Going to look at Red I had no idea what I was getting into. I found him through a vague ad that described him as a "broke" Tennessee Walking Horse x Appaloosa. My Dad was simply looking for a trail horse, and was hoping for a Tennessee Walker, so we thought we'd take a look. However, we were not prepared for the insane amount of energy that met us in the stall. Red's head was thrashing, and he lunged toward my Dad looking for treats.
His owner began to share his history. She had saved him from the kill pen when he was just a little more than skin and bones. The pictures broke my heart. Just five years old and you could see all the struggles he had already been through. There was no hope left in his eyes. In her care Red went from a hopeless starving horse to having life in him again. But admitting she had taken him as far as she could in his rehab and training, she was looking for his next home where he could continue to progress.
My Dad did not want this horse, as he was looking for an easy ride that was ready for anything. Red wasn’t a good fit for him, and I could see that. However, I chose to give him a chance and continue with a test ride. He was very antsy going from the barn to the arena and I could see he still needed to put on more weight, increasing my Dad’s desire to let this one go. I was not deterred. I had experience conditioning horses, and didn't see Red as any different.
As soon as I got on him I knew Red was special. During the test ride I tried many things a horse would find irritating in an attempt to see how he responded with an inexperienced rider who might make those mistakes. I never reached his limit. He was patient and accepting of everything I asked him to do, and he never picked a fight. I had to have him. My Dad wasn’t convinced so we said we would think about it. But the longer I waited, the more I knew I wanted to give him a chance. I contacted his owner and soon he was on his way to our little barn.
It wasn’t easy. After a few months of great progress he gained weight, energy, and training was going wonderfully. Then he had a regression. A major regression. We still don’t know what triggered it, but my Mom was working him from the ground and Red charged. He started going after her every time she came near, and it wasn’t long before that translated to anyone who approached him.
Thankfully I had experienced cases like this before and instantly put him on a strict training routine and limited his contact to only me. I spent hours trying to undo the pain of his past. I had to teach him how to be a horse, how to respond to pressure, and most importantly how to trust a handler.
After a year of training he is a very different horse from the fearful reactive horse he used to be. He is now the first horse waiting by the gate in the field and will follow everyone wherever they go just to get more attention. We can ride past anything and he never spooks. Red protects his rider and will do anything to keep them from falling off (he has caught me several times). I can hop on him bareback and bridleless without any concern.
He is still young and is learning a lot, but he has never stopped trying to understand what I ask him. That willingness and try in him that I saw the first time I met him has encouraged me to never give up. Even when he seemed so dangerous, I saw the scared horse who had been through so much pain and just needed to be shown it's okay to trust again. I will never stop trying to give him the best life possible, and I know he will never stop trying for me.