The naming of horses

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I caught Dolly in the middle of lunch with hay on her face, but her star quality shines through.

There are many rules for naming racehorses, but none for your average equine citizen. From what I’ve observed, horses often get new names when they get new people, new homes, new jobs, a second chance, or any combination of these. Some retired racehorses, like my friends Beau and Pirate, go by shorter versions of their racing names.

This isn’t unique to horses. Look at the way we humans take on and drop nicknames, take spouses’ names, reclaim family names, hyphenate, and depending on who’s talking, go by names like Mom.

One horse I know chose a name his new person wouldn’t have picked in a million years. Another came by hers through blonde star synchronicity. Yet another, when given the choice, kept the name she had.

Duke

I felt the sadness of the 17-year-old shire as soon as Allison Wheaton, director of Summit Equestrian Center, sent me his photo. After years as an Amish farm horse, and apparently not the best of situations, he was to become Summit’s newest resident late last year.

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This is Duke a few months after his arrival at Summit Equestrian Center. He still wasn’t out with the herd, but he’d decided he liked Reiki.

Allison asked me to communicate with him before he arrived and find out what he needed in the transition, and what he might like to do. And would he like a new name, or would he prefer to keep the one he had (Angmar)?

The notion that he had a choice about anything was a strange concept to this heavy-hearted soul. Yet when I asked him what he wanted to be called, I heard: “Just call me Duke.”

I passed that along. Since most school/sports rivalries are not on my radar, it didn’t occur to me that Allison, a University of North Carolina grad, might wince at the name of her alma mater’s chief rival. As I learned later, she had vowed never to name a dog, horse, or anything else Duke. But Duke it was.

As fall deepened into winter, Duke acclimated and found his footing as a therapy horse. He found he appreciated being listened to and liked Reiki, especially once he realized it was his choice. Getting him to the point where he could join the rest of the horses in the pasture took months, many introductions, and a few scuffles.

Then one day this spring, Duke caught my eye from across the pasture. He was standing up straight, ears forward, with the rest of the crew.

“Do you see where I am? Do. You. See. Where. I. Am?” I heard.

Yes, Duke … I see you.

Dolly

Malibu, a Tennessee Walker-Belgian cross, had a few different homes by the time she joined the Summit herd. No one seemed to have time for her, and now she had no idea where she belonged.

Three or four days later, “Hello, Dolly!” — from the musical of the same name — got stuck in my head. I listened to the album over and over as a child and saw Carol Channing in what many consider her signature role as Dolly. But I hadn’t heard it recently or thought of it much.

The day after that, I received a text from Allison that the newcomer had settled in a bit, but Malibu didn’t seem like the right name. “Dolly? There’s got to be a sassy blonde star name that fits better,” she said.

I told her about the musical and sent a video link to the song. It includes the lyric “Tomorrow will be brighter than the good old days.”

Allison was thinking of Dolly Parton and I was thinking of the fictional Dolly Levi — but both seemed to fit. So Dolly it was, and she’s already shed stardust on a couple of participants in Summit’s veterans program.

Lulu

Some horses keep their names. Lulu, a beautiful paint mare, was rescued from a horrible neglect situation. As Lulu began a new chapter at Summit, Allison asked me to see if she wanted a new name as well … like Cheyenne?

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Lulu has been learning to trust again.

When I asked Lulu, she told me she knew who she was and it didn’t matter what the humans called her. Cheyenne was fine, but she was also fine with sticking with Lulu, so that’s what we did.

Recovery is all about ups and downs, and less than two years later, Lulu’s is no exception. She has a good buddy in Pirate, one of the aforementioned retired racehorses, and she’s helped some of Summit’s human clients heal their own wounds. Every time I check in with her, even if she is struggling with the effects of her past, I see her choose to give her new life — still as Lulu — a chance.

You tell me …

How did your horse friends get their names … or new names?

Lola’s legacy in spots

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Any child Lola carried was her No. 1 priority. (Photo courtesy Summit Equestrian Center)

I watched Lola carry the young rider around the grounds at Summit Equestrian Center, accompanied by two side walkers and director Allison Wheaton. The 15-year-old Appaloosa mare moved with the ease of a practiced therapy horse.

What’s more, she’d attuned herself to the energy of this young girl, who lived with a condition affecting neuromuscular and other systems. The child had groomed and saddled Lola, with plenty of pets along the way, and now sat beaming on her back.

Writing a Fort Wayne Magazine story on therapy animals had brought me to the barn to meet Lola and watch her work. Lola adjusted her stride to each child who rode her, I would learn. Once, she abruptly stopped because she sensed a child’s oncoming seizure.

Even her coat was beautiful, fun, and functional; kids counted her spots or adorned them with nontoxic finger paint during summer day camp. She stood perfectly still as riders stretched to touch one spot or another.

Just a couple of years before, Lola had arrived at Summit Equestrian Center — a nonprofit which offers therapeutic riding lessons and equine-assisted counseling — worn down emotionally and physically. Months of good nutrition, training, and mindful care helped her recover and decide on her new role.

From then on, Allison said, it was forward all the way. Whatever happened in those first dozen or so years of Lola’s life could not be undone, but they would not define her. She made sure of that. She had better things to do.

Lola and I met again a few years later, this time in my capacity as an animal communicator and animal Reiki practitioner doing weekly rounds at Summit. She was always happy to see me — and to fill me in on anything she thought needed attention. Ever the matriarch, she kept watch over the herd, as well as the goats, pigs, chickens, cats, dogs, sheep, the volunteers, and especially Allison. The two of them built Summit’s mission one lesson at a time.

As time passed, Lola’s physical body began to weaken, but her spirit and sense of humor remained strong. A few months ago, I caught up with her as she was eating breakfast and asked her how she was. “I’m an old lady. I’m up. I’m eating. What more do you want?” she replied wryly.

This spring, I watched her follow newcomer Mojo, a handsome Tennessee Walker, around the pasture, at once shamelessly flirting and telling him things he’d need to know and take care of when she was no longer there to do so herself. Lola had plenty to tell me, too — thanking Allison for her loving care and the difference they made together, a caution not to take much sass from a certain mustang, a reminder about keeping gates closed, and more.

Under a summer solstice sky, Lola completed her work on this plane and went to join old friends Whinnie and Ritzy on her next adventure.

When I look at Lola’s life, I see each lesson, ride, encounter, and experience as a spot like the ones on her coat. No two are exactly alike. Some overlap and even seem multilayered. Together, those spots form a pattern like no other.

Thank you, Lola, for inspiring us to find the beauty in our own patterns.

 

 

 

Knowing when, and how, to speak up

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This is one of 16 malnourished, neglected horses taken from a northeast Indiana property last winter. (Photo courtesy Friends of Ferdinand)

 

One year ago, sixteen horses — first 10, then another six — were rescued from a Wells County property. They were malnourished, and some had untreated infections and injuries. A few, including two of the six horses I worked with, did not survive. Others, with their previous owners or in new homes, are still healing.

The case was all the more disturbing because the person responsible was known and trusted by area horse owners and rescuers. Yet, according to the conversations that followed, there were previous signs that all was not well.

What can we pull from this to create a better outcome the next time something doesn’t seem quite right, but we don’t know what to ask or how to help? How can we get better at spotting signs of animal abuse and neglect, speaking up, listening, and following through?

I’m not a veterinarian, horse handler, or law enforcement officer. My job with horses is to listen to them, and to the people who love and care for them, and offer a calm presence that allows healing. But as a journalist of many years, I also wanted to offer some quality information that might prove useful to those of us in Northeast Indiana and beyond. Here’s what I found.

These articles were both sparked by the Wells County case: When to Speak Up: Red Flags & Warning Signs for Reporting Abuse in Horse Nation; and If you see something, say something by Carleigh Fedorka, a horse handler and postdoctoral researcher who was part of the same network as the neglected horses’ owner.

Another, Neglected, abused and abandoned horses: How to help in Equus Magazine, was written earlier but includes helpful information on staying on the right side of the law in these difficult situations.

I am convinced that creating a better world for horses (and everyone else) does, in fact, take all of us.