In early 2022, a 26-year-old pony named Quest safely carried young children around their first dressage show, helping them earn ribbons and experience the thrill of competition.
Though the day included a number of firsts for his riders, teaching youngsters to ride was another day on the job for the small, kind gelding.
Quest’s career as a teacher, however, began later in his life. On August 21, 2015, animal control officers in Washington County, Maryland, were completing a routine welfare check at a farm when they encountered a horrible scene. In an old barn on the property, three horses—Quest and two other ponies, Rio and Piper—were found in extremely poor condition.
Animal welfare officers learned that the horses had been locked away for more than 10 years and were suffering from extreme neglect. In particular, Quest, a stallion that was isolated from the other horses, was in stall overlooking lush green pastures that he could not access. He stood on more than four feet of manure with hooves that had grown three feet in length, curling and spiraling out, making it nearly impossible for him to walk or lay down.
Before she could be rescued, Piper passed away as a result of conditions caused by neglect, but Quest and Rio were successfully transferred to Days End Farm Horse Rescue (DEFHR) in Woodbine, Maryland, for rehabilitation and to begin their journey toward a brighter future.
In the weeks and months that followed Quest’s rescue, DEFHR staff witnessed an incredible transformation in the pony, both mentally and physically.
“He was once a pony that had not been able to lay down in years, and he was now rolling in the mud and calling out to other horses at the farm,” shared DEFHR Assistant Trainer Leigha Schrader. “Quest was learning to be a horse again.”
In just five months, Quest had fully rehabilitated. He was healthy and sound and ultimately cleared by the veterinarian and farrier to begin training. Though he lacked prior human interaction and under saddle experience, his fortitude in overcoming obstacles is what stood out to Schrader once they began working together.
Quest had arrived as a 19-year-old stallion. After finishing rehabilitation and being castrated, Schrader noted that Quest had to learn how to socialize and interact with other horses. “It sounds so simple, but this caused a lot of stress and anxiety for Quest,” she explained. “We had to keep his herd size small to avoid overwhelming him.
“It is truly miraculous that Quest rehabbed without limitations,” continued Schrader. “It’s also incredible that Quest was introduced to humans and training in his older age and later became a children’s lesson pony. Quest has a golden spirit. He was always engaging, strong-willed, and had this spark that you don’t come across very often.”
Schrader and Quest worked together for nearly 18 months. In that time, Quest became a reliable mount and also shined as a trick pony. Throughout the summer of 2017, the pair competed and performed at local horse shows, fairs, and festivals. At a dressage competition in September 2017, Quest caught the eye of Jennie Lupkin, Assistant Manager of Windsong Arabians in Mount Airy, Maryland.
“The second I laid my eyes on him I fell in love with him,” said Lupkin. “At the time, I knew nothing about him or his incredible story, but I couldn’t get my mind off him. About a week later I learned he was available for adoption.”
Lupkin wasted no time completing her application and shortly thereafter, Quest landed his forever home with her.
Though he had come a long way in overcoming his dark past, Quest arrived at Windsong seeking constant reassurance, something Lupkin was prepared to offer.
“In the beginning, he was sensitive, reactive, and easily overwhelmed,” she shared. “Since then, he’s developed a ton of confidence in himself. He now trusts that I wouldn’t put him in an unsafe situation. I’m so proud of him.”
Lupkin, who oversees Windsong’s children’s riding program, didn’t adopt Quest to be a lesson pony, however. “I adopted Quest with the intention of letting him settle in and then find a healthy balance letting him do what he wanted to do,” she explained.
In time, it became apparent to Lupkin that Quest was able to pay it forward by passing along what he had learned from his own confidence-building journey to young, tentative riding students—and it’s a job that Quest has wholeheartedly embraced.
“He’s the greatest teacher and babysitter,” stated Lupkin. “I trust him to take care of young riders and he is so incredibly patient and forgiving. If anything goes wrong, he comes straight to wherever I am in the arena for help. Sometimes I have trouble teaching my nervous students to ride independently because he wants to bring them to me when he feels their nervousness.”
The topic of Quest aging is a sensitive one for Lupkin, but luckily for Quest, Lupkin will let him decide how he’d like to live out his years.
“Quest will continue doing what makes him happy until something changes,” she said. “If he told me tomorrow that he doesn’t want to be ridden any longer, I’d turn him out to pasture and groom him every single day for the rest of his life. He doesn’t owe me anything. If anything, I owe him for everything he’s given me.”
Previously subjected to years of neglect and abuse, Quest didn’t let his past define him. Instead, this remarkably brave pony defied the odds and has left a lasting impression on all those who have crossed his path. For Lupkin in particular, he showcased the heart and resilience of horses and even inspired her to adopt another rescue, a miniature horse named Whiskey.
“My rescues knew what it was like to be without proper love and human interaction,” Lupkin concluded. “Their behavior today shows how they accept love and that they are so thankful for what they have. A rescue horse is not a broken horse. A rescue horse was in a bad situation that was out of their control and they are ready to start over. Any horse can tear down walls or build bridges if you just take your time with them.”
For more than three decades, Days End Farm Horse Rescue has been renowned for working to not only prevent equine abuse and neglect, but also to educate the public about equine welfare and help their staff, volunteers, and members of the public become better horsemen and women. Learn more about DEFHR‘s adoptable horses as well as their numerous education and volunteer opportunities. Visit www.defhr.org or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.