At long last, after 8 weeks of worrying, driving weekly four hour round trips, three vet visits, and a lot of ups and downs, my Raven Blackfyre arrived at her new home. Jamie hauled her down from Tinstar Ranch to the boarding stable where she would be living, just a couple of miles down the road from my apartment. It was a sunny day, the first Sunday of November. I brought her off the trailer and set her loose in the paddock where she (and Simone’s little mustang Ryker, in a pen across from her) would spend a few weeks until they’d received their boosted vaccines and could join the other horses in the boarders’ pens in the main area of the stable.
My family came to meet Raven and fed her lots of apples, and she was the center of attention. She wandered around and looked at her new surroundings. She was growing in her winter coat and still needed some more groceries before she was at a healthy weight, but she was alert and energetic. I couldn’t wait to be able to see her every day!
The following week I started introducing small amounts of a ration balancer (vitamin/mineral pellets to supplement what her hay couldn’t provide) and some senior feed to get some weight on her. She also had her vaccines boosted and her teeth floated (the vet sedated her and filed down the sharp points created by uneven wear on her teeth). He actually mentioned that it looked like her teeth had been done before. It was so strange – when she was posted on the feedlot page, before she got sick, she looked as if she had been cared for – her feet were not terribly overgrown, her mane was long and pretty, and she seemed to be of decent weight before she was not eating well and losing weight at the feedlot. She also trailered well, something that doesn’t usually come naturally and takes calm, patient training. I couldn’t understand why she had ended up on the road to slaughter when she’d possibly been well cared for until the moment she was at an auction and picked up by the feedlot owner. She was a continual mystery, and I would probably never know where she came from or what her life had been before she stepped into mine. But she was here with me now, and I was going to give her the best life I could.
I spent the next couple of weeks going to the barn in the morning before work, feeding Raven her supplements and just spending time in her pen with her. I was able to get to know her more and groom her or just sit there with her while she ate. I even started some of the Parelli games with her, which involve exposing her to the “carrot stick” (a long fiberglass stick with a short piece of yacht rope tied to the end; a tool for establishing communication and never used as a whip). I would walk around her pen, ignoring her, and just swinging away with the stick and rope, practicing casting the rope around fence posts gently, as I would be doing gently tossing the rope around her legs or body to desensitize her to touch. She would look at me like I was a nut and go back to eating her food. The point was to familiarize myself with the tool and to expose her indirectly to it without pressure or asking her to do anything. I could imagine her talking to Ryker across the way, like What are these dumb humans up to? But I wanted to start at the beginning as if she hadn’t had training with riding or anything. Working with horses on the ground builds a foundation of communication that helps them understand what you’ll ask them to do under saddle. For those two weeks, I just took it slow and didn’t ask her to do much, other than some light basic things like tossing the rope over her body, around her legs, and rubbing her with the leather end of the stick to see if she was okay with being touched. She didn’t seem to have much reaction other than boredom and wanting to walk away back to her hay.
During the last week of November, the barn owners felt comfortable enough to allow Raven and Ryker to join the rest of the boarded horses in their pens in the main barn area. They would have huge paddocks side by side. We walked them out of their temporary pens and all the way down the field to their permanent ones, and they finally got to meet nose to nose. They had kept each other company for those few weeks, and had bonded strongly. They trotted and kicked around in their big new spaces. It made my heart happy that she was finally being settled into her new life after such a tumultuous couple of months. Little did I know that overcoming strangles, starvation, and bringing her medical care up to date were the easy parts. The journey had only really just begun for us, and the next year would start testing me and my ingrained habits like never before.