One of our very special adoptable horses, Sampson, has started the next step of his life. Sampson has been a borderline rehab horse, with severe insecurity and trust issues. What we know of his history is heartbreaking - Sampson was actually in another rescue's program, but when adopted out he was bounced from home to home when the rescue wouldn't take him back. His absolute fear and insecurity strikes a chord in true horsemen, and he luckily found one in the last home he was tried in - where he was evaluated as a therapy horse. Sampson very obviously is not therapy horse material but when they tried to send him back to his owner at that time, the owner said she was just going to take him to the loose sale at Kalona, IA. So many people had failed him at that point, but not the therapy center people - they purchased him and turned him over to us.
The horse we met was a broken shell of a horse, with no confidence and fear. And yet, he is a GOOD horse. He's good for handling and farrier, and tries his hardest. Sometimes, though, his fear and insecurity would get the best of him. We've been very, very picky about the people who were allowed to work with him and his potential homes.
This winter, a wonderful family adopted Mason, another horse who had some insecurity problems but was much further along. They had inquired about Sampson at that time, but Sampson wasn't quite ready for a home and one on one attention at that point. Mason has thrived in their care. He's grown so much, is mellow, calm, and doing amazing! So when they offered to foster for us this spring, we started talking about Sampson. Sampson was showing us signs that he was ready for a bit more, he was thriving and ready for a bond. He has a long ways to go, but he's ready.
Sampson has broken our hearts more than once. We were told at the original rescue he had a random buck, but we had yet to see it. In preparation for the idea of going to foster, we knew we had to push him a bit and see what was really there. A mean or dangerous horse is a lot different from a scared horse who still protects his person. So this past week we pushed Sampson a bit more, and he finally showed us what he has in him. He bucked, but it was so obviously a fear issue. He was controlled, as much as he could be, he avoided his human as she fell, and his handler held the rope and didn't let him go - and he didn't push. He bucked around the round pen, and when he stopped, he looked to humans ... and at GSH he was met with calmness, kindness, and love. Because we understood - he wasn't being naughty, he wasn't being obstinate, he was overwhelmed and scared.
And then, while standing quietly, we noticed he was having a complete breakdown. His entire body was trembling and the fear in his eyes was heart breaking. This horse, who had already responded out of fear, who was already overwhelmed, was very obviously waiting for punishment and was absolutely terrified. To overcome the flight or fight instincts to the point that a horse is simply standing there trembling, waiting for punishment, is very, very hard to understand.
Once we had him calm, we asked him to listen and work again. Yes, he's allowed to be scared. Yes, we understand his meltdown, and yes, we were glad to see him finally lay it all at our feet. This let's us start the next step, which was first to show him that he wasn't going to get beat for being scared. The second is to start rebuilding his confidence, by showing that he can be scared, but still has to seek confidence from his people, and build it on his own. We asked him to lunge, something he does well, and then asked him to stand calmly at the mounting block as a person stood on it.
Sampson is a tough nut to crack, but he is not a dangerous horse. We've debated a few times making him a Pasture Pals placement but he's young, healthy, and just needs the right people to bond to and work on his massive insecurity and fear, and help him overcome whatever it is that causes him to have such a dramatic response. Enter Mason's family.
Mason's family have done such amazing things with Mason, and having met them and known them for a while, we are confident their personalities will be a good fit for Sampson as well. After talking about him and his strengths and weaknesses for over six months, they are very aware and ready to continue the next step with Sampson ... while also allowing him to bond and attach to a person. While officially right now he is placed with them as a foster, everyone is also aware that a horse like Sampson will require a deep bond that may just mean he has found his permanent home. But everyone needs time first, to make sure it's the right fit.
Sampson was calm, quiet, and released a ton of anxiety within five minutes of being with them through a series of huge yawns. Mason, who was a good friend to Sampson in our pastures, whinnyed loudly when he saw him and Sampson whinnyed back. Sampson joined right in to their little herd and seemed very content when we left.
We have high hopes for them all, that Sampson can learn to trust and thrive and become a content, ridable horse (though they are ok if he doesn't) and that they find joy and love with him.