Written by: Andrea Harrison

A tale of courage and survival.

Thumbnail for “C” is for Courage

Karen Whitfield Photo

What is courage to you? Is it standing up to a bully? Is it taking on a cause? Perhaps it’s getting up in the morning to face a hard day. One tall, lanky, bay gelding in particular reminds me of courage every day. Each time he has a drink, eats a bite of hay, gets up from rolling or bucks and snorts his way across a field, I celebrate his courage with him.

When he arrived here he was emaciated. People burst into tears when they saw him. Professionals had no idea how he was still alive and warned me death was a very likely outcome for him. When I say that, most people tell me they have had a skinny horse before. So had I. Until I put hands on this horse, I had no idea what emaciated meant in horses. He was covered in bald spots and his coat was thin, his feet required no care because every ounce of his being was focused on survival, not on extras like growing hair or feet. There was no fat or muscle to feel. He was a living skeleton. Bone covered by hair.

But his eye was kind and he liked people. He was pretty irresistible. So, his stall got a large sign that said “DO NOT FEED ME – your kindness could KILL me.” He got handfuls of scrubby leftover hay every couple of hours around the clock for a few days, followed by very carefully measured high quality alfalfa hay for three weeks. Then slowly, ever so slowly, he was moved onto a more normal “skinny horse program” with hay in a net and grain meals four times a day. He got grass in measured intervals too – five minutes, then 10, up to being let out in a seedy little paddock with a little grass for a few hours.

It seems starvation can be insidious. The person who delivered him, the same person he had lived with, sobbed when she took his travel sheet off him. Perhaps she had not realized how close to death he was until she saw him away from his usual setting. Just getting to safety and staying upright on the trailer took courage. The first time he lay down he made us all nervous – would he be able to get up? He did. I cheered when he rolled the first time and again the first time he shook his head and pinned his ears across the fence line at another horse. He’s a bit bossy with other horses now. I love it.

To help him build muscle, he went into very light work – a little lunging, a little ground work, eventually a little riding. He loved it. We still go for the occasional short walk; each time we do my heart fills a little more with admiration for this courageous fellow. He is known now as Valiant. Courageous, brave, inspirational – he embodies the “C” shaped star on his forehead well.

Andrea Harrison, aka The Inadvertent Rescuer, has provided a safe haven for a variety of animals at her De Vareharri Farm in Prince Edward County, Ontario, and uses her skills as an educator and trainer to improve their lives.