The Amish Horse. I told you about him a while back. Worked almost to death, covered with raw harness sores, bought by my friend Jess off an Internet auction site, and rescued from the slaughterhouse. The Amish Horse was a physical and emotional wreck. He was not expected to survive more than a couple of months.
His spine was humped up, the tendons in his legs were giving out, and his fetlock joints brushed the ground. The vet diagnosed him with an incurable degenerative disease of the connective tissue (DSLD, similar to EDS in humans) which had been exacerbated by brutal overwork. He was in terrible pain. Perhaps death would have been a mercy.
But Jess and her students at Empowered Equines horse rescue loved him. They salved his open sores. Friends donated leg and fetlock braces to ease his joints. Bute (great stuff, I’ve used it), supplements, orthopedic farriery and chiropractic were administered. Love and treats were offered. The Amish horse stood quietly indifferent to it all. He was done caring. Except maybe for the treats.
I met up with The Amish Horse briefly in August. At the top of the page you can see him all spiffed up to meet his fans. He is a presence: a big, broad, handsomely dark-bay gentleman of refinement and good breeding, maybe Cleveland Bay, with a truly messed-up hind end. The skin on his butt crinkles up weirdly when he moves, because with this disease, skin, too, is only weakly attached to the body. By the time I met him he was in much less pain. He could lie down and roll, and somehow get back up. He could trot and canter, goofy as it looked. He knew who he was and what he wanted from life.
His first demonstration of his wants came in the form of an escape. One Maine summer’s day, being led to be turned out into a paddock, he decided that the stinging greenhead flies were just too much, and he wanted to be indoors. He pulled loose and bolted for the barn.
“Get out of the aisle, Gummy Bear is running in!” Jess shrieked. Kids dove into stalls as half-a-ton-plus of determined horse came busting into the barn and diving into his own stall, somehow managing to keep his wobbly legs under him on the concrete aisle floor. Not going out there. No. Nononono.
Gummy Bear? Gummy Bear? Well, it’s his name. Adults and kids tried a bunch of poetic and/or noble names on the big horse, but Gummy Bear is the one that stuck. Maybe because he is so squishy. Nobody knows.
Anyway, The Amish Horse-that-was has a name and some opinions. He has a pasture-mate, the equally enormous Clydesdale mare Wispy (!), whom he does not particularly like, but with whom he will frolic, frisk and even buck, especially when there is fresh snow to kick up and roll in.
Wispy has taught Gummy how to play with the puzzles and toys provided for intellectual enrichment and fun in the paddock, but when she plays with something he wants that something. When they get groomed or scratched out there, each one keeps track of the attention that the other is receiving, and nudges the scratcher when ‘hey it’s my turn now.’
Gummy Bear does have a lady love, a tiny pony named Marshmallow, who giggles and wriggles as he covers her with wet kisses, reaching over the fence.
His boy-frenemy is a lively silver bay pony named Punk, with whom he play-fights every chance he gets.
“I’m gonna bite you good! No, I’m gonna bite YOU!” they threaten each other, sparring. Punk has to rear up to nip at Gummy’s face, so he spends a lot of time up on his hindies, which is cute.
The fence is there for safety. Gummy, big. Ponies, small. Even friendly roughhousing in the same paddock could be lead to mishaps. These shenanigans are so joyful and hilarious, that when these guys play together a small audience assembles to watch the fun. I get to watch the home videos they take. I laugh a lot.
No human, however, has been selected to partner with Gummy, because his days may be numbered, and because although he is affectionate with humans now, he is like a two-year-old child, discovering the joys of “No.” His King of the World, “don’t-have-to, I rather think not, not listening to you, pal” phase.
He hasn’t figured out the social contract thing quite yet, the you-can-do-this-for-me-and-I’ll-do-something-nice-for- you exchange, and maybe that’s OK for now. He knows he is not going to be punished for not listening, so he’s trying that on with everybody; but eventually he has to cooperate better, for his and others’ safety and comfort.
But there is a Young Man. The only young man at the barn-full of horse-loving young women is a high school football player, who takes on the manly heavy chores because he likes the workout. He also likes a certain young human lady who hangs at the barn. Here she is working with Gummy on targeting for treats, the first step in clicker training.
Despite the no-partner decision, the Young Man has a sort of a thing going with Gummy, probably because they are both big husky dudes. YM is learning to wrap GB’s legs, put on his fleece blanket, and generally fuss with him. He has been observed kissing him. He is also undertaking to clicker-train the horse to– wait for it– kick a football. Gummy is a little bit bemused by this, but hey, the treats are great. Here they are, sharing a pigskin moment together.
The most interesting news is about the convex Gummy spine. His chiro thinks that his hunchback is not a trait he acquired young, as is the usual case with horses with roach backs, but rather a muscular compensation he makes to help his deteriorating legs to function. However his back is getting looser and letting down, maybe causing him less pain and allowing for easier movement as he cavorts and plays with his toys and buddies. And learns to kick field goals. Or not. Here he is with his peeps, declining to put his foot on the ball. Maybe he is asking for another kiss.
But a chiro? This beast has a chiro? Why do these nutty people spend the big bucks on such luxuries for a horse? Why did the Good Samaritan cross the road? Rescue means Rescue.
Empowered Equines is also a training school for people who want to learn good horse husbandry and positive reinforcement training. Even the vets and farriers and yes, the chiro, will learn good new things treating these horses, things that may be useful to them in their further practice. The kids are Empowered too. They learn wonderful, and sometimes tough life lessons; including analysis of seemingly unsolvable problems, patience, relationship, courage, faith, and coping with illness, debility and death.
They also learn fashion design and costume building, but that is another whole story, I’ll save for later. But if you have not seen a horse and his human partner strutting their stuff while wearing matching red silk top hats, you have not truly lived.
Some of these rescued animals can recover and work in the traditional way, if they are good with it. Some cannot. This does not mean that they are without value. Gummy Bear is not half a horse. He is himself. He and the rest of his mates have gifts of themselves to offer. As do we human beings, even if we are compromised and broken and cannot earn our keep. If we are distant cousins with fruit flies and fish– and lots of shared DNA tells us we are– then we are practically brethren to the creatures in our care. They are us and we are them.
Here are Gummy and Punk showing off for each other. Gummy is busting into a canter. You can see the pleats in his butt and his wonky legs. But he is having fun, FUN, in spite of all he has suffered..
For more information about Empowered Equines, in York, Maine, just Google them up.