When you live on rural property, it’s not uncommon to get calls from people looking for a home for an animal they can no longer keep. I’ve been asked to make a home for horses, goats, chickens, roosters, dogs, cats and even a sheep. The most common is the “gift horse”, which usually means a geriatric horse that can be used for limited, if any riding but that the owner wants to be sure is well loved and cared for. Our old Belle was one of these, and though she is older and can only be used for light riding, she does still earn her keep here at the ripe old age of 27 teaching riding lessons and working at summer camps. But older horses, like older people, can have a number of health concerns and the vet bills can really add up, as I’ve found with my older gelding, Chummie, who is on multiple forms of medication and treatments for some advancing arthritis issues. So, I am cautious when offered a “free” animal – especially if it’s a horse – and my usual reply is, “There’s no room at the
Occasionally, though, a freebie will come along that doesn’t fit the usual mold, and such was the case with Ringo. When Ringo came into our lives, he was only 7 years old, basically sound and with no big behavioral issues. Yet he was being offered to us at no cost. The reason for this was that he was owned by a friend’s young daughter who had started riding a year or two before and had fallen in love with Ringo, who at the time was her lesson horse. But as her skill level progressed and her interests shifted to more serious jumping and showing, he was not quite meeting her needs. You see, he has an unusual scar on his face and moves like a Mac truck, which makes him not exactly show material. Apparently as a three year old, he was kicked in the face by another horse in his pasture, and the resulting scar left a hole beneath is right eye big enough to fit a super ball in. And for reasons unknown, his hips are frequently locked (despite countless chiropractic treatments) which makes him move in a less than graceful manner most of the time.
But Ringo has something huge going for him and that is his personality. He is about the sweetest gelding I’ve ever met, both to people, horses and other animals in general. And he is calm (aka lazy) and fairly agreeable when only asked to do limited work, which is what our farm is all about. Besides, he’s also kind of cute. When my friend, Jen, offered him to me a few years ago as a free horse, with two saddles, a bridle, several horse blankets and a bag of feed, along with the open-ended agreement that she would take him back if he ever wasn’t working out for us, I figured I should give it a try. So, on a chilly winter day in February, I picked him up from his nearby boarding stable and brought him to the farm for a trial run.
It took less than two days for him to completely assimilate into my small herd, with absolutely no posturing, bullying or fireworks of any kind. We kept him in the arena adjacent to the paddock where the other horses lived for the first day so they could see him but not interact. On the second day I turned them all out together and they acted like they’d known each other all their lives. I spent a month or two working with Ringo on ground work and under saddle, along with a trainer friend, to make sure he’d be safe and appropriate for my young riders. Although he doesn’t know much and can be sort of stubborn, for the kind of riding we do here, he has gotten along just fine.
I’d like to say that he’s a good fit here in spite of his unusual looks with that big old scar and his clunky way of moving, but the honest truth is that he’s a good fit, in part, because of those things. Beyond just learning to ride, I really try to teach kids other life skills such as appreciation, empathy, confidence, acceptance and patience and I find that Ringo’s appearance and movement opens the door for some great, meaningful conversation around these topics. Sometimes kids are a little shocked by the scar, but they quickly learn to look past what’s on the outside and appreciate what’s on the inside. They’re also impressed by the fact that Ringo is so friendly and willing to have his face petted and scratched in spite of the trauma he endured with the long process of recovery that his injury required. And his laziness and somewhat awkward movement has made better riders out of more than a few kids in my program – he’s certainly no push-button horse!
I’m also happy to say that Ringo’s former owner is thrilled that he has a good, loving home where he still gets lots of interaction with people and other animals, plenty of pasture time, and a pretty easy job description. She and her daughter come to visit him on occasion, but their visits have gotten less and less frequent in part because they have peace of mind knowing that this gift horse situation was a win-win.
Life Lesson: Turn your Weaknesses into Strengths