This is an update to what I thought was to be a wonderful forever home for my much loved (and only) horse of 7 years.
I previously wrote that Cloud was being placed with a wonderful family, etc. You can read that post as I have not changed it. Well, after telephone updates from Wendy that Cloud was doing great over the course of a 2-month period, after having taken Cloud in June (the beginning of the prime riding season), on August 22 (getting toward the end of the prime riding season), Wendy called me with a "just thought you'd want to know" statement that she was placing Cloud to a lesson barn in a nearby town.... "just for a while."
I was shocked! I asked why. Wendy said that Cloud wasn't being ridden as she'd thought she'd be. I said that was easy, I could come ride her a few times a week. Wendy then said, "Well, that, and financial." I asked what she was talking about. When we'd talked about her taking Cloud, and she was telling me Cloud would be in her forever home, right here in town, she'd told me that keeping a horse didn't cost her what it normally does because she grows her own hay and her husband's business generates no end of bedding shavings. So what expense?? "Oh, grain, fly spray, fly masks... " Well, she knew all that, and these are not expensive. I went silent. She then continued, "That... and school's starting next week."
Awk?? School's starting? You knew that when you took her."
Now the silence was on her part. "Well, so anyway, I thought you'd want to know."
I asked if she was selling or giving Cloud away? "No nothing like that."
Was she making money on Cloud's use as a lesson horse? "No."
When was this going to happen?
"Sometime in the next couple of weeks."
I asked more questions. Basic questions. Cloud's planned time at this lesson barn? (which I'd never heard of). Wendy didn't know one answer. These were rudimentary questions you'd know if you were placing a horse in their care. She said she'd ask her friend (who works there) and call me back the very next day, not only with those answers but with a time when I could come see Cloud at Wendy's before this transfer even got a chance to take place.
Well, she never called me back and so I started calling her, leaving messages. Whereupon she call-screened my calls, not answering them (carries a cell phone with her all the time) and didn't return any of my messages to call me back. Note that I bit the hell out of my tongue and even assured her I wasn't trying to make things uncomfortable, just needed information re what this new plan was since it was all new.
Obvious scenario? This goon took a horse, given free with conditions, and lied about the conditions purely to get a great riding horse throughout the summer, then when school started, summarily dumped her. And either didn't know, or didn't care, about providing proper care to the horse. "Oh well, she'll be fiiine, let's go to Staples and buy school supplies, then stop at Micky D's, tra-laa."
Finally I called her husband who said, "Oh yeah, Cloud was moved to the lesson barn last week. You can go over and see her there. She's very happy doing trail rides and lessons."
I went over to the lesson barn. Only to find some big surprises. It turned out that not only had Wendy given Cloud to this lesson barn (the whole "just for a while" thing was a lie), but that this had already happened when she'd called me. I explained to the owner that Wendy had no right to give Cloud to anyone, she had not yet been given a final bill of sale. But I wanted to see Cloud.
The owner took me to the stall barn where Cloud was, and led her out. Cloud was skinny! Ribs showing. Reeeeeally showing. Her flank was sunken in. How can a horse get like that in two months??
In two months. Oh. Well, I later found out she hadn't been given ANY grain. Period. Nor hay neither. Just forage grass.
And she walked like she was in a lot of pain. I asked what that was about, and the owner told me Cloud had arrived with severe thrush in all four feet. She'd arrived with her hooves themselves also neglected so that her toes were ridiculously overgrown and the sides of her hooves had starting to actually curl upward. Lots of hoof wall breakage as a result. The barn owner had brought in her own (very good) farrier the very next day and he had no choice but to do a very, very close trim to get rid of the damage and start over with new healthy growth. The barn owner said Cloud weighed in at 980 lbs. (She's a good sized horse, 15-3hh, she should be between 1100 and 1150 pounds.) She had put Cloud on a high fat grain, 3 times a day, and hay 4+ times a day. She also had her on probiotics and she was med-packing Cloud's frogs (soft tissue of feet) with medicated strips 2x/day to treat the thrush. In short, Cloud had been neglected at Wendy's. Badly!
Long story short? The barn owner acknowledged that if Wendy had no bill of sale, then she had no right to give Cloud to anyone. However as prejudiced as I was right off the bat at the sound of the phrase "lesson barn," as I was first hearing of this plan from Wendy (and absorbing the shock of her condition as I was standing there with the owner of the lesson barn), I was also seeing one very knowledgeable and caring owner of that facility. Paints are her breed. She loves them. She adored Cloud, that was obvious. She was treating Cloud's feet, told me in great detail about the grain formula she had Cloud on, and in fact, she and one other barn had done a 1-year trial on it and swears by it. The more she talked, the more I liked her. And this whole conversation was pre-set to be headed south before I even arrived. By my prejudices.
While there, I looked at her other horses. She has 42 of them, both boarded and her own herd. Every one of them looked to be in prime health. No, I mean really prime health. You can also tell when horses are happy or not. They carry their state of mind in their eyes and body language. They were happy horses, and they were secure (a biggie). She told me that because of Cloud's temperament, she had been planning to train Cloud as a therapeutic lesson horse. She is not a certified therapeutic riding instructor, but she has parents who bring their mentally challenged children to her, well aware that she does not have her degree or licensing credentials. But talking with her, I could see, she knew what she was doing and had a lot of information that the average person doesn't.
This is now becoming a whole new twist. Now I'm thinking that maybe Cloud would have a better home here than at any private home. In other words, I kept an open mind which is very hard to do when you arrive somewhere pissed.
I visited several more times, stopping in unannounced (it's a public business place). I watched what turned out to be the operation of getting all the horses in the big group corral (over 15 of them) into their stalls for the night, one by one. (This has to be done well, because there's a pecking order in a herd, they all know their grain is waiting for them and once you start a thing like that, the horses get edgy, wanting to be next. Herd dynamics come into play, any lurking challenges can manifest and they can get scrappy.) It was handled like clockwork. Fast, no stopping once it's started, wham, bang, one by one, edgy challenges spotted and short circuited before anything escalated.
As she was taking them out and overseeing who's next, I was following along. And she told me story after story about this one and that one. One of them was in that barn collapse in Bedford, MA some time ago. It made big news. He'd suffered broken vertebrae and his whole lower lip had been severed off his face. She said that at first, the only way he could eat was for her to make a gruel of grain and hay cubes and he could sort of slurp it up with his tongue. He now wore a permanent pout with no lower lip, but he's re-learned to eat and this was a healthy horse! (She also gives them chiropractic massages.) Others had like stories. She takes in rescues. She rehabilitates them. And she puts them to work in what sounded like really sensitive ways. She said if a horse is happy doing lessons but hates trail rides, she doesn't use him for trail rides. Doesn't believe in making a horse work at a job he hates. (And you really can tell.) She has one horse there who's 41. Very swaybacked, he doesn't get used at all. She walks him or lets him be outside in his own pen. She said until recently she had one horse in her early 50s, who finally died. The oldest she'd had was in his 60s. She loves that.
Another time I came by, she showed me the chiropractic horse massage, using Cloud. 40 minutes of it where she's literally hanging off the horse's neck at one point, swinging her own weight back and forth. Cloud looked very happy! She stuck her finger in Cloud's belly button to get a landmark for her other hand position, then spread her hands apart, dug her fingers into a claw configuration and putting on pressure, scraped upward. (Huh?) Cloud hunched her back up about 3 inches, and I looked at her eyes. She was relaxed and looking very content. Whereupon she (the owner not Cloud) mumbled, "Releases pheronomes and at the same time stretches XYZ muscles."
Okay, you know the rest of the story. I don't have objections whatsoever about Cloud giving lessons OR trail rides. That's not the part of "lesson barn" that made me nervous. It's that lesson barns CAN be pretty commercially-oriented, more so than horse welfare oriented. This was clearly not the case here.
The first time I visited, one of the questions I'd asked was whether Cloud was lying down. I know Cloud. She won't lie down unless she feels totally secure. Most horses won't because it takes a minute for them to get back up again so they're very vulnerable when lying down and horse are hardwired as prey animals. But Cloud is particularly discriminating about that. She'll settle for sleeping on her feet. Horses do that all the time. They simply lock their knees. But it's not deep sleep. Cloud was definitely lying down. In the morning she had shavings on her side and I've been there since, seeing telltale spots on her sides and you can only get those lying down. It's a different dirt/mud pattern than when a horse rolls, but for a horse to roll it has to feel secure too.
UPDATE: 10/6: At first I left it with this woman that I'm considering leaving Cloud with her. Not for sure. After being burned twice with people who sounded so perfect, I needed to see how things went before finalizing anything. Well, since the above paragraphs, all signs are excellent. I stopped by a week ago (Cloud's been there since 9/23) and she has definitely put on weight. Enough to where I think she's likely to end up a tad chubby by some standards. (Barn owner does tend to like her horses like "calendar horses" meaning no rib showing at all. She was still walking weird, but she just is going to have sore feet until things grow out. However she'd just been in the arena by herself and had taken off cantering and frolicking so that might well have made her feet a little sore if they're as compromised as they appear to have been. But then if she was cantering around on her own... that's a pretty good sign. But the energy that Cloud was putting out, that little something where I know if she's happy and well cared for or if something's just not right.... everything I saw said she's very content there and feels secure.
So a very bad situation appears to have led to a damned good one. I like this woman. She has no children and says she won't be, and her horses seem to fill that gap for her. There's another story behind why she took to Cloud so. Reserved for another time, but it's kind of a tear jerker. Cloud is a dead ringer for a horse that this woman lost. Same blue eyes. Same black "eyeliner" rims. Same neck markings. Same face markings. She showed me a drawing portrait a friend did for her, and I thought it was Cloud. Paints have very specific unique markings. Very rare to find two that similar.
There are times when something just seems meant to be. I can go see Cloud anytime. Tracie assured me she would never sell or rehome Cloud, period. The girls (volunteer stable teens and pre-teens are at every barn) all vie to groom Cloud, everyone there loves her. I'm afraid to say it feels right because it did twice before and I got Cloud burned both times. So I won't say it. But if things are as they appear to be (and I've been there just often enough and without warning to spot inconsistencies), then it looks like Cloud slipped into a very good situation that I probably would not have ever placed her into straightaway, where the owner is a vet tech, has a full medical kit, not enough ego to hold off on calling a vet if she's unsure or just wants confirmation, goes to seminars on continuing education on horse care (homeopathic leanings but not a stance against conventional meds), good vet choices (and I've heard of the ones she uses, all with flying colors)... dare I say it?