and the grass is always green).
We at SAFE hope to be the outfitters for these horses, preparing them with what they need for their trips. And like the paths themselves, the supplies they need are not all the same. Some require very little, arriving with some gear, already well set up for success but needing a tune-up. Some come with gear that has been working against them, slowing them down, hurting them in some cases. Very few show up with nothing. Every experience they have before SAFE contributes to their story, in one way or another.
Tiva came to us with some baggage, a real heavy kind of load that was going to take some lightening. Her road was going to be a long one, but we would help her with traversal.
If she were to have a field journal, with excerpts cataloging her time spent at SAFE over the last 8 months, it might read something like this:
- I have arrived to a strange new place. It has been a while since I’ve lived outside, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. There are people around, but I want nothing to do with them.
- Well, for as disinterested as I am with the people, they also don’t seem to care much about me. Every day I see them. They bring me food, big piles of hay. When they drop it into my shelter, I make sure to stand way back, just in case. They also come in to my area, which makes me nervous, but they don’t pay any attention to me, they just clean up after me and go. How odd. I still don’t care much for them, but at least they’re not asking anything of me.
- There is one person here who does pay attention to me. She sends me into a smaller round area and asks me to move around. I really want to run away from her, it’s not comfortable to be so close to a person. Sometimes she will ask me to turn and there’s a moment when I can’t see her – I really hate that. I don’t always understand what she’s asking, or don’t feel I can do what she wants. It can make a girl feel like lashing out. But this person does give me lots of breaks, and I can sense that what’s in her heart is good… Still, I don’t want her too close to me. She might bite.
- I understand a little more what is being asked of me when I go into the round area. I still feel like running away, but the person tells me I don’t have to. Sometimes I listen to her.
- I arrived wearing a halter, but now I understand what it means when the people say a halter is ‘breakaway.’ Me: 1, halter: 0
- There’s a different person in the round area with me today. A man. I can tell that he knows things about me, and while he makes me nervous, there’s something good about him. He pantomimes like he’s petting me, just like the woman does. He’s quite interesting, and when I go to leave he draws my attention right back. Something tells me this is not the last I will see of him.
- People come and go in my space like they have from the beginning, but I don’t mind it as much anymore. Sometimes they move abruptly or make a noise that startles me, and I have to snort, but you understand that, right? I also usually stay in my shelter when they throw hay for me. Not too close – I don’t want them getting ideas – but it doesn’t seem as important to be so far away anymore.
- Another round area, but this one has a lid on it, and I had to walk through a chute to get here. The man is back, the one I can tell knows things about me. I know something about him too, which is that he’s good at throwing a rope. I run as fast as I can, but I can’t get away from him or the rope, and he’s asking me to do something, pulling on that rope, pulling pulling pulling until I – oh, he just wanted me to face him? All the pressure goes away when I do that. Ok. Easy enough.
But here’s a new thing, he’s getting closer, wanting to touch me. Now that is not as easy to allow. But he is going very slow. It’s like he knows what will be too much and stops right before he gets there. Mostly he is just touching my face with the rope, a little at a time. When his hand replaces the rope, it’s not too bad I guess. It’s the first time in months I’ve been touched by a person. It will take some getting used to.
- Covered round area. Man with the rope. I understand more today, and we get to the point we ended yesterday much earlier today. Then, my fri– that other person, who I spent time with in the smaller round area, she comes and swaps the man out. She stays with me for a long, long time. So long I almost fall asleep. And no, it’s NOT because she’s brushing my mane, I’m just tired from all the running, ok?
- No man with rope today, just the lady. When I walked to the round area today, my mane bounced against my neck in individual little pieces – the lady did something to it yesterday that keeps my neck a lot cooler, even if it feels kind of funny. The lady doesn’t have a rope either, but she does want to pet me. I like this person (there, I said it, happy?), but I still don’t really want her to touch me… well ok, it’s not so bad once she starts, but sometimes she’ll move a certain way or pet a certain spot and I have to move away. Boy is she persistent! She just follows me until I let her do it again. And again. And again. Then, she wants to pet me with something in her hand, a bit of rope, different than the one I got to know over the last two days. Oh, it’s a halter, but not the kind that stays on. So here I am, months later, wearing a halter again. But it feels different this time. We go for a little walk together, and she pets me some more. Really, not so bad.
- The people who drop hay for me seem surprised that I’m waiting for it to fall down into my shelter. I don’t get what the big deal is, I just want to eat sooner, is all.
- I go into the bigger round area a lot more now. I let the lady come and put the halter on me in my space, and we walk there together. She spends a lot of time petting me, with her hands and with some tools that feel pretty nice on my neck and back. Certain areas are still off-limits though, thanks very much.
- There are so many bugs out, and they are so irritating – landing on my legs and my face. Today, after spending time together in the round area, my friend misted some kinda smelly stuff on me. It made a weird noise, and felt strange, but I could handle it. Later, back in my space, I noticed the bugs weren’t as bad. Interesting.
- My friend wants me to pick up my front feet. I don’t really want to do that.
- I was introduced to some other people today, people who touched me and walked me around. I can’t say I wasn’t nervous at first, but they really just wanted to pet me. I could maybe get used to this. Maybe.
- Today I walked into the big barn for the first time. I really don’t like when things are behind me, in my blindspot, so I think my friend took extra caution to make it so I wouldn’t be startled. The barn has round areas too, and these ones are popular with other horses too.
- There’s some kind of event happening, lots of activity in the big covered space, with many horses and people in there together. My friend comes to get me, which I’m pretty used to by now, but we’re taking a different route today – going in to join the festivities. It’s overwhelming, I won’t lie, to be around so many other horses and people (mostly the people) who are moving in all sorts of directions. I can’t say I remain calm the entire time, but my friend helps remind me where my feet are when my head starts to come unglued, and I appreciate that.
- The round areas in the barn aren’t half bad, really. I come inside more frequently now, and that gets easier each time. I even will allow some other people to come up and put a halter on me and take me for little walks. That, too, gets easier with each time.
- I go on a walk to a new area today. There’s a new space for me to eat, a different location where my water is, and, most notably, a friend right next door. I knew this horse when we would go out and graze together, when the grass was still long, but now we’re even closer neighbors. I don’t mind.
- I met a person today who picked up my feet and filed them down. I’ve been working on the whole feet picking up thing, and I’ve become quite good at giving up my fronts. Today, the person holds them for a little longer, and moves them into odd positions, and it’s not always the most comfortable for me, but afterwards I do feel better. More balanced, maybe.
- Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I’ve really become quite brave. Today on my walk into the barn, a load of geese took off flying behind me, and I barely blinked.
- A man came to see me today. He had a long finger like a mosquito’s stinger, and it startled me when it came and bit me on the neck! I hear them say something about a ‘vaccine’ and ‘keeping me healthy,’ but I didn’t much care for the experience.
- There’s a woman at the end of the mosquito this time, and I know a little bit more about what to expect. But I think we were practicing for this – yesterday, people were walking up to me and poking me on the neck, which was only mildly troubling. I got used to that pretty quick. So today, when that little poke happens, I’m– well, I still don’t like it very much, but now I’m ‘fully vaccinated.’ Whatever that means.
- Another new area to live in, and this time, there are other horses to share it with: my long-time neighbor (the people call her Esme) and another white horse (they call her Darla). Esme rules the roost, and I mostly let her, but I can get her to move her feet if I really want to.
- This evening, I walked into the barn, but instead of the round area, they led me into a stall, like the one I used to live in. But this time was different somehow, and I knew that. I ate my hay and drank my water, and when the sun rose the next day, someone came and brought me back outside, to start a new day.
Tiva’s story is far from over, and her experiences here far exceed what has been catalogued above, but with each day that passes we hope to add another piece of gear to her tool box, so that the summits to come on her path feel far less daunting.