Friday, February 8, 2013

My First Rescue (or, the catalyst...)

Little White Lie, aka "Linus"

I have had the pleasure of working with several strong equine personalities over the years, but none can compare with Little White Lie, aka “Linus.” About 17 years ago, right after I’d purchased Equutopia, I was keeping an eye out for a companion for my first horse, Salvo. In the past I have found that horses generally do not do well when kept alone, and I didn’t want to move Salvo to the farm until I found him a buddy.

Linus shortly after his rescue.
I happened to drop by a small farm where I’d boarded Salvo when I moved back to the Northern Virginia area after college and saw a small Arabian stallion that could have been used as a teaching aid in a skeletal structure class. His bones were covered with a disheveled, flea-bitten gray coat – no fat, his feet were misshapen and the frogs had rotted off. He’d just arrived after being discovered standing in mud up to his knees, with no feed in sight, in a small paddock. The gentleman who spotted him from the road bought him on the spot just to get him out of the awful living conditions but couldn’t keep him and offered him to me. I fell in love with the cute little guy and moved him and Salvo out to my new farm.

He was actually even thinner than he looks in these photos!
I had Linus checked out by a veterinarian, who estimated him to be 10 years old. His teeth were worn abnormally because, they suspected, he’d been chewing on rocks to find sustenance. It was December, and the vet was concerned that he wouldn’t survive the cold. I kept him blanketed, in a stall, and tried to put weight on him as quickly as possible. When you are faced with a horse in this type of condition, you have to be very careful not to overfeed them at first... after a long period of malnutrition, their systems are delicate and very susceptible to colic and laminitis. A beet pulp based, high fat feed fed in small amounts many times a day along with a good quality grass hay, similarly rationed out, is one of the safest ways to accomplish this goal.

Linus was tough, put on weight and was soon in high spirits. I’d been unable to have him gelded because of his poor condition. He started acting studdish. One evening in February, I went out to feed and Linus whirled around and kicked the bucket right out of my hand. I called the vet the next day and scheduled his “brain surgery.” The same vet that had initially examined Linus came out to perform the operation and expressed amazement at his transformation. He was gelded and it was recommended that I longe Linus for some extra exercise, to try and minimize post-surgical swelling. I did attempt to do so a few times, but the prankster in Linus was really starting to show – he’d go along with what he no doubt viewed as a silly little game for a few minutes, then veer into the middle of the circle where I, unfortunately, was standing. No amount of waving a whip or yelling deterred him.

Hoof trims offered another opportunity for trickery. Linus tried every trick he knew with farrier Brian. First it was the subtle leaning, ever increasing the weight on Brian’s back. Then it was the slow and dramatic stretching, sinking closer and closer to the ground as Brian tried to maintain his hold on the hoof. Linus came to like and respect Brian, who is still one of his biggest fans (although, apparently, Brian initially thought his name was "Lioness," as evidenced by my receipt for services!).

Spring came and I decided to see if Linus was rideable. He seemed very calm and accepting as we progressed from walking to trotting under saddle. I soon discovered another favorite prank – the first time I asked him to canter, he eased into a lovely, rocking-horse gait, then I suddenly found myself sitting on his neck. Linus had an unnerving habit of putting down his head and slamming on the brakes. I developed abs of steel to keep myself off the ground and we eventually worked through this little trick.

Over the years, Linus became a favorite at the barn, and all learned of his mischievousness. He was perfect for teaching an intermediate level student to really pay attention to their riding; he could tell instantly if the person on his back wasn't, and was infamous for taking advantage of those moments, either by veering towards and over a jump in the ring, banging his rider’s leg against one of the barrels in our arena, making sudden changes in course or performing speedy, unscheduled transitions. He was not mean though, and didn't buck or rear. I think he saw those common antics as being beneath his dignity.

At shows, Linus was a ham, clearly believing that all the hubbub and excitement was due to his presence. He loved to strut around the ring with a young rider on his back and rarely set a foot wrong, though he could be a challenge over jumps and only my experienced students could show him over fences.

Linus with two of his biggest fans.

I experienced countless amusing moments with Linus over the years. He was extremely curious and always had to be where the action is, even if it involved a running chainsaw or swinging hammer. He had a vain streak and was adept at removing any horse clothing he didn’t care for and making it disappear. I suspect he buried the stuff somewhere. Once, I’d fitted him with a sheet under his blanket. Apparently it didn’t suit him; he removed the sheet without disturbing the blanket on top and made it vanish. Long ago, I had a peach tree near his paddock fence, and fruit would periodically fall within his range. I never observed him trying to eat the fruit and removed it frequently, so I saw no need to cut the tree down. One day I was tacking up for a ride, putting on his bridle. He opened his mouth for the bit and seven peach pits cascaded to the ground. The little gerbil had been sucking on them and storing them in his cheeks! I related this amusing anecdote to someone who then informed me that the inside of the pits were toxic. I cut the tree down.

Linus was always extremely friendly and people-oriented, despite his past mistreatment. Healthy and sound, he showed few signs of his ordeal. Athletic and smooth to ride, he was a favorite of those familiar with and wary of his ways. I liken him to an amusement park ride, fun and full of thrills. The combination of high intelligence and a tendency toward mischievousness  led to some frustrating moments, but his fan club was large and extremely devoted.

One of the last pictures I took of Linus, with my dad and oldest nephew.

Unfortunately, Linus severely twisted an intestine and had to be put down in April of 2012. He is buried overlooking the barn, keeping an eye on his buddies. He was in his late 20s (our best guess) at the time. I still miss him every day, and don't expect I will ever find another like his naughty little self.


  1. Great story! Linus sounds like he was a real character!

  2. Aww so good! Miss my little buddy, I was telling Zoe all about him. Glad I had the opportunity to be another #1 fan :) He was a sweetie.