We are always being presented with new and interesting challenges here at the sanctuary. Before I had thoroughly thought out where I would put him, I agreed to take in a six-year-old gelding who has been blind since birth. His previous people didn’t feel they could deal with a blind horse any longer and wanted to put him down. I wanted to give him a chance. I named him Joe, and after getting him to Proud Spirit I unloaded him from the trailer and then stood in our driveway like a dope holding his lead rope. “Okay, Einstein,” I asked myself out loud as I turned in circle and looked over our property, “Now what?”
My instincts with horses have always told me that we get in their way too much. We think we have to protect them from themselves and interfere with the instinctual way they work things out. I try to make decisions regarding their health and well-being based on their natural environment. But the odds would be against a blind horse surviving in the wild, and putting him in our main pasture – 160 acres running 40 plus horses – was out of the question. It would simply be too much for a blind horse trying to stay with the herd. The obvious place would be a small 10-acre pasture we created for a few of our arthritic older horses. There were three currently there; two elderly geldings, Phoenix and Dually, and one mare named Sophie.
I walked Joe back behind the barn and through the gate to the smaller pasture. He was a remarkably calm and happy little guy. When I took his halter off, Phoenix and Dually immediately came over to say hello. Joe could hear their slow approach and eagerly sniffed the air. The introduction between the three geldings was uneventful and the two old guys went off to graze. Sophie hadn’t even looked up yet, typical of her disinterest in other horses. And then something about the little blind horse drew her attention. She lifted her head and nickered as she made her way over. This was interesting, I thought, Sophie approaching another horse. And gently nickering. Joe turned toward the sound.
The big bay mare had a reputation for being rather cantankerous. She vehemently defended her “space” and pinned her ears at every horse who came near, and more often than not backed it up with a well placed kick. I was surprised she was even interested in Joe, but would she be kind to him?
They said hello, breathing in each other’s breath. Joe leaned into Sophie and rubbed the side of his face along her neck. Sophie finally gently turned away from Joe, and paused as she looked back to where he stood. It was almost like she was waiting for him to orient himself and follow her, which he did, keeping his nose close to her haunch as they strolled off to graze.
It’s been about four months since Joe arrived. He has gained confidence and cavorts around on his own while Sophie watches over him and continues to allow him in her space. I can’t explain these extraordinary events that happen between our horses; I’m just thankful that I’m witness to it all and allowed to be a part of their lives.
Melanie Bowles is the founder of Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary, a 320-acre award-winning facility in Mena, Arkansas, where more than 150 horses have come to live out their lives in peace and dignity. She is also the author of The Horses of Proud Spirit, a profoundly moving book about her experiences, available at book stores and through www.amazon.com. For more info, visit www.horsesofproudspirit.com