Rehabilitation of Rescue Ponies

Les Rees

On a visit to the RSPCA, I discovered two traumatized, emaciated ponies. They were part of a large consignment rescued from a property and a life of neglect. Sadly this often happens when inexperienced people take on ponies without prior experience in equine welfare. When things get too hard they walk away and leave the animals to get on with it often resulting in inter-breeding, lack of food, water and foot care. There are hundreds of cases reported annually but sadly, few are rescued and re-homed.

Merry and Pippin arrived at the RSPCA in Tasmania as walking skeletons. Pippin was so poor that he had to be helped to his feet after lying down since he had no energy or muscle to aid him to stand. I was originally attracted to Merry because she had such a positive and brave nature in spite of all that she had been through and because she had bonded with Pippin, who without her to protect him, would certainly have died.

I made the decision to take them both as Merry had taken on the role of Pippin's protector, and because he was absolutely traumatized by any human contact. They needed each other.

Being flight animals, a horse's instinct is to flee in frightening situations. This causes a physiological response that deepens respiration and raises heart rate as blood sugars are re-directed to power the muscles needed for flight. This can be problematic for animals in continual states of agitation because the blood sugars are directed away from digestive function, effectively shutting it down making it difficult to gain weight and causing further digestive problems.

As I see it, the way to tackle the problem is twofold. Firstly there is the physiological aspect and secondly, the psychological conditions caused by stress. It's important to gain their trust and to re-establish balance of the physiological processes within the body.

Step one is to establish a routine so that they feel comfortable in knowing what will be happening at any time during the day.

Step two is to address the feeding regime and add some herbal medicine to aid the digestive process and nervous exhaustion and correct any adrenal overload.

After a few weeks, we got to the stage where Pippin was happy to be patted and groomed but he was still difficult to catch in an open paddock. In the stable he was happy to be caught providing you didn't make any sudden moves which would send him into a state of panic! The regular routine proved to be very calming for little Pip and he was in the right place at the right time having developed an understanding of what would be happening.

The establishment of regularity plays an important part in the rehabilitation of traumatized horses. Pippin was also called over in the paddock throughout the day and given a few treats for coming and taking them out of my hand. This was gradually replaced with pats as we establish our relationship. All of the above had a positive effect on him and he was gaining confidence and weight daily.

Little Merry was far easier to work with, quickly gaining courage and helping Pip by demonstrating her trust in us. It took many months for Pip to settle completely as he panicked over the smallest of things but gradually we got there.

When I think about the terrible start they had, it makes me sad to think of the others that aren't so lucky. If you're thinking of taking on any rescue horses, remember that their life is in your hands and that you have a responsibility to look after them. They can live for an average of 20-30 years, this is a huge commitment.

Les Rees << previous | >> next