Caring for special needs horses is always a challenge in any circumstance. When you operate a sanctuary dedicated to helping special needs animals, you increase those challenges. Sometimes a horse presents to the sanctuary with a surmountable obstacle, like in the case of Summer. Summer came to us neglected and severely underfed. The immediate goal was to to help her safely add back needed weight and muscle. It is usually easier to achieve the goals of the physical needs before you tackle the psychological issues.
Summer started off with a veterinary checkup to determine if there were any underlying issues that would create her condition, other than neglect. She had a full physical, dental check and blood work. All of her diagnostics pointed to a simple lack of food and care and she was clear to begin gaining weight. It isn't as simple as just feeding, because you can cause more harm then good. Weight gain must be achieved slowly. To keep her from burning calories unnecessarily, we kept her in a small pen to herself. She could see the other horses and had room to roam and stretch, but she wouldn't have to compete for food resources. Turn out is key to metal health and rebuilding of muscle tissue as we fed her for weight gain. She received the best quality forage we could provide her and as much as she could eat. She got concentrated grains twice a day and spent half her time in the stall with the other horses and half her time out in her turn out with her additional hay.
In about 3 weeks time, she had noticeable improvement in her weight and could start hand walking. In another week she was able to start introductions to be able to go out and join a herd of her own. It is at this phase that the emotional wounds and traumas can be identified and we could begin working on her confidence and comfort around people and to build a program for her to be able to enter into the riding program. It would also be time to assess her training level and learning style from the ground up and both identify what programs she would work well in and develop a training program for her. Make sure to read Part 2 to see how we started her ground work and progressed from there and follow our facebook feed to see updates on Summer!