We have had Aurora for about two months now, and I will say the past few weeks have made a dramatic difference- Aurora is nothing like the horse who came to us!
Aurora came to Hanaeleh because her owners had medical issues and could no longer care for her. At the time they contacted us, we were full, so we tried to network her, but unfortunately she needed more care than people wished to provide. Aurora now is doing so much better, both physically and mentally.
One of Aurora’s main issues was that she refused to eat much. We didn’t think this would be an issue on her first day, as she gobbled up most of what we put in front of her, but after a few days she stopped eating, but just barely nibbled on her food. I talked with the vet, and went to three feed stores and bought several different types of grain to see if one were more enticing to her, to no avail. She decided after the first day she would not eat any Timothy pellets, and while she seemed interested in her hay, she left so much on the ground because she could not chew it well that it was a waste. I offered her different sizes and blends of alfalfa pellets- knowing that it had been years since her teeth had been floated, I guessed that was one of her main issues, but as she was so underweight the vet did not want to float her teeth right away.
We are usually fortunate when we get emaciated horses in that they improve within a few months. In fact, we have only had one horse taken in who did not improve, even when another rescue with better resources helped by taking him. His kidneys were failing, and there was finally nothing to be done. I will not pretend not to be concerned that Aurora did not had major medical issues that would prevent her from improving; her age compounded with her lack of care for so long was not in her favor. While most horses do improve with a proper diet, sometimes the neglect had been going on for too long, and there is nothing one can do to stop the inevitable. This crossed my mind on a daily basis, but I told Aurora that as long as she wanted to keep fighting, I would help her. As she wasn’t in any pain, and she was eating some, I did not feel that I had to make a decision immediately.
Aurora began eating a little better after the first month, and I also found a small alfalfa pellet sold in 50 pound bags. They are 5/32 in size, about what you would feed a guinea pig. I figured that the small size would be easier for her to chew, as she also did not like her pellets watered down, either. She does not gobble them up like our other horses might, but she at least eats around 12-15 pounds of those a day.
Feeding her grain was also an exercise in either frustration or perseverance- I’m not sure which. After a few weeks of watching her turn up her nose at every type of grain I offered, we split her grain into two different bowls; one with her grain and a few supplements, and one plain. After a few weeks, she began to eat the plain grain, so we increased that, and a few more weeks saw her nibbling more on the other grain as well. At this point she now looks for her grain eagerly and eats both bowls (we still separate it for her as that’s working, and if you know anything about fussy children and animals, it’s not to mess with something when it’s working). We now have her on about 9-10 pounds of grain a day.
Besides eating poorly, Aurora was very emotionally closed off. We see this quite often with show horses who have no owner to love them, but who are merely taken care of by grooms, exercised by the owner or trainer, then put back in their stall. They are treated like machines, and so end up acting the same. We also see this in horses who have been abused, as they find that it is safer to not interact, and not be hurt, than it is to try to establish a relationship with people. Finally, we see this tendency in horses who are left alone, without people or other animals for company. Horses are highly social animals, and need love and attention, if not by another horse, then at least by a human. Unfortunately Aurora’s owners were physically unable to provide this, and Aurora had emotionally closed herself off. When I originally assessed her I found her to be sweet, although perhaps a little lacking in basic manners. I determined that she would therefore be safe for the volunteers to love on her and care for her. I don’t care who you are- having a group of loving individuals who care tell you how wonderful you are and reassure you that all is well, will soften even the toughest emotional armor.
After being with us for a month, and gaining some weight, we had Aurora’s teeth floated. They were awful, as we expected, and she was also not the best patient, so the vet did what she could, and we will have to float them again in about six months.
Aurora had her feet done a few weeks ago, and luckily her owners had paid a farrier to come out, so that was merely a regular trim. She wasn’t great for the farrier, but she wasn’t terrible, either.
It’s the past two weeks wherein we have seen the greatest change in Aurora, however. For the first six weeks, Aurora would stand at the back of her pen, staring out into the wilderness, and basically ignoring us until we walked up to her. She stopped running away from us after the first week, but still wouldn’t come up to say hello. Now, however, Aurora stands at her gate, welcoming anyone who comes by. Aurora has also gotten much better at the tie rail; when we first tied her up, she would break free and try to go back to her stall; if she could not, she would paw continually even when we were grooming her or otherwise trying to talk to her. Now, however, she stands much more quietly. She really seems to enjoy being groomed by our volunteers now, and stands well while both being brushed and bathed.
Essentially, it was as if she were at a crossroads of whether she was going to live or die, and she has decided to live.
Aurora has started to fill out in the past few days, and no longer looks as gaunt or sickly. She still has some fungus on her topline and flanks, but bi-weekly baths with special medicated shampoo as well as supplements to help with her immune system have helped her coat get much healthier. She still needs to gain about 150 pounds, and some muscle, but she seems happier overall, and it is obvious just by brushing her and feeling the softness and luster in her coat that she is healthier.
We look forward to continuing to watch Aurora grow emotionally and improve physically. We are very proud of her, and we are very blessed with being able to help her make the decision to live.