The simple answer is yes, some of them we do. But not in the way you may imagine. We don't do "disciplines" nor ask a lot from our horses. We mainly plod along the coast and enjoy the countryside.
Simple answer to this is also yes, it is in a way against rescuing them. However this is a little more complicated to answer and we have to look further into the needs of a horse. The modern world. The environment. The situation and climates here. The horses themselves and much more.
Horses are made to move. That is a simple fact and not something up for debate. Anyone who knows about horses knows this is what their bodies are made for to keep them well and healthy. So this is foremost the most important fact in the rehab of our horses. Their needs for recovery and a happy healthy life.
In an ideal world we would own 100,000 square metres of land and the horses could be free to roam as a herd.
However In an ideal world we would also not be needed as a horse rescue.
We are currently in the process of trying to buy some neighboring land ( read last weeks blog here) To build a paradise paddock/track system which will help in ability to give horses the movement they require for their bodies to be healthy. Even with this it will still not be the ideal amount of movement required for optimum health however it will help tremendously. More about this later.
Until then we have an over flow of horses on 6500 square meters of land. This land is not even all to the horses, it is shared between roads, buildings, accommodation etc. So, far from an ideal amount of land for adequate movement. Even if our paddocks are some of the biggest you will find here on the island.
Land is expensive here and limited, it is very rare to see a giant paddock allowing free movement. Even the best paddock on the Island would not compare to the natural habitat of a horse. We as humans have domesticated them and ruined this for them. This is something we have to accept and deal with. Perfection for the domesticated horse doesn't really exist anymore. All we can do is weigh up all the pro's and con's to offer them the best for their needs.
This is exactly what we do here. Do we leave them inside the paddocks barely moving? Take them out walking in-hand? Or do we get on their backs and allow them to move further. We ask this question to them!
Now, I don't mean we speak to animals and by no means to I call myself a "Horse whisperer". What I actually mean is, that if you study their language and allow them to have a voice you can clearly understand what they prefer and want to do.
Usually they enjoy going out riding if it is done in the right way. These horses have been riding horses all their lives, they know nothing else. So galloping along the countryside with a rider on their back is often their closest experience to running free. Many of our horses are not ridden nor will they be due to age, condition, injury etc. So theses horses only get to enjoy going for walks with the volunteers to stretch their legs a little and stimulate their minds. Again this is not ideal, but compared to their previous lives or the alternative options they are also very happy. Their bodies usually can not or do not need as much movement as a younger horse.
This is a difficult topic, its still very controversial and an easy way for us to make enemies in the horse community. However we strongly believe that if you are willing to ask your equine friend you will get an answer. However this is the hardest lesson for a horse owner. Accepting we will not always like their answer. Many of times your horse will not choose what you want it to choose. There are many amazing resources for learning what your horse says online, this will save me time on writing and honestly my writing can not compete such as this here.
Once you take away ( almost ) all force from your horse training you won't be making your horse do something it doesn't choose to do. I say almost because for example if my horse decides to stop in in the middle of the road and eat some yummy grass, this could cause an accident. So I will apply pressure to ask the horse to move on until a safe place to stop for a snack.
Firstly it is not "my" way of riding. I get asked this very regularly as If I am trying to advocate only "my" way. This is just the way I choose which is right for me and my horses. We certainly wouldn't be winning any competitions and awards so I know this way is not for everyone. But the point again for us is our horses are rescues. They have already served their lives as competition horses/ excursion horses or endurance riders. This is their time for happiness and freedom.
In our rehabilitation of our horses they are given all the time in the world to strip back to basics. The time that is needed to forget stressful experiences, relieve them of pressures and expectations. A full health assessment is done on every horse, we work closely with the best vets on the island to ensure anything we put in their plans is only for their benefit. Only once we think they are ready, mentally and physically we will start slowly with the riding rehabilitation and offer them this option.
All of our training ( ridden and handling) is done with R+/ positive reinforcement. ( more on this page on this) To show them that riding can be an enjoyable experience. We also ride only with force free bitless bridles. For our horses if we need force to change direction or stop them we think they are not thoroughly enjoying or choosing their riding experience with us. We prefer to build a relationship from the ground and then we can ask them a question such as " lets go this direction?" Without force they can clearly say no. Which believe me, they do sometimes. It is much nicer for them to trust us and answer with a "yes. great idea... lets go this way". This almost always results in safe, relaxed and respectful horses enjoying basic riding as a form of exercise.
No. This answer is easy. We don't make any money from our horses. We tried a few times to offer excursions at the beginning of our journey. However the horses didn't enjoy going the same places, with different people. They got bored and we didn't want to create robots. Even if it would have been a great source of income to fund the sanctuary. It would have been a lie and not in our opinion a "real rescue".
Mummies. Each healthy happy horse has his/her own mummy. We are very particular about who rides our horses, again we let them choose their human. People have to be completely on board the barefoot/ R+ horse with a voice journey. Experience is not important just a loving nature with a horse first attitude. Then they come and meet horses, work with them. Get to know with them and create a relationship. This way they get to know their horses voice, dislikes etc. They know their personal horses needs, struggles and strengths. We are super lucky to have such a lovely group of mummies who love their horses like their own babies and they love them. Their is nothing more rewarding for me than seeing one of our horses trot over as their mummy arrives whilst doing an excited little whinny. We ask only to cover the cost of their food as a donation for having a horse of their own. This being said we are not here to make money from them, the most important is the people. If they struggle from time to time with money they are still here with their babies. The important thing is that they are all happy.
We are in a difficult position, right in the middle of a controversial debate over horse riding.
We loose the support of many traditional horse riders as they feel we are criticizing their ways of riding horses. Even if this is not the case, we all started this way but now we are advocates to show other ways. We also lose the support of many animal welfare enthusiasts as they think we are exploiting our animals with riding them when this is also certainly not the case.
So we want to leave this topic for now. Explaining that everything is much more complicated than first glances. There are many, if not all, grey areas in horse rescue. Every decision we make is in the horses best interest and they have all the time in the world to tell us what they want. They have the freedom to decide and change their minds. So we hope that people from both end of the spectrum will have a little insight into why we do what we do. We are still relatively new, we are growing as our knowledge grows and we are trying our best everyday to create a sanctuary for all.
This blog turned out to be longer than expected as its such an important topic for us here. I think we will carry on and dig deeper into these questions over on our youtube channel if you want to see more, subscribe to our channel.
Thank you for reading, Any questions feel free to pop them below or tell us your experiences on the topics above.