Thursday, March 22, 2012

Through Trudy's Eyes

This is Trudy. This is the better eye. She does have tumors on the third eyelid which will be removed in the scheduled April surgery.

Making the best choice for a horse is one of the most gut-wrenching things about being a horse rescuer. After receiving a call, Trudy entered my life in the summer of 1996. Having the mission of a horse rescuer, my phone is constantly ringing, but this call was markedly different. The phone rang on that day with a call like no other call I had received before. I solemnly listened as the caller recounted the story of the Appaloosa mare she was looking to re-home; Trudy. Trudy, the 12 year old mare, must be placed in a special and safe home. As the caller continued, she told how Trudy’s legs were cruelly bound in barbed wire and she was unmercifully drug behind a tractor. I sat there bewildered. How could a person do this? Why? To punish her? Is there any logical reason a horse should be tied with barbed wire or drug by a tractor or any other vehicle? What could Trudy have possibly done to 'deserve' such a wicked punishment? This sinister deed happened in North Georgia. Miraculously, a veterinarian helped Trudy heal from her painful, external wounds. However, the numerous mental wounds that were inflicted upon Trudy would take great knowledge and time to heal. Thankful that someone trusted me enough to attempt to bring healing to this fragile horse, I unequivocally exclaimed that I would take Trudy. Our mission for Trudy is the same mission for all of our horses, to give love and comfort. This obviously would be a much more difficult crusade to attain for Trudy.

When I first viewed poor Trudy I noted that her abuse was worn like virtual chains. She downheartedly held her neck close to her body. She was so hysterical and frightened that she tightened every muscle on her body. She blew her breath so hard through her nostrils that it sounded like a freight train passing through a busy crossing. Though petrified, Trudy had made the decision that she would never hurt anyone. Trudy’s unwillingness to strike back surprised us all as I have seen horses with severe abuse issues that, finally in desperation, would retaliate and strike out. Trudy was remarkably different. Trudy was the opposite of what we expected. Make no mistake; she held all her fears against humans deep in her own heart. Yet, as she trembled in fear, the only release of her relentless fright was the blowing through her nose.

As time went on, we were discouraged to see the abuse had caused her some vision problems. Her vision was there, but you could tell it was likely muddy. Perhaps this shadowy vision added to her fear by not being sure who or what was approaching her. Honestly, to gaze at Trudy was to have your heartbreak for her.

Despite all of her fears, she fared surprisingly well in the pasture here, as she knew the other rescued horses wouldn't harm her. Still, she perceived humans as the bad guys in her life. As a way to try to acquire her trust, I would go out and gently speak to her. I whispered promises to her, that no one would every hurt her again. I repeated that I would never let that happen, ever! She hesitantly listened to my words, but it seemed she didn't believe me. I felt dejected, enraged at her perpetrator, and hopeless. How could I help her understand that the humans in her life would only care for her? Being in Trudy’s presence and seeing the damage done to her made me cry. So to avoid my own heartache, I deliberately stayed away from Trudy. I had to find the human that could encourage both of us.

Soon after, in 2000, Monty Roberts came to the Georgia International Horse Park. I was encouraged to bring some horses for him to work with. Being extremely skeptical about participating, I called to inquire what they were looking for in the horses. They suggested that he wanted problem horses. I lamented, "Oh, I said I have a problem horse, the most abused horse I had ever come across". Having rescued about 100 horses by then and having some great life experiences, and unfortunately, seeing more than a few abuse cases, I knew I needed expert help to assist Trudy. I recounted Trudy’s story to the lady on the phone as she patiently listened. She remarked, "No'. She rapidly turned Trudy down! I was even more frustrated and skeptical now. These 'natural trainers', resistance free trainers, turned down and refused a horse that truly needed them. The lady on the phone scoffed, "Please, bring a horse, one that the whole audience could relate to. One that doesn't halter, doesn't load, doesn't clip, never been saddled, that bites, kicks or strikes. These are more common problems.” I sullenly agreed to bring two horses with these types of problems. But, what about Trudy? What was the next step for her?

The night before we had to be in Conyers, I brought Trudy inside the barn and put her in a stall. She was terrified and I was discouraged to the point of further tears. The last thing I ever wanted to do was cause her any more pain or fright. I brought 3 of her pasture buddies to stay with her, hoping she would relax, but she continued to hysterically cry and whinny in panic. My mind raced; maybe her abuse started in a stall or some confined space where she had no option to get away. Why did I bring Trudy in? Firm resolution set in; I was going to take her to Conyers anyway. She needed help so badly. I thought a real horse lover and accomplished horse trainer, like Monty Roberts, will at least look at her, right? That is all I wanted, just look at her, give me some guidance. Help me so I can help Trudy. The next morning I brought the trailer right next to the barn and opened the trailer door. Some of the volunteers were at the rescue to help and to travel with me to watch Monty Roberts in Conyers, too. I hesitantly took a deep breath and walked towards Trudy's stall. I slowly and quietly put her halter on and walked her towards the trailer. I took my food and tapped on the trailer floor and asked her to step up. To my surprise, she entered without hesitation. I took one of her pasture mates along for the ride. After the astonishingly quiet ride, we arrived to the Horse Park and I unloaded both horses and placed them in stalls. Abruptly the quiet ended, as I now heard two screaming horses. The gelding’s neighs were understandable as he was in a new place. I grieved as I heard Trudy’s frightened screeches. 'Whinnieeeeeee'. Now, instead of consoling her, the gelding pasture-mate screamed along with Trudy.

I ambled to check in and was greeted by Monty's son. He inquired who I brought, as he searched through his list of horses on his documents. I consequently confessed that Trudy was not on his list. I immediately repeated her story and told him that I acknowledge that I was told not to bring her. He asked me to wait here a few minutes. Now I figured they were calling security, kicking me out, removing me and my horses, and I wouldn’t even be able to see the show. Instead, Monty himself came up to me. He was intrigued by what he had heard of Trudy and wanted to learn more. His compassionate eyes welled up with tears, as he lowered his head and shook it as if to say, “Now how can a human do this?” He instructed his son to take my lead rope and put Trudy in the round pen. As he watched Trudy’s trepidation and anxiety mount, he confidently announced that would put her in the show. My skepticism slowly slithered into my mind. All I wanted was him to see her and give me advice. Questions poured into my apprehensive brain, “Now, to put her in the show, in front of a few thousand people? How is this going to turn out?” My stomach flipped and flopped, as my anxiety grew to Trudy’s size.

I was engrossed as I surveyed Monty work with the first three horses. Each horse joined up under 30 minutes of gentle work. Each horse serenely became Monty's best friend. At last it was Trudy's turn to go in the round pen. Cautiously, she trudged just a few steps into the pen, violently trembling. Blowing so hard , the people in the back bleachers could hear her. She was petrified. It was totally different from the other 3 previous horses’ reactions in the pen. Since the round pen fencing doesn't come down to the ground, Trudy put her nose almost to the ground as she slowly blundered around the panels looking for a way out, even if it was under the fencing. Monty somberly shared with the audience Trudy's story. He acknowledged that he didn't know if she would even 'Join-Up' with him. Trudy simply was not the normal kind of horse that he'd worked with in previous experiences.

The audience was glued to Trudy and Monty. There wasn't a sound from anywhere, as everyone watched Monty speak 'equine' to Trudy. Getting a horse with Trudy's abusive background to trust you is an enormous challenge in itself. Monty explained the problem in this way: Take a piece of paper, and fold. Then create a crease in it by rubbing your thumb over the crease. Now open the paper and you can easily spot the crease. Take your thumb now and rub the crease. It is still there, no matter how many times you rub the crease. It is deep into the paper, just like Trudy's abuse. It is deep in her soul, forever. Being guarded and wary has kept her safe from her human predators.

I am certain that Monty looked like a predator but after a mere 26 minutes of 'negotiating' with Trudy, she 'Joined-Up'. There was a loud sigh from the audience. Many held their breath, like I did. Tears streamed down the faces of men and woman alike. It was such a touching moment in my life, in Trudy's life, in Monty Roberts life, in the audience’s lives. I was overjoyed because Trudy had such a breakthrough to overcome her fear.

Monty made a big difference in Trudy's fear factor. She was able to be more relaxed in the pasture when humans approached. She has been in the same pasture since 1996 but new challenges lurked: in the past few years, she has been losing her eyesight. Now beside humans, horses would appear like predators because they would run past her and around her causing her terror to rise further. She was often not sure what direction to run in, but would attempt to keep up. Today, to avoid the other horses from eating Trudy's food, volunteers stay with her while holding her feed bucket, keeping her safe and quiet.

One of the volunteers, Roger, has been coming out for a few years and is totally in love with Trudy. We have talked about moving her to his farm when his fencing is complete. I know Roger would never hurt or scare her. He has gained her trust, as well as mine, over the many Sundays he spends with Trudy. He was the first to notice her eye was getting very irritated. After thoroughly examining the eye, Dr Leah, our veterinarian, decided it needed to be removed to relieve the pressure on Trudy's face, as the last thing we want was for Trudy to be in pain. Therefore, a few days ago, Trudy's eye was surgically removed, which required her to have some time in a stall as she healed. The last time Trudy was housed in a stall was 10 years ago. It wasn't a good experience, so I dreaded her needed 'stall rest'. While she was still under slight sedation, Roger walked her into a stall after the surgery. She sniffed the shavings beneath her feet. It was a good sign. I believe at that point she knew she was in a stall. Roger walked her around showing her the wooden walls and feed buckets by tapping on them. After the sedation was totally warn off, she was astonishingly content and quiet. I think she understands the safety of her confinement and that no horse can sneak up on her.

Trudy and Roger

We have discussed the possibility of building a new, smaller pasture for Trudy. The new paddock would allow her to stay out with one of her friends she lives with. A nice run in, wood fencing, and the serenity of being near the horse herd on the 22 acre field she has called home for many years will help her live longer and calmly enjoy life. That is all I ever wanted for her; to enjoy being a horse. Roger would love to bring her to his farm. He is working on fencing and is planning on adopting another gelding to take home when he is finished and horse ready. I will go to Roger’s and walk around the pasture. As her main protector, I have to maneuver through all the possible options; it was my promise to her all those years ago. At 28 years old, Trudy is more fragile than most. Making the decision that is best for Trudy is what is most important. I don't want to take her away from all the volunteers that love and care so much about her. Also, I don't want to hurt Roger since he has dedicated his time and trust to Trudy. Whatever my decision, I unapologetically will do what is best, not for me, but for my friend, Trudy.

Trudy having her eye removed