Social media isn't my thing, the only reason I have an Instagram and Facebook account is to market my children's book Rudy – A Big Horse With A Big Heart. I care about getting the word out about this book to share Rudy's story.
By sharing his story, I hope to connect with kids while educating them about horses, horse care, training, and ownership. To the latter point, one of my goals is to illustrate what horse ownership actually means.
Humans have the propensity to dive into things with little knowledge of what they're actually getting themselves into. They comfort themselves with the thought that they can "stop" or "quit" if things don't work out. Unfortunately, many domesticated animals end up living with the consequences of this short-sighted approach.
When I said yes to Rudy in 2015, I had no idea what horse ownership involved. At the time it felt magical and serendipitous. I had dreamed of owning a horse my entire life. I was finally in a place where I had the time and money to make it happen. And Rudy needed a human to commit to him.
I acknowledge that Rudy's story is not close to the worst-case scenario for a horse. For this reason, I want to share it to show how little it takes to negatively impact these sensitive soulful creatures.
Rudy was born in 2005 at a thoroughbred barn in Saratoga, New York. He never raced; that was his first stroke of luck. His second stroke of luck was that his owner liked him. He's a charismatic smart horse. The problem was she had too many horses. She tried to find a new home for him on a couple of occasions with the caveat that she'd take him back if things didn't work out. From what I understand, he went out a couple of times but was returned.
She put him up for sale for $1,000 in the fall of 2014. A 15-year-old horse-crazy girl was on the hunt for her first horse and spotted the ad. She knew this was the horse for her and she convinced her parents to call Rudy's owner. She agreed to sell him for a dollar with the same agreement that if things didn't work out, she'd take him back.
Rudy arrived in Portsmouth, NH in December. It was love at first sight. The girl showered him with adoration but as they started working together issues popped up. Rudy is a challenging horse and the girl lacked real-life horse training experience.
Rudy can be goofy and does silly things like carrying his own lead rope or your water bottle around. He's also insecure and lacks confidence. He has the habit of repeatedly testing both the horses and humans to make sure he knows who is the leader. He has a strong sense of what he views as fair and will let you know when he feels wronged.
His testing can be quite intimidating, especially if you're a newbie. He puffs himself up so he looks bigger than his 16.1 hands and he'll strike out with a front leg when he feels challenged. He'll crowd you, push his enormous head into you, nip when he's angry, and occasionally turn his butt in your direction and threaten to kick. This is a lot to deal with when you have limited tools in your horse training toolbox.
Rudy learns quickly. If you fail to correct him you can be sure he'll note your oversight, Rudy one human zero. The next time you work with him he'll pick up where you left off and will push you harder. If you neglect to correct him again, he'll note the score. Things can quickly get out of hand. This is what happened to the girl. Even though she loved Rudy by the following spring she wasn't riding him and seldomly came to the barn.
I started taking riding lessons at the stable in January of that year and witnessed some of her challenges firsthand. I also saw her anguish as she slowly came to realize she was going to have to let her dream go. Her parents told her they couldn't keep paying for a horse she wasn't working with.
Rudy noticed the girl's absence and began acting out. I can only guess that he missed her attention. I think he liked having a person who cared about him, groomed, and snuggled with him. It was the most attention he had been shown in a long time.
He kicked his stall walls, occasionally hard enough to break the boards. His ground manners were nonexistent. The girl hadn't corrected him for pushing her around or dragging her to the grass so he simply did whatever he wanted to when a person was on the other end of his lead rope. He was often anxious and shook his head up and down. He was spooky and had big reactions to small stuff. The situation was heartbreaking for both of them.
The more I watched things unravel the more I was drawn to Rudy. I liked the softness in his eye and saw how he longed for attention. I became convinced that all he needed was someone to wholeheartedly commit to him. I was worried that if I didn't step in things could get exponentially worse for him. When it comes to horses, it seems they are only an owner or two away from auction and slaughter. I couldn't let this happen to him.
Truth be told, I'm a rescuer. I have a long history of trying to rescue people so it made sense I was drawn to this situation. I empathized with him. I thought he was misunderstood. I reasoned that if someone gave him enough love his troubles would end. His situation transported me back to my childhood where I didn't have a voice regarding many of the things that happened to me and I too acted out.
I signed a lease in June of 2015. I was thrilled to start working with Rudy. I was smitten with him from the get-go. I absolutely loved having a horse to "play" with whenever I wanted to. Three months flew by, and we were making good progress. His owner approached me and wanted to know if I would buy him. We exchanged a bill of sale and a dollar. Rudy was mine.