My friend Teri is in the process of setting up a 501c3 non-profit called Breezy Meadow Horse Rescue. Teri’s been rescuing horses for years on her own dime. I’ve lost count of the number of horses she’s picked up, rehabbed, and either kept or found homes for. She is one of the most generous people I know, when it comes to both animals and people, and she’s gotten a solid reputation in our community for being the one to call when there’s a horse in need.
Yesterday Teri and I and our other friend, Karen, went and picked up a mama horse and her baby mule to bring them to a new home that Teri had arranged for them. The mama is a quarter horse who has been living in a pasture with two ungelded donkeys, hence the baby mule.
The mama is a sweet horse and we had no problem catching and haltering her. Her baby is another story. He had never been handled at all, and he was terrified of us. Somehow we had to get him and his mama in a trailer. Trailer loading can be a nightmare with a trained horse, much less with an unhandled baby and a mama who may or may not cooperate.
I have some portable corral panels that we use when camping with our horses. We brought those along to see if we could set up a chute to push the horses through onto the trailer. We ended up setting up a little corral area. Once we got set up, we brought the mama into the little corral and then worked on herding her baby in there with her. He wanted to be with her, but he didn’t want to be with us.
The biggest problem was, there were more horses and donkeys in the pasture, this was the most exciting thing that has happened to them in years, and they were all up around the gate trying to see the action. It was difficult to separate the baby from the herd, especially since the baby wanted nothing to do with us, but with three of us working on it, we managed. Baby brought a friend into the corral though, one of the donkeys, who promptly stuck his head and two feet through a corral panel, got stuck, and took off dragging all three panels behind him. He finally stopped panicking, let me get a halter on him, and let me take the panel back over his head to free him. He got tied to a trailer out of the way after that. There’s never a dull moment with a donkey around.
Luckily Teri already had a rope around the baby’s neck when the panels went down, so he couldn’t escape. Karen was holding Mama and it was a minor miracle that they both stayed quietly while the donkey rodeo was going on. We got the panels back in place and worked on getting a halter on Baby.
That never happened. Baby wanted nothing to do with a halter, so we just used the lead rope around his neck to try and hold him. Every so often he would panic and try to get away from us. Teri had to wrestle this 300 lb baby to keep him from killing himself trying to jump over the gate. We stopped every few minutes to let him nurse, and that helped calm him down. While he nursed, Teri touched him all over and petted him and tried to get him somewhat used to being handled.
We tried to make trailer loading as peaceful as possible. We let Baby rest and nurse and nuzzle his Mama, and we tried not to stress either of them more than we absolutely had to. Thank God that Mama is a sweet horse who didn’t mind us handling her baby. If she hadn’t been cooperative, I don’t know what we would have done. That’s one of those times when you just thank God for small miracles and for giving animals a sixth sense about people who are trying to help them.
When it came time to load, I stood inside the trailer holding Mama’s lead rope, Teri stood just outside the trailer holding Baby, and Karen was off to the side with a lunge whip tapping Mama’s legs, trying to get her to hop in. Karen and I ended up switching places.
There are a million trailer loading methods, but we did a good cop/bad cop scenario. Karen was petting Mama and telling her what a good horse she is and encouraging her to come forward, and I was behind her pestering the hell out of her with a lunge whip trying to get her to make the leap into the trailer.
Setting it all up took longer than the actual loading. Mama didn’t protest too much, other than some VERY quick and powerful kicks in my general direction. She’s a quarter horse, and those same powerful hind legs that power around a barrel or chase down a cow can deliver some incredibly strong kicks. I stayed well out of range of those hind legs. When she hopped on, Karen slipped out, Baby jumped right on beside her and we shut the door.
After two hours of alternating blazing hot sun and pouring rain, a donkey rodeo and a mule wrestling match, we all breathed a sigh of relief that both of them were safely in the trailer with no major injuries to us or them. If you know horses, you know that all kinds of things can go wrong in a matter of seconds. We were all breathing a sigh of relief that it had gone as well as it had. I’ve never seen somebody handle a scared baby as well as Teri did. That was the hardest part, and the piece that had to come together to pull the whole thing off.
Mama and Baby are now at their new home with a cute little barn, a gorgeous pasture and a family that is looking forward to welcoming a new baby. You really can’t ask for a better ending than that.