Saturday, May 25, 2013

Wee Willie

Several horses have come to my farm, Equutopia, after suffering past abuse and/or neglect. In the cases I’ve dealt with personally, the physical damage has been far easier to undo than the psychological injuries. Interestingly enough, the horses I’ve received in the worst physical condition have all been sweet and very easy to handle, a testament to the generally forgiving nature of the horse.

Willie, a small, bay hackney pony, has been my toughest psychological rehabilitation case thus far. He was genuinely afraid of people and very difficult to catch when he first arrived. I kept him in a fairly small paddock and, with time and patience, earned some measure of trust. Catching him was a very time consuming procedure at first: I had to approach him walking very slowly, looking down at the ground, facing sideways. It usually took many approaches before I could touch him but, once I could start patting him, he’d stand still for me to slip a lead around his neck and get hold of his halter. Eventually, I got to the point with him where I just stood in the middle of the paddock, called him, stretched my arm out and stared at the ground and he would trot right up to me. I think he figured out that it was easier that way, that I wasn't going to just leave him alone.

Willie and Copper (sorry, terrible pic but only one I have of them!)

Handling Willie was another challenge. He was never mean – he would just freeze and tremble in fear. Again, with lots of patience and gentle grooming, he came to realize that I wasn’t all that bad. He was always reluctant to let me touch his right side – I have no idea why, and was never able to completely overcome this issue. I suspect that the vision in his right eye may have been bad.

One moment in particular with Willie will be etched in my memory forever. I had him loose in a stall and was just trying to make friends with him, patting and stroking his neck. I was standing sideways to him with eyes downcast, arm fully outstretched to reach him while standing as far away as possible. Willie seemed to be relaxing and accepting the attention, so I decided to see what would happen if I stepped away. I slowly lowered my arm and took a step away. Then I waited. After a few moments, Willie took a sideways step toward me, and I resumed my attentions. It was the first real breakthrough and brought tears to my eyes.


I trimmed his feet myself. It took some time before he would even let me pick them up, and then he would extend the foot toward me and freeze, trembling, displaying a horrible, resigned fear. That, too, improved with time. He acted the same way for veterinary ministrations – he just steeled himself in preparation for the

Handling led to leaning, then sitting astride his back. I did this several times, feet almost touching the ground on the small pony. Again, you guessed it, the freezing and trembling. He would not take a step with me on his back. Perhaps with time and persistence he would have become rideable, but I felt he would be better off as a pet. He was around 4 when I got him, and I had him for about 3 or 4 years.

I had the good fortune to meet a wonderful lady, Julie, through my job at the time. She told me all about her hackney pony, Zoe, who was also a victim of past abuse. Julie was able to successfully rehabilitate Zoe, and she was clearly a pampered pet. Unfortunately, Zoe was very old and had some age-related health issues and eventually had to be put down. Julie was heartbroken.

After some time, I suggested that she might like to adopt Willie, and she did, along with two other ponies I had on the farm at the time, Willie's buddies, Copper and Sammie. Julie made progress with Willie as well, but we agree that he will never completely trust people. 


  1. Awww, what a sweet story! The love and care you give animals is amazing.

  2. Lovely story. Nice that Julie was able to take a couple of Willie's friends, too.

  3. Thank you both for your kind comments. I think of Willie, Copper and Sammie often and miss them, but I think they are very happy and probably getting a lot more attention now as the main attraction in their new home than when they lived here at the farm.