My unicorn’s name is Theo. He was once a wild horse rescued from the Fort Polk Army Base in Louisiana. The Fort Polk horses (or ponies as they are commonly called) are compact, rugged, and extremely personable. They are descendants of Spanish horses brought to the New World over several hundred years ago. They are made up of distinct breeds from cavalry horses that were stationed at then Camp Polk early in World War II, and of course, some runaway farm horses from the surrounding area. Theo's top breeds include Puerto Rican Paso Fino, Peruvian Paso, and Saddlebred, which perfectly exemplifies both the Spanish and U.S. Cavalry origins of the Fort Polk Horses.
The first time my husband took me out to the drop zone—a location that soldiers routinely parachute into and also where hundreds of Polk horses used to roam—I immediately fell in love. Many of these wild horses were so used to seeing humans that they were calm, friendly, and unafraid to approach us. I dreamed of adopting one from a local rescue but was intimidated by the idea of training a wild horse on my own. However, many of these horses were rounded up and sent to local kill pens for slaughter, so I decided to give it a shot in hopes of changing at least one life.
When Freedom Reins Ranch and Rescue posted a little red horse with a single star on his forehead, I knew he was the one. I figured he’d be passed over because he was not flashy or unique. Many Polk horses are glorious shades of gray, bright red with flaxen manes and tails, or brilliant bay in color. He was also not as friendly as many seemed to be. He was very reserved and aloof.
I adopted Theo in August of 2018. He was only about 15 months old and had been captured in January 2018 as a weanling. He was transported via one of the local kill pen’s trailers to a holding facility, where he contracted strangles (a respiratory infection) and became very ill. Thankfully, a foster location nursed him back to health. When I first met him, he was skinny and extremely frightened.
I went out to visit him at my boarding location every single day the first few weeks following adoption. He went from a shy, nervous wreck of a horse to a calmer, much more outgoing and friendly horse in that time. However, each task took me much longer to complete than I initially anticipated. He had never had his hooves trimmed, had never had a halter put on, and many things were still very scary to him. It took such a long time to gain his trust. Each day I spent time with him, I tried to do fun activities and teach him new things. Slowly but surely, he came to anticipate and even enjoy our time together.
The moment I knew for sure we were meant to be was one day when I put him back in his pen, removed his halter, and started heading back to the gate. He stood for a moment to think, then raced back toward me cutting in front and standing before me as if to say, “wait, I don’t want you to leave yet!”. I knew then that he was not only learning to trust me, but that he was starting to genuinely like me as well! I beamed with happiness on the way home that day.
Over time, he continued to gain weight and flourish. His trust in me also grew. We became quite the team, and still are to this day! Theo is so intelligent and loves to learn new things. He knows so many maneuvers on the ground and is always eager to please. We had our first ride just a month ago and he did perfectly. I believe it is a testament to all the time we have spent together and the level of trust that we have. To this day, he refuses to allow any other person to catch him. He is still untrusting of many other people. It is something we continue to work on even two years later.
I think much of his personality can be attributed to the fact that Theo has the dreaded “double whorl” on his forehead. He often goes from moments of complete calm to moments of over-reactivity. That can make it frustrating and difficult to work with him at times. There are many moments when I feel like I have done something wrong and I am failing Theo as a trainer and an owner. However, it is in these moments that we learn the most and are able to further build our relationship. It makes me realize how valuable the time has been that we’ve spent together, and I am so grateful that I have the time to spend with Theo that he truly needs and deserves in order to fully trust a human. Our setbacks will always be overcome with progress as we grow together. I have no doubt that Theo is the horse for me and is indeed my unicorn. The spot on his forehead is proof!