Rehabbing Rescue Horses: Q&A with Rebecca Boardman
Rebecca is a survivor of complex trauma and abuse and uses her own personal experience of lifelong horse therapy to help other trauma victims. She has authored over five-hundred educational articles; served as a professional editor for multiple publications; is an award winning international artist; a former veterinary technician; and has served as a consultant in various equine programs all over the world. She is an international presenter and speaker, and loves to teach – sharing her passion for everything equine.
Can you tell us about your background with horses and how you became involved in rescue?
I have had horses since I was ten when I was an awkward, bullied girl who had already endured tremendous abuse. About 15 years ago when the first shadows of the first great recession were approaching, a friend in need reached out. She had some youngsters she had not been able to part with who had become severely malnourished and ill. She asked for my help. I took them in, and within a year rehabbed them and found them new homes. Word got out and within just a few years, I had more people calling me than I could handle.
What types of horses do you take in at Arabian Rescue Therapy and how do you go about helping them?
We take only Arabian and Half-Arabian horses who are in need. We have made two exceptions, one of which is currently with us. One was a paint and one is a Huntsville prison horse. We do not rescue them from the slaughter lots, nor do we spend any money at all towards kill pen buyers. Sadly, this only exacerbates the problem of kill pen buyers. We are contacted by rescue groups who have saved them, and either they have no place for the horse to go, or the horse is in such a bad way no one else will take it. If we have room and resources, we take them in.
What obstacles does your rescue face on a daily or regular basis?
Mainly the cost of feed. Thankfully we have a hay provider who allows us to pay him out. But our hay bill regularly exceeds $5000 a year. And we have constant need of good help who will volunteer. People who are experienced and not in this for “the money”.
Can you tell us about the process of rehabilitating an extremely neglected or starved horse?
That is a loaded question!!! Every horse is different. I will give you the general run down. Unlike many rescues, who take a horse in and have them endure additional stress by being prodded and poked by a vet, if the horse is stable we take them HOME to our farm. We set them up with all the hay they can eat 24/7 – not top quality. You don’t feed a starving human a steak. You give them soup. So then we evaluate them.
After so many years of day to day interaction with horses, I have a profound intuition about the horses. I can read them. From head to toe I look them over; I evaluate their minds, their bodies, their spirits. I get a feel for them. From there I develop a plan that can be ever-evolving. From de-worming to health care, I address the horse in their own time, and will adjust their care as needed. There is no one-size-fits-all. But my objective is to first – make the horse feel and understand that they are safe and that food and survival are no longer an issue.
From there I introduce them to a buddy who will teach them about being happy and healthy mentally again. Then, I work on trust between human and horse. Health care needs are addressed along this process, and I do everything myself. I was a vet tech so unless it is huge, I can handle it. I wish I could tell you more, but it would take a book to tell you all of it!
My advice to anyone who goes this path, don’t rush, take your time, slow and steady wins the race. And for heavens sake, don’t take a slaughter horse and have its feet and teeth done and stomach probed and fecal counts and then 30% feed and alfalfa and supplements and my gosh all the things. Can you imagine? If you want a happy, healthy horse who trusts and loves again, GO SLOW!
Can you share some tips for helping an abused horse learn to trust humans again?
TIME AND MORE TIME.
My recommendation is to spend 90% of your time watching your horses, and not just the rescued one. Learn how they interact. How they talk. Watch every aspect of their behavior, toward each other and you. Then watch your rescue and see the differences, subtle and clear. Learn to think like horses think. That way, when challenges present themselves, you can think how to use the horses mind to your advantage. And always end on a good note! Even if it is something simple. End whatever you’re doing on a good note.
What advice would you give to someone who is taking in a neglected or starved horse to rehabilitate on their own?
ASK if you don’t KNOW. There are NO STUPID questions. Ever. If you have tried something and it didn’t work three times in a row, abandon that route and try another. Be willing to tweak your ideas to suit each horse. Use probiotics. Go slow. Don’t jump in and start doing all the “human” things to the horse. For heavens sake, don’t throw a saddle on it and demand training while it is still starved or terrified.
Commit yourself to six months minimum of just allowing them to eat and realize they are safe. Realize that the real victory will come when you show up and the horse calls to you and comes to you. THEN you can begin to think about handling feet, saddle training, etc. Of course if the animal needs emergency care- do it. But ugly feet and rough coats are not to be worried about. Cosmetics are nothing. Even superficial health issues are nothing. Allow nature, love, and good handling and management to give the horse the base they need to know they are safe. And just like rescued dogs, they KNOW they have been saved. I assure you.
How can people help your rescue organization if they’re interested?
We do need donations for our hay man. I am totally fine with us not having the money personally. If someone wanted to donate straight to the hay man, I can give you the contact info and still give you the tax write off! Our bill sits at $5k. And there is the coming fall and winter hay we will need to buy, about the same amount. Feeding the horses while we support them is our main need.
I would also like to set up a fund for clients who cannot afford anything for the counselors to see them. So many of our community need this service and do not have a penny to their name to spend on it.
Of course we always need gifts in kind – Tractor supply gift cards, we desperately need a TRACTOR (help!!!), we would love a bigger horse/stock trailer, our farm truck blew its radiator so a refurbished one would be lovely along with the cost of replacing it; and we are fine with used anything. New and fancy is lovely but my goodness not required. And sponsors for our permanent residents are NEEDED!!!! $150 a month sponsors one of our 15 permanent residents. To have help with these would be marvelous.