A Rescue Training Journal, Told from Two Viewpoints.

If there is an annual pony day, it should be Christmas. The reason is obvious, but if you didn’t get your wish, read this:

I’m a Dressage Queen with an unlikely soft spot for vertically-challenged horses. Too often they get small patience from humans who treat them with low regard. Or at the very least, these condensed equines are under-estimated–they are smart, tough, and very athletic. In the last few years that I’ve been working with Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue, I’ve fostered or trained 7 or 8 diminutives. I mention this because Bhim was not my first mini-rodeo.

Bhim’s the name. Sanskrit for ‘Great One’. I was running a herd–the North Dakota 14, they called us. Honestly, I’m not wild about humans. They’re a confused and emotionally un-balanced bunch. They pretend to like you and then turn on you as soon as they catch you. Don’t trust ‘em.

The North Dakota 14 arrived in Colorado looking for homes. They were a neglected herd, and a group of local horse rescues stepped up. The horses arrived in a big trailer and there was a day of shots, hoof repair from a farrier and gelding for the stallions. Bhim won the trifecta on that day and he wasn’t happy about it.

I tried to teach those humans some respect. It didn’t work, but I stood up on my hind legs and fought hard.

Most of the minis got adopted pretty quickly. Eventually Bhim was the only one left. His attitude didn’t endear him to potential homes. He arrived at my barn with an un-related mini-mule, who had a halter on full time. Her nose showed the wear and it didn’t take a genius to guess why. She was cantankerous and shy. Mules are persnickety about issues like trust. But she was a easy compared to Bhim. Six months later she went to a wonderful home. Bhim was still barely catch-able and my progress reports on Bhim were not great. I pride myself on my training ability but Bhim was making me look bad.

I am very tough and I like to hold a grudge. Here’s my backside, I could kick you in the knee, you know. And don’t call me cute. I’m a whole lot more than that!

The first while Bhim was here, catching him was the big event. We spent a lot of time sizing each other up. I wanted him to volunteer and he wanted me to go away. The rescue used treats to catch him but he wouldn’t take them from me. Wouldn’t consider it, it was like a treat hunger-strike. So instead, we did the ground work two-step towards a corner. Eventually he would assume a position that was permission, if not surrender. He allowed me to halter him if I was slow and asked politely. It was an armed truce.

Leadership in this barn could use some help. Clara, the young mare, told me she has been trying to take over since her mom, Windy died, but no one believes her. Everyone listens to The Grandfather Horse, but he’s a relic who moves like a brick. I could tell he needed a leg man. And this donkey won’t stop staring at me.

The rescue got calls on Bhim, he has eye-catching pinto coloring and more than once I emailed people who were interested and invited them to come. I told the truth. He was proud and smart, a work in progress. And most days I could catch him in 10-15 minutes. He was learning to drive. Right now, he doesn’t like kids one tiny bit.

No one came. Finally one couple came looking for a therapy program they were starting. He was clearly a really bad prospect, but they kept saying he was cute. Not a good match.

Okay, I changed my mind about the donkey, Edgar Rice Burro. He is my body guard, he saved me. The human wrote about it (read here) and we like to hang out. He’s an intelligent Longear, still I don’t understand his attraction to humans.

By now Bhim is tolerating the farrier even when he’s sober. He and Edgar give each other moral support for this hell-ish procedure. Sometimes Edgar Rice Burro won’t let the farrier near Bhim, so we have to bring him out of the pen. Then Edgar brays like a siren, mourning their separation, and opens the gates in between them so he can rest his nose on Bhim in solidarity during the hoof trim. Anyone can see it is a love that is true.

How did these geldings get along before me? That draft-cross can hardly even find the hay if I don’t lead the way. That weird bay horse is pacing less and helping when Edgar and I muck with the human, who does a passable job as long as I keep an eye on her. Sometimes when my ears are itchy, I ask her to scratch them for me. But I act very cool about it and barely whisper my thanks. She gets a bit too enthusiastic if given the chance.

He still over-reacts on the lead all the time–still quick to spook. Sometimes he lets tall strangers pet him on the head, but the short humans are still cause for alarm. It’s been 15 months. The thing Bhim does best, with Edgar’s help, is steady new horses, show them the barn ways and negotiate them into the herd.

The way this training thing works is always different with each horse. You can think you’re training one thing and what they learn is something else entirely. You might be so involved in your own amazing training skills, that you might not notice they are training you right back. Horses confound humans this way if we miss the big picture.

So I sent one last training report to Pat at Ruby Ranch, “It seems Bhim has made himself indispensable around here.”


Because sometimes humans get the “Pony for Christmas” wish, and sometimes the pony does.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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