A couple of years ago, Gordy, my sister, Kim, and I fostered and rehabbed a total of fifteen horses through Howey Haven Horse Rescue, started and run by Teresa Meixner. HHHR is a small rescue with a huge heart; saying no is not easy for them, but they are space limited. We started by fostering two miniature horses, Journey and Bitsy, who are stories for another day, and when they were successfully adopted out we went back for more. That’s how we came to Dolly.
We didn’t intend to take Dolly home with us. HHHR had just rescued an entire herd of miniature horses, many of whom were young and minimally handled (read: wild). We were going to foster several of those frisky little critters thinking they would most benefit from the time we could commit to them. Dolly was shy, elusive about being caught, but she was older and seemed gentle compared to her younger companions.
Dolly coming into the Rescue
Still, there was something about Dolly that tugged at us. Food had been in short supply for this crew in their previous home, so most of them were making pigs of themselves on the fresh hay laid in front of them at feeding time. Not Dolly. In the brief time she had been at the Rescue, they noticed how she was always the last to eat, standing away from the others, holding to herself. Maybe a change of scenery would be good for her?
Because we were taking Dolly, Teresa suggested we take Misty, an older mare who had been at the Rescue for a while thinking a change of scenery might do her good as well and that she would make a good companion for Dolly. Two older little white mares seemed pretty tame after what we expected to take home with us, but Teresa has a keen eye for these things and so we dutifully loaded up the two girls and headed home.
Dolly and Misty heading home with us
We are always eager to welcome new creatures into our fold; some might say overeager. We love to fuss, Kim and I; it’s how we show love. Fortunately, both Misty and Dolly were open to the idea and we smothered them in fussing. It didn’t take long before they began to feel at home with us and it didn’t take long for us to feel that something was off with Dolly. Horses are stoic creatures. Because they are prey animals, their inherent DNA tells them to hide weakness or pain; subterfuge to the predator looking for an easy kill. Spend enough time around horses though and you pick up on the subtle signs — the wrinkled eye, the lowered head — to know something isn’t right. The vet confirmed what we suspected about Dolly’s discomfort and diagnosed Dolly with ulcers.
Dolly had only just come to us and we were working on gaining her trust. It probably helped that we were the source of food and comfort. But, we don’t push. Dolly had free range of the barn, the barnyard, and the backyard for grazing with her buddy, Misty. She could be anywhere she wanted to be, except at night when we tucked her and Misty into a stall for safety. When we started treatment, Dolly changed. Dolly decided to be with us.
Dolly had been hurting for a long time. Every day. In waves of pain. And no one cared. No one stopped the pain from happening. Until we did. We made her little meals of grain, bran, oil and molasses, in a warm water slurry and hand fed it to her every four hours, around the clock. We gave her antacid medications and if she stopped grazing for too long, enticed her to keep eating with handfuls of sweet alfalfa. In recognition of what that meant to her, Dolly refused to go into her stall at night, instead marching herself up to the patio outside our bedroom, to spend the night softly breathing vapors onto the glass door.
I know I am projecting here, providing a narrative of my own words for what an animal does and you might fairly question whether this is truly happening. But it’s true for me. I have tended to sick and even dying animals. I have felt their embattled life force stretch through fear to grab hold of the love I am wrapping them in; to hold on or to be let go, with love. Dolly wanted a full measure of that love and we accommodated her needs.
Who were we to say how she had been impacted by the many blows of her past trauma? If “with us” was what she wanted, where she felt safe, then — short of allowing her in the bed, “with us” is what she got.
Drawing the line there, my dear
It took some time for Dolly to heal, but one day, instead of heading up to the patio for the night, she turned and walked down to the barn with her friends. Dolly was done needing us in that way. She was ready to be a regular pony with a regular life. I only cried a little.
Dolly and Misty were the good companions that Teresa had envisioned, two little white mares keeping the backyard grass trimmed, eager for their daily fussing sessions. Then we got the request that someone was interested in adopting Misty and we started to worry about Dolly all over again. What would happen if her best buddy left her? It turns out that was worry needlessly spent. Though they had thought to only adopt one, meeting Dolly and seeing Misty and Dolly together was enough to convince them to make room for two. Misty and Dolly, who is now called Chloe, live together in a kind and loving home where they keep the backyard grass trimmed and are eager for their daily fussing sessions. Forever.
Dolly’s Rescue Story — and Misty, too — has a happy ending, a happy ending that would not have been possible without the presence of people like Teresa Meixner and HHHR who wade into the horrid messes made by other people and say — it’s the horse that matters. You can find HHHR at HHHR.org or on Facebook at Howey Horse Haven. Teresa’s instincts were that Dolly needed more, that Misty needed more than what could best be given to them and she made it happen. The gift she gave us was the chance to be Dolly’s bridge to wholeness. In these oh, so troubled times, I beg you to be that bridge for someone or something. And if you need that bridge yourself, I am right here.
Photo credit @Mason Doll