In May 2022, a 20-year-old Warmblood mare was seized by animal control officers in Howard County, Maryland, due to neglect.
She was one of six horses found at a private residence, all confined in their dark stalls. When Howard County Animal Control arrived at the scene, she was standing in four feet of manure. While it’s not clear how much time the mare, later named Rikki, spent in that stall, it was presumed she may have been confined as long as 10 years without access to turnout or the outdoors.
Although she was a healthy weight and her hooves only slightly overgrown, she was covered in hives that had not been treated. The veterinarian at the scene deemed the untreated hives grounds enough to seize the mare from the property. As a result, animal control officers transported Rikki to Days End Farm Horse Rescue (DEFHR), in Woodbine, Maryland.
From that point forward, the timid, neglected Warmblood was given a second chance, and she embarked on her happily ever after.
Upon arrival, Rikki entered DEFHR’s rehabilitation program. Luckily, her hives and hooves were relatively simple to address. According to DEFHR’s Equine Health Manager Lynn Garvin, Rikki’s greatest challenge was becoming acclimated to a new farm, including being turned out in a field. Having been in isolation for so long, Rikki had become very sensitive to change.
“Rikki did not like being contained and almost immediately began chewing her stall’s wood to the point where, for her safety and the preservation of our stall, we felt it necessary to move her,” explained Garvin.
“We moved her into our quarantine barn, which has fewer chewable surfaces and two large Dutch doors that allowed her to stick her head out. Once she settled in there, our goal was to establish a routine that she could rely on.”
Rikki spent most of the summer in her “room with a view” and a small turnout space that helped her feel safe. Over time, DEFHR staff gave her access to a larger turnout space for longer periods until she and her turnout mate were able to calmly remain outdoors overnight.
“Confinement and isolation can have long-lasting, damaging effects on horses,” continued Garvin.
“I think Rikki weathered it as well as any horse could have. She adjusted to the routine and the biggest issue was getting her over some environmental allergies. We joked that maybe she was allergic to the sky, wind, or the sun as she hadn’t seen any of it in a decade. We gave her a full-coverage fly sheet to help manage the allergies—it was zebra print, which matched her personality perfectly.”
After three months in rehabilitation, Rikki was given a clean bill of health and cleared to move into DFEHR’s training program to help prepare her for adoption.
DEFHR Trainer Leigha Schrader started working with Rikki by addressing her anxiety.
“Due to the harsh neglect in her past, Rikki struggles with change and can become overwhelmed by new surroundings,” shared Schrader.
“When Rikki first arrived, being in stalls and other small spaces like trailers was a huge challenge she had to overcome. As a result, her training included slow introductions to new places, especially those that involved leaving her herd. I use positive reinforcement to encourage relaxation in our work. Rikki tends to be all business, so I have to remind her that we are just trying to have fun!”
The DEFHR team’s patience paid off and Schrader now remarks on Rikki’s ability to wait for her meals calmly and patiently in a stall before being turned out. She has also overcome her fear of trailering and now loads and stands quietly for off-site travel. Rikki’s most notable adventures have been for leisurely trail rides with Schrader.
“I believe Rikki had been started under saddle in the past, but it definitely had been years since she had a rider on her back,” stated Schrader. “I re-started Rikki under saddle, including riding her English, Western, over obstacles, and on trails. My goal was to try to expose her to as much as possible.
“Rikki has really excelled in overcoming her anxiety, and she is now very confident,” Schrader continued. “I have taken Rikki on a few off-site trail rides to Patuxent River State Park. Once she became accustomed to the trailering—she loads with no problem now—Rikki relaxed on the trails and showed me that she enjoys going for long walks.”
Now, well over a year into her new, happy life, Rikki is ready to find her forever family. Schrader believes that Rikki would love a home where she can be a companion, potentially to a younger horse that needs a good leader. Rikki’s gentle nature would also make her the ideal partner for light trail riding or as a mount for the occasional pony ride for a family’s children.
Whatever her future forever family has in store for her, Garvin and Schrader both agree Rikki’s sense of humor and communication skills will win them over.
“It’s hard to describe Rikki’s personality to someone who hasn’t met her. She reminds me of the Harry Potter character Gurg. It’s as if, for the best partnership, you must offer her a gift, but it cannot be something that she can acquire on her own. She is seeking the greatest, most magical gift,” Schrader laughed.
“Ultimately, I know that Rikki is smarter than me and I have a great deal of respect for her.”
For more information about Rikki and DEFHR’s adoptable horses, visit: https://defhr.org/available-horses/