When I’m out with my horses, people often ask me why “Hard Luck” is on the side of my trailer, or why its the name of the farm. I could tell you its because if it wasn’t for hard luck, I wouldn’t have any at all. You probably don’t want me sitting by you at a casino. I definitely won’t improve your odds. If something bad can happen, it almost always will happen to me, no matter how much positive thinking and manifestation of positive outcome techniques I use. I could tell you we’re Hard Luck because usually wherever I show up, me and my horses are automatic underdogs in terms of breeding and professional training.
But, the real reason the farm is named Gardner Hard Luck Horse Farm is because we take in neglected, starving, abused, or simply out of luck equines. Sometimes we take in various other critters, but the majority of our rescue work is focused on horses, ponies, and donkeys. We are not a formal “rescue.” We don’t utilized volunteers or ask for donations. Everything we do is 100% funded out of our own pocket and accomplished through Gardner family manual labor. I put that out there, because I do receive requests from people that want to come volunteer on our property. I appreciate the sentiment, but we don’t carry the insurance for that type of liability.
If you read some of our earliest posts, they detail the personal stories of down and out horses we brought home and rehabilitated. Most of them still reside right here on the property. I make a commitment to any animal we bring here, to never allow them to end up in a neglect situation again. That’s a big promise to make that comes with significant financial and personal responsibility. We are at maximum capacity on our current property which is one of the reasons we aren’t bringing in a lot of rescues at this time. However, there are the occasional impulse decisions that lead to a new animal on the property.
Enter Portfolio Mission an eleven year old registered Thoroughbred with nine starts during her racing career…Darling Husband was out on a livestock hauling job. He was sent to pick up some donkeys an acquaintance had purchased, and told to stop by a property and pick up the “free” horse advertised on Craig’s list. When he arrived to pick up the “free” horse he was met with a bag of bones, wreck of animal, with barely enough strength to load on the trailer. He immediately called the person that had requested the pick-up to see if they had any knowledge of the horse’s current condition. At that moment Portfolio Mission became the property of the Gardner Hard Luck Horse Farm, since the person that originally requested this transport did not want the animal in that condition, and there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell, that she would spend one more minute with the people advertising her as free.
Many of my non-horsey friends like to send me links for “free” or “cheap” horses, not understanding that these are anything but “free” or “cheap.” Non-equestrians don’t know that the purchase price is the least expensive part of horse ownership regardless of that initial cost. The “free” ones usually cost a lot more than a purchased horse in the end by the time you factor dollars and hours spent rehabbing the animal. So, I went to work on this “free” horse. Not to brag, but I do possess a special skill set. Making things, including myself, fat is a gift.
It was a slow process unloading and getting Portfolio Mission into the corral off of our round pen. The trailer ride had zapped what remaining strength she had. We supplied her with fresh water, a full hay net, and a mineral tub. Re-feeding syndrome can be fatal for a starved horse. As much as I wanted to just dump a fifty pound bag of high fat/high protein feed in her corral, I knew that would kill her. Once a starving animal regains access to food and water, the body can flush it through the system quickly depleting salt/minerals, causing an electrolyte imbalance that results in death. So even though this horse needed a huge influx of calories, we had to be careful.
After allowing her to eat hay and minerals non-stop for twenty-four hours, we began to introduce feed. I started with an alfalfa based pellet that was high in fat and in protein, but didn’t contain alot of molasses that could aggravate ulcers if they existed. After four days I began a feeding regimen consisting of six quarts of a 12% protein/8% fat grain and three quarts alfalfa based pellet with 14% protein/8% fat, topped off with one cup vegetable oil twice a day. I also soaked a full bucket of alfalfa cubes in water, for an alfalfa mush that I served twice a day. On top of that Portfolio Mission had 24/7 access to coastal hay and a mineral/16% protein tub combo.
As soon as we brought her home, I began thinking of where Portfolio Mission would ultimately reside. Like I said, we were at maximum capacity, and I needed a rehoming plan. The home had to be some place that I would not lose track of the horse. She had to go to someone I knew well and trusted. Thankfully, it just so happened that a friend of mine was in the market for an Off Track Thoroughbred (OTTB) for a dressage/jumping prospect. She was currently shopping and having difficulty finding the right horse in her budget. My friend also had access to three hundred acres that I did not. I immediately sent her a message. My friend that we’ll refer to as, The Artist, was very interested, but also wary. After all Portfolio wasn’t much to look at, would take a little more feeding knowledge than your average healthy horse, and we had no idea if she was sound. She looked like she was six months away from being healthy. The Artist would tentatively consider the horse providing that she wasn’t responsible for rehab.
I kept feeding the horse as much as I could without causing her to colic, hoping The Artist wouldn’t find a better prospect before I could get this horse looking better. Thankfully I took a photo of Portfolio Mission minutes after unloading her. At day fourteen in the rehab process, I was feeling disheartened that we weren’t making progress. I snapped a quick picture with my phone, and when I compared the initial photo side-by-side to the day fourteen photo I immediately noticed the difference. There was hope. We kept going.
Then overnight Portfolio Mission began to shed her winter coat. After being malnourished for so long, there was no new growth under the hair that fell out. She was bald, like all the way bald down to bare black skin. So, I threw a flysheet on her to protect her from flies and sunburn until new hair began to grow. We had opened her corral into our round pen, so she could move around. It was also an opportunity to get an idea whether she was sound or not. About three weeks in Portfolio Mission had a golf ball size lump on the left side of her lower jaw. Our vet that specializes in and raises race horses, was impressed with our progress and informed me that the lump was an infection of the salivary gland. With a round of antibiotics and flushing out her mouth daily, Portfolio Mission recovered.
By day twenty eight, the high fat/high protein diet combined with living in a small corral with only a sixty foot round pen for exercise was starting to get to Portfolio mission when she charged me coming into the corral. She was looking amazing. Her hair was beginning to grow, and it was oh so shiny from the high fat diet. So I decided that maybe it was time for her to move to our sheep enclosure. It would give her room to run and stretch her legs without having to deal with herd integration with our full size horses. Only four weeks after bringing her home, the skeleton of a horse that could barely stand up, was fit, sleek, and busting around the sheep area at a full gallop throwing extra bucks out for good measure. We kept pushing the feed into her, and I made the call to The Artist, that this horse was ready for her, if she was ready for the horse.
It was love at first sight. Technically second, because I had The Artist come out to see Portfolio two weeks earlier as evidence that she was making progress fast. I delivered Portfolio to Dressage Queen’s farm where she would be living for the foreseeable future. A week later The Artist sent me video of Portfolio’s, now named Stella LaNeigh, first ride. It wasn’t long, just some slow walking to see how Stella would behave under saddle and begin the process of building up her muscles, but The Artist was ecstatic with Stella’s calm, sweet personality.
There are few things that bring me as much pride as seeing an animal in Portfolio’s now Stella’s condition returned to a vibrant healthy life. Even though Stella is far from the first that we’ve rehabbed, she was one of the most underweight cases. I really expected her recovery to be closer to two months, but couldn’t be happier with the fast results. She’ll go on to live a life of purpose where she is loved and cared for, a huge improvement on her life the previous few years. It’s a sad part of the horse industry, but unwanted or underperforming animals often find themselves in this situation. Horses are large animals that have big space and feed requirements. Many well meaning people fail to comprehend what the care and maintenance of just one of these animals requires in terms of money and labor. Then sadly others attempt to make a quick profit by buying and selling the animals quickly without supplying basic needs during the process.
I only have a vague idea of the horrors this horse most likely experienced, but I have an intimate knowledge of how she’ll be treated from now on. I’m excited for Stella and The Artist, and can’t wait to see what they accomplish in the future. I’m crossing my fingers they may be showing with me and my miscreants in the near future!