“You’ve gotta come see this! These two horses, they are standing in three feet of manure and they’ve been starved!” Rob is not my favorite person, but his love for horses in unwavering. He is ranch hand for Linda McKell. I don’t know if Dancer and Flash had been listed for sale and he was going to see them or if he’d gone to the barn in Gilroy to see a different horse, but find Dancer and Flash he did. Both horses were a “2”, where a 5 is normal and a 1 is three hooves in the grave. Given in lieu of payment for a debt, the owner simply had no idea how to care for a horse. How long they had been stuck in their stalls, I don’t know, but possibly as long as a year. It goes without saying that neither horse had seen a farrier in the same amount of time. The infection in Dancer’s legs from standing in filth was so bad, he would have been dead within a month.
“He’s twelve. What did the other vet say he was? Ten?” Linda’s vet had said, “under ten”. Kat Dayharsh, my go to girl for training, thought he was seven. Kristin, with twenty-five years of equine veterinary work behind her, is probably correct. Kristin continues: “He’s got a nice sloping shoulder and his back is good, but he’s knock kneed and narrow at the base.” Linda offered the owner her “garage sale money” and had ended Dancer and Flash’s ordeal the day after Rob’s call. It’s been five months now since the rescue. Both horses are back on weight and, after intensive farrier work, their hooves have healed. It has also become apparent that it was a case of neglect, not abuse. Kat had Dancer trotting around the arena with a 10′ length of mylar flags draped around his head and he was fine.
Flash came with “papers”. With training, he’d be worth $20K. It reminds me of a statistic I heard that 60% of dogs who end up in shelters are pure bred. He’s one of the nicest looking horses I’ve ever seen; full on high level performance potential and yet here he was, rotting in a stall. Rob has fallen in love with him. Tootling around Los Altos Hills may not fulfill his “potential”, but with Rob, he’d have a home for life. It helps that it seems Flash is equally enamored of Rob.
Dancer’s fate is not so sure. He’s not a big horse; no overweight American’s for him. Even worse, his knees and stance rule out reining or hunter/jumpers or endurance or any of the other “activities” so many adult riders are keen on.
“Savannah, when he pulls away like that, don’t getting into a tug of war. Turn him or keep the steady pressure until he backs up, then stop.” This is old instruction and Savannah knows it, she just hasn’t had to use it in a while. She finally manages to ask him to back up instead of bolt forward at the pressure from the reins, then drops the reins. Dancer sighs and licks and chews. When I tap his shoulder to move him, he looks confused. I use the lead rope to make my request clear, then I try again. He moves, snorts, sighs then, again, licks and chews. He’s liking this. He leads, ties, wouldn’t kick at a person to save his life and accepts a rider. Someone did some good work, but no one has worked with him in a way that engages his intelligence and he likes it. A more clear minded, inquisitive, teachable horse I’ve never encountered.
“When am I going to get to see Dancer! I want to ride him! Can I do jumping on him?!!!” Meera has never been known for restraint. Her idea of horse bliss is to spend two hours riding a jump course. Though the girls can jump some, this isn’t a dream I can provide. But she does not let up.
“Meera, of all the horses born, maybe one in twenty have the conformation that can withstand lots of jumping. That one in twenty is worth a lot of money, but what about the other nineteen? Are they just to be thrown away? The question is, do was reject Dancer and try to find a horse we can jump all the time, or do we take Dancer?” Meera does not lack for intelligence. She knows how many horses end up with poor fates and how small Dancer’s real chances are of ending up in a decent home. Meera returned my stare with a sober and stead gaze and said, “We take Dancer.”
Linda wants KLH to take Dancer. Rob wants KLH to take Dancer. The girls want KLH to take Dancer. KLH is losing two horses and needs a replacement and it is unlikely I’m going to find that fine of an equine mind in another horse anytime soon. Taking Dancer means thousands in training and extra expense, plus six months to a year before he really comes on line, but I do want to take him. He still has to pass “the test” at the Jensen’s. He’s due for a stay this coming Friday and if his pasture behavior is not with boundaries of what the Jensen’s consider manageable for their pasture, he will have a different fate. I have promised to pay for a month of training with Kat, then he’d be up for sale. We are all on tender hooks.
Even with all that, there is one more question: Does Los Altos Hills want KLH to save Dancer. KLH has the blessings of the owners at both Campo and Quail. For that, my gratitude knows no bounds. But the residents? Not so much. We are on the pathways all the time. It’s great for the kids and great for the horses and it’s completely within our right to do so. But many residents feel that their town exists for their residents and I understand how they feel. About thirty percent of the residents of Palo Alto feel that only residents, their guests and people servicing those residents should be on the streets. It’s selfish, but it’s also a natural, protective human trait that is simply stronger in some than in others. I love the opportunity that town provides for the horses and the young rider and don’t take it for granted for a minute. But if I can find any other reasonable option, I will take it and I haven’t given up looking.