Every now and then I meet someone like Gus. Gus was a pony who I adopted several years ago, with the intention of developing his training and then selling to a good home. I began to see very quickly that this little Appaloosa cross needed a relationship first, before I was “allowed” to ask anything else of him.
When I first went to pick Gus up he appeared to be a wild, untouched horse standing in the field. There was no chance he was letting me near. Little did I know at that point that he was the pony in your pocket of the family. However the family was not home at the time to assure me of his good nature. When we returned for our second attempt to load him we decided to be safe and take this wild pony back to a friend’s for a couple weeks who had tall, solid pen fencing. It took me nearly two weeks to halter him.
I told Gus’ original owner she could come visit him whenever she wanted, and she did. Zoe brought her family to visit the pony to see how he was progressing with training, and to get to know me a little more. This connection flourished into many other exciting projects, as Zoe and I both have a compassionate love for horses and the will to improve welfare. Our adventure together has touched into the television world, fundraising, and middle of the night horse rescues. Gus is a very special cornerstone of our connection.
Only a couple months after settling him at the farm I was managing, a boarder’s dog put a short, but lively run on Gus in his paddock, unfortunately chasing him into a gate. Thankfully he let me approach him in his shock, with the skin peeled down from his cannon bone on one of his front legs. The vet spent just under two hours sewing Gus back together. I was relieved that all his tendons were in good shape. The location of the tear and stitches was directly beneath his knee, so I kept him on stall rest for a couple weeks. This became a great opportunity, as I was visiting him several times daily to check and change his bandage and to spend time with him. A stall gets pretty boring, so I started teaching Gus some simple clicker training to pass the time and to essentially prove to him I wasn’t so bad. That period of time was the best thing that could have happened for us! Gus looked forward to my company and developed a new trust in me. He was always more forgiving after that.
Gus took three times as many hours and sessions as his fellow pony friend (who I adopted at the same time) to feel prepared enough to throw my leg over and rest carefully in the saddle. All the time spent was well worth it though. He carried me confidently for a season through trails and tree farms once our arena work became successful. The next summer brought great reward for Gus and those who got the pleasure of knowing him. I had a couple pre-teen girls come spend a few weeks with me during their summer holidays, and the ponies were theirs during their stay. Gus was in heaven. He welcomed new people on his back without hesitation. Gus was a bitless pony, as I have seen too many kids ride without the knowledge of soft hands yet. I figured he would be comfortable to carry a young rider this way, and he proved himself a solid mount.
Eventually the goal was to sell Gus to a forever home. This was just a temporary stop for him, even though he had traveled to three different farms with me.
Note to the sellers: There are many great homes for horses out there, but so many of them have already been noticed by others and have been practically given horses! These homes are responsible enough to know their limit, so there is no room for your pony! I found this challenge when I went to visit the farms and meet the families of prospective buyers. I have got to hand it to the person selling a horse they love – it is like giving away a piece of you, and you never forget them.
I sold Gus to a family with a little girl who seemed to get on well with him from the beginning. One year later the buyer contacted me in respect of a contract she had signed, stating that I had first right to buy him back if she did not want him anymore. I called Zoe. This pony came full circle, back into Zoe’s life as she bought him, and back into mine as he came to live with my herd again. Home sweet home. Zoe pledged that Gus would never need to leave again, and that he would be able to live until his final day with us. And he did.
In August Gus got his leg stuck in a fence while rolling, completely severing his tendon and tendon sheath in the middle of the night, and by morning when we found him the injury was already too old to help with surgery. Gus was a peaceful pony, always quiet and kept at a close distance. His passing was peaceful too, and although there is a tremendous hole in my heart for him, I am glad that he lived well and happily to the end. I felt it was my responsibility to him by putting him on the trailer that day five years ago, that I make sure he was always looked after.
Developing a relationship with your horse can be challenging and demands ample amounts of patience. The rewards are unending for both you and your horse though if you both trust each other and are dedicated to the process more so than the end goal. Gus was a fabulous pony who appeared wild on first impression, but was a pleasure to everyone who knew him.