For horses that have been fortunate enough to survive neglect or abuse and have been able to fully rehabilitate thanks to the help of equine rescue and welfare organizations, the ultimate goal is to find loving forever homes.
However, for a variety of reasons, many rescue horses available for adoption are not suitable as riding partners and, as a result, the pool of potential adopters shrinks. The good news is that the trend toward adopting companion-only horses is one that continues to grow in popularity. And, thanks to the team at Days End Farm Horse Rescue (DFEHR) in Woodbine, Maryland, the organization’s companion-only horses are given opportunities to shine and demonstrate their value despite not being rideable.
In addition to full-time staff that care for and train the organization’s horses, DEFHR relies on dedicated volunteers to contribute to the growth and well-being of the equines in need. Volunteers play a critical role in the daily care and training of the horses and, given the close bonds they develop with the horses, their insight and opinions are often sought by DEFHR staff when it comes time to find new homes for the horses.
Case in point is Sandy Fain, of Silver Spring, Maryland, who has been a volunteer at DEFHR for eight years, first by helping with barn chores and now supporting in a horse training capacity. Though he no longer owns horses, he remains devoted to helping DEFHR’s horses at its facility and even welcomes them to his small home farm he lovingly dubs the “Silver Spring Equine Spa” given that it’s become a place for DEFHR’s horses to spend quality time and one-on-one training with Fain while enjoying a change of scenery.
In recent months, Fain has been working closely with a nine-year-old warmblood-cross gelding named Nifty Nanook. Nanook came to DEFHR in 2019 as a transfer from another organization. Conformation abnormalities with his back make him unsuitable for riding, but Fain has discovered Nanook’s knack for having a job. Fain works with the gelding in hand with a halter and lead and focuses on liberty work, which does not use a lead. Fain notes that this type of work will help prepare Nanook for a new home.
“The training I assist with at DEFHR is mainly for companion horses and focuses primarily on teaching good citizenship around a barn in preparation for adoption,” explained Fain. “The liberty work I do is basic and practical with that objective. I teach horses to walk or trot alongside me, halt on request, and turn right or left and back up without having to use a lead line to guide them. I work on these liberty exercises alongside training with a halter and lead.”
When it comes to Nanook in particular, Fain is quick to share that his friendly personality makes him especially fun and an ideal candidate for an adopter looking for a horse that is easy to handle and great with other horses and children alike.
“Nanook is puppy-like,” said Fain. “From my first session with him I could almost hear him saying, ‘What do you want me to do? I can do that. Want to see me do it again? What else do you want me to do? Tell me! Tell me!’ Nanook seeks and responds to leadership. He is energetic, engaging, sensitive, and curious. When we are working together, he is very attentive, eager to please, and enjoys learning new things.”
In the five months Nanook has been working with Fain, DEFHR staff have seen the gelding blossom. According to Fain, working at liberty helps build and reinforce the horse-human connection and is especially useful for horses needing a boost in confidence.
“I perceive a distinct difference in the bond that builds between the horses and me as I begin working at liberty versus the bond that that arises by simply working with a halter and lead,” shared Fain.
“Without a halter and lead, I become more aware of how my body language affects the horses and what they are communicating to me as they move and respond. [When working at liberty], I believe the horses gain confidence and trust thanks to the freedom they have to make choices. The improved connection enhances work we do with a halter and lead.”
While Fain continues his work with other DEFHR horses, he knows that Nanook is ready for the next step and was glad to learn that the gelding’s adoption is pending.
“Nanook will greet you in the field, has good manners around the barn, and is kind and trustworthy enough to allow around an eight-year-old, like my grandson,” concluded Fain. “He will try his best to do anything you ask of him. An adopter looking for a companion that they can play with and enjoy would find a great partner in Nanook.”
For more information about adoptable horses at DEFHR, please visit: https://www.defhr.org/meet-the-horses/