If you pay very close attention to the SAFE website, then you already know that Bijou went out on trial for adoption, and that she ended up coming back to SAFE. We have an automatic 30-day trial with every adoption for a reason. We want to be sure that the placement of a SAFE horse is going to work out. The horse that you meet here in the familiar setting of Safe Harbor Stables may be a completely different horse when they get to their new home. In Bijou’s case, her prospective adopters decided that Bijou’s behavior around feeding time was more than they wanted to deal with. So we gave them back their adoption fee and they gave us back our horse.

Bijou is a big gal…she’s pretty tall and quite solidly built. With larger horses, you often hope they don’t actually realize how big they are. The jury is still out on how Bijou sees herself, but there is no question that when she is upset or over-excited, her size can intimidate. Since she’s been back, we’ve been feeding her soaked hay pellets for breakfast, and we have gained a better understanding of what her potential adopters had been dealing with. Bijou LOVES her mash…to the point that she becomes very fractious in her stall while waiting for her feed bowl to be brought in. And if she’s outside her stall with her grain waiting within, she gets in an awful hurry to get back and get to eating.

Bijou may look like a big hunk of a lovely lady, but she’s actually an extremely sensitive horse. When doing groundwork with Bijou, it takes very little pressure to move her. In fact, it’s rather delightful to work with her on the ground because she’s so light. She’s a very smart mare who always pays close attention to her handler and really seems to want to please. As an older mare, she has some sticky spots, and she’s not as flexible as a filly, but working her through these spots can be very rewarding. And she loves to be told that she’s a good horse. She’s rather stoic and very dignified, but she melts when you rub her forehead and tell her what a smart girl she is.

So with all these positive qualities, we’re putting in the time to address her less desirable behavior around food. So many rescued horses display heightened emotions when food is present, and Bijou is no exception to that. Her previous owner abandoned her and another horse in the Pilchuck tree farm, and we know they struggled to find food because they were both thin when they were recovered. So Bijou is always going to react to food more passionately than a horse who never missed a meal in his life (lookin’ at you, Jaybird!)

But even past trauma is not a good excuse for scary or potentially dangerous behavior around humans. So most mornings, Bijou gets a session of pre-breakfast learning. Some mornings, she’s taken out of her stall before breakfast and we work in the round pen until her grain pan is delivered. Then we practice walking up to her stall, walking away from her stall, walking past her stall, and walking into her stall. The operative word here is WALKING. That doesn’t mean rushing, nor does it mean dragging her handler down the aisle, or trying to barge through her. Other mornings, she stays in her stall while her grain is being soaked, then she’s asked to back up and stand quietly in place as her grain pan is brought in. As long as she stands quietly, she’s given permission to dive in and start eating.

It really didn’t take Bijou long to catch on in either scenario. She’s a bright, sensitive mare, after all. But like a lot of horses, she’s got the ability to judge how committed each of her handlers are to enforcing good behavior. And our ultimate goal is to have her behave like a lady no matter who is asking. So she’s got farther to go before we can say that the problem has been fixed. Right now, she behaves well for a handler she respects, provided that handler is calm and consistent with her. For example, in the “approaching the stall” drill, if you ask her to take things one step at a time, she takes one step at a time. If you ask her to stop and wait, she stops and waits. But if you introduce any energy into the scenario, she’ll blow right past you. So we will stick to the slow and steady approach, and gradually start introducing a tiny bit of speed or energy. If she begins to rush, she’s stopped and calmly asked to try again. And we keep building up until she can be walked to her stall at a normal pace.

So that’s what Bijou is up to these days! In the meantime, if you have room in your heart for a big lovely lady who always tries hard and is really very sweet, why not take a look at Bijou?