ONE OF MY HORSES is a pretty Quarter Horse mare I met when she was 3 years old. Zena is a well-built, beautiful roan with black points and a heart of gold. She arrived with two other horses at a farm where I was working several years ago. I did the fundamental groundwork with her and her travel-mates. Of the three horses, she was the calmest but he most wary, and the quickest to learn—a highly intelligent horse who was eager to participate.
A Turn for the Worse
Sometime after Zena and her
buddies arrived at the farm,
someone was hired to “start”
them along with some other
horses the farm owner had. The
intensity of pressure these horses
endured during this training
process was at a level of intensity
I would define as abusive.
They were lunged relentlessly
on tight circles while being
terrorized by a plastic flag. There
was no means of escape or chance
to give the right answer because no
questions were ever asked.
These horses went from serene
pasture life and light handling to
being saddled and ridden hard in
less than two days. They had bald
spots and sores on their faces from
harshly used rope halters.
One of the mares was so
traumatized by the experience
that she colicked and foundered
after one of her rides. A gelding
sustained tendon damage in both
front legs. Other horses had spur
sores, leg gashes and went into
desperate fits of bucking at the
start of each session. They all
su;ered emotional and physical
The rough handling Zena
endured in her early saddle
training caused her to lose weight
and shut down mentally.
Zena su;ered along with
the rest but sustained the least
amount of obvious bodily injury.
I think she was smart enough
to figure out how to cope with
the situation. She basically
shut down, which is a common
response from horses that go
through this kind of trauma.
Zena’s ability to be compliant
instead of reactive (running away
or fighting back) likely protected
her from much worse.
Nevertheless, there was a
physical and psychological toll.
The stress caused rapid and
extreme weight loss. You couldn’t
touch her face or tie her (she’d
been beaten in the face with a
flag on a stick). She had back pain
and became understandably
impossible to catch.
Retraining After Trauma
Some time later, the farm where
Zena lived suddenly closed, leaving
her and other horses homeless. I
was able to take her and one other
horse, and find homes for some of
For six months I could barely
touch Zena. She was terribly afraid
and had every reason to be. I left
her alone as much as possible
so she could be a horse and
Zena was cautious and
YOUR H RSE LIFE » BY DALE RUDIN
When Dale first got Zena,
she was underweight and
had shut down mentally.
ena the Warrior An abused filly decides in her own
she’s ready to