April 26, 2017

After Lives of Neglect, Two Horses Transition from Terrified to Trusting

Derek Kohlhase with Sally, who is available for adoption.
Derek Kohlhase with Sally, who is available for adoption.

April 26, 2017, commemorates the ASPCA’s Help a Horse Day! In honor of this day of equine celebration, we’d like to highlight two special rescue horses, and the journeys they’ve endured to find their very own Happy Tails. Patriot, a five-year-old gelding, and Sally, a six-year-old bay mare, have come a long way— literally and figuratively—from their former lives.

A Cruel Past

The duo, along with 46 other horses and more than 600 other animals, were rescued by the ASPCA at the request of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Hoke County Sheriff’s Office in January 2016. They had been living in an unlicensed, self-described “animal sanctuary” near Raeford, North Carolina. Patriot and Sally lived in a dirt paddock with broken-down fencing and were underweight—Patriot by more than 400 pounds. They also suffered from split, cracked and overgrown hooves, bad teeth and “rain rot,” a skin infection commonly found in neglected horses. 

Patriot after his rescue and transfer to Minnesota.
Patriot after his rescue and transfer to Minnesota.

The majority of the horses were terrified of people. Standing 17 hands high, Patriot was among the most difficult to handle, rearing and kicking whenever he was approached.

“Both Patriot and Sally were reactive to the point of being dangerous,” recalls Kyle Held, Regional Director for the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response team.

Patriot and Sally recovered enough physically to be transported to Minnesota in late April 2016, where they were placed in foster care.

“I’ve worked with many, many horses, and Patriot was by far the most damaged I’ve ever seen,” says Andrea Keacher, the owner of Boulder Pointe Equestrian and Event Center in Anoka, where Patriot was placed. “He literally shook if someone came toward him. At first, I couldn't even get close to him without him trying to rear and strike at me.”

Derek and Sasha Kohlhase own Dart Ranch (located 40 miles north of Minneapolis), where they foster and rehabilitate horses. They took in Sally, who was by far the most fearful horse they’d ever worked with.

“Our main focus was improving Sally’s physical and mental health,” says Derek. “She lived in a stall the first two weeks she was with us, wearing a halter and lead rope because it was the only way to catch her without getting kicked.”

Changing Their Behaviors

The ASPCA’s Dr. Nicole Eller, an equine veterinarian, has worked with wild horses on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). But there are big differences between wild horses and neglected ones, she says.

“Wild horses are unsocialized and may be afraid of people, but they don’t have negative feelings toward people,” explains Dr. Eller. “Patriot and Sally were defensive and aggressive.”

“Flight-or-fight reactions make horses extremely challenging to handle,” adds Kyle, who, along with Dr. Eller and others, cared for the horses for three months after rescuing them.

Derek says it was several weeks before Sally could be turned out to pasture with other horses.

“She would stand in one spot all day long, unsure of what to do,” recalls Derek. “Today, she is one of the most confident, respectful horses we’ve had on our property.”

Derek with Sally, whom Derek says “learned to forgive humans when she had no reason to.”
Derek with Sally, whom Derek says “learned to forgive humans when she had no reason to.”

Andrea spent at least four hours a day with Patriot to build his trust, taking him for long trail rides and teaching him to negotiate obstacles and jump.

Derek with Sally, whom Derek says “learned to forgive humans when she had no reason to.”
Andrea and Patriot, who stands 17 hands high.

“Slowly I started peeling off the layers of this amazing creature,” says Andrea. “He now trusts and knows me.”

Becoming the Horses They Were Meant to Be

Last September, nine months later and more than 1,200 miles from where they started, Patriot and Sally performed like champions in the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation’s (MHARF) ninth annual “Trainer’s Challenge of the Unwanted Horse.” 

Patriot shows off his skills during freestyle competition.
Patriot shows off his skills during freestyle competition.

Patriot placed fifth overall and earned “Best Groomed” and “People’s Choice” awards. Andrea adopted Patriot the day of the Challenge, calling him “a true diamond in the rough.”

Sally also performed well, placing fifth in the in-hand riding contest and completing nearly every obstacle in the in-hand trail class. Demonstrating her newfound trust, Sally “walked along the fence greeting every person she passed,” Derek says proudly.  

Derek leads Sally during a halter demonstration.
Derek leads Sally during a halter demonstration.

While Sally still awaits adoption, she has gained a solid training foundation and has an incredible demeanor, according to Derek and Sasha, who ride her frequently. She also seems to have largely recovered from her traumatic past. “She not only learned to forgive humans when she had no reason to, she trusts me more than I ever thought possible,” says Derek. “Our bond is what she needed and it will allow her to create a new one with whomever is lucky enough to adopt her.”

Andrea, who has other horses, refers to Patriot as her “equine soulmate.” And she sometimes quotes a phrase from dressage champion and author Lendon Gray that could apply to both Patriot and Sally: "Sometimes it is the most difficult horse that has the most to give.”

For information on how to adopt Sally, please visit her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MHARFSallyForth/