Charlie, My New Project Horse

Continued From, “The Naming Of A Horse”

Gramps, a rescued horse.

Kathy (our barn manager with a heart as big as all outdoors) understood my devastation.  She stood by me and Merlin and advocated for us from the day I first wanted to make him my forever horse.  She noticed that I had visited Charlie a few days in a row now and suggested I might benefit from a project.  Charlie needed to be hand walked, groomed, and given some general affection and attention.

Did I want to take on the task?  Yes! Please!

I was grateful for the job.  I had been unable to help Merlin, but thought maybe I could help Charlie a bit.  He needed to be rehabilitated because one day, he would become a school horse used to teach young riders.  At Far West, that was a nice job to have.  Besides, I had to be at the barn with my girls and being there was very, very hard.  Maybe a distraction would help.

“I would be grateful, he’s very sweet.  Vocal, nervous, but sweet.”

Kathy agreed he was vocal, calling out to people as they passed by.  I think he was asking everyone “are you my person?”  I told her I had been calling him Charlie.  As a gift surely intended for my benefit, Kathy said she liked it, and from there on out everyone at the barn would call him Charlie.  I took it upon myself to erase “Gramps” from the whiteboard that listed all the horses and care instructions, and changed it to “Charlie.”

I had just named a horse and in a way I cannot explain, it felt good.

That day was the first time I actually ventured into Charlie’s stall.  He immediately moved head first into the corner looking back at me suspiciously, yet, despite being clearly afraid, without any aggression whatsoever.  He was very concerned about the halter in my hands, which now began to shake a little.  I felt in some strange way I was betraying Merlin.  It had not even been a week and here I was associating with another horse.  I started to cry and wonder what the hell I was doing.  I did not want a project horse; I wanted Merlin.

If I approached him at all, Charlie would move himself even further away.  I think he wanted to become invisible, and he clearly wanted me to leave him alone.  After attempting to move closer several times I decided it was best to meet Charlie on his own terms.

I stood for minutes on end just standing, talking to him, and reassuring him.  I really cannot tell you if it took five minutes or thirty, but I stood there until Charlie finally turned and slowly moved towards me.  He put his head down cautiously sniffing the halter, then moved away if I tried to put it on him.

More coaxing, more small ventures towards me, and finally, I was able to slip it on and buckle it. I attached the lead rope and he followed, quietly, outside into the sunlight.

We only walked a few minutes that day.  He was stiff, and moved like he was one hundred years old.  He flinched if our bodies touched, and he held his head high, alert, whites of his eyes showing.

The next day I was able to halter him with less convincing.  This time, I took him to the cross ties to groom him.  He was utterly, completely filthy.

As in the case of the first haltering attempt, Charlie shied repeatedly at the cross ties and refused to enter in.  He just stood frozen, terrified.  I found once again, if I let it be known what I wanted and just waited from him to come around, he eventually would.

Charlie finally followed me into the cross ties, where I was able to slowly turn him around to face the front again so I could attach the sides of his halter between two poles.   I moved slowly pulling a chain hanging from a pole on one side and attached it to one side of his halter.  Then, did the same on the other side.

It took a full thirty minutes and we both were mentally exhausted.  Charlie was in the cross ties, but he was in at a diagonal and he refused to be adjusted to stand in straight.  His butt was now flat up against the back wall as far as he could go and he just stood there, head high, looking around eyes flashing nervously without moving his head. I believe he was just waiting for his next beating.

I have never seen a horse so terrified that he became completely frozen but I would see time and again this was how Charlie would react to new things.  The cross ties exercise would continue over and over again in the coming weeks until Charlie figured out the cross ties were not dangerous, the noisy chains were not enemies, and no one was going to be rough with him.  And, he also figured out that massages felt good and began to relax into my hands instead of dreading them.

That first day in the cross ties was my first chance to get a really good up close look at his condition.  He flinched at every touch but never moved away.  He was too scared to move.  I looked over every inch of him from head to tail.  I had adopted many rescue cats and dogs in my lifetime, even starving mangy strays, but never had I seen anything like this.

Next: Charlie, The Scary-Thin Horse

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