by Michael Elinson
At the fork in the private driveway at the end of Falstaff road, attached to a hitching post, hangs the small wooden silhouette of a horse mounted on a white board over a red arrow pointing in the direction of the barn. The front legs of the horse keep falling off, even though it was repaired for a second time just a month ago. This altogether minor detail unwittingly provides an apt metaphor for the constant struggle, the sometimes Sisyphean task of keeping a horse rescue going in this day and age. One wonders: if Sisyphus had been aided by Equus, would his daily labors have been quite so arduous?
Since their domestication some 5,500 years ago, horses have figured prominently in our lives, directly contributing to the ascent of civilization - as a form of transportation, integral to commerce, agriculture and warfare. Horses continue to find usefulness today in forestry, sustainable agriculture and law enforcement. They have enjoyed a storied history in recreation, from the Olympic sports of jumping, dressage and eventing to the simple pastime of horseback riding on a beach at sunset. The line between homo sapien and equine is blurred when one considers the inclusion of not one, but three racehorses on a list of the 100 greatest athletes of all time. Secretariat at #35 beats out Mickey Mantle, Walter Payton, and Chris Evert, even one-upping the famous jockey Willie Shoemaker!
Ordained by Zeus to bring lightening and thunder from Mt. Olympus, Pegasus was then transformed to live amongst the constellations. The white-winged stallion symbolized man's own dream of flight and was said to be a source of divine inspiration. In fiction and entertainment, we have fallen in love with the likes of Trigger and Flicka, Black Beauty and Fury. In National Velvet, Elizabeth Taylor shared the screen with a horse named Pi. We thrilled to Seabiscuit's triumph against all odds. And who can forget the Lone Ranger's cry “Hi Ho Silver!”
This is why horses matter. Why you should care about their well-being.
I fear these high-minded musings will probably be lost on most of the dedicated, mission-critical volunteers of Well Trained Horses. They’re just too darn busy caring for the likes of Gaby, Bluff, Taj, and Axl. Flash, Tango, Seiji and Doc. Diego, Dash, Ricky and King. For the twelve to eighteen horses residing there at any one time, there are flakes of hay to cart about, buckets of rice bran, beet pulp and molasses-infused alfalfa to distribute, water troughs to fill and refill and yes, sometimes overfill. There are medications to dispense, hooves to pick, hooves to trim; coats to curry comb and brush, halters to attach. There are pads to be positioned and finally saddles to astride.
While there are numerous horse rescues in the Western United States, many with cute names and fancy acronyms, Well Trained Horses is one of the few who cover all the bases in the meticulous process from acquisition, medical and dental evaluation and treatment, to hours and hours of round pen exercise, both liberty work and lunging. And only after a once-neglected horse has become re-accustomed to basic voice, usually rein, commands to start, stop, turn and change gaits, well past the time it has been determined a formerly-abused race horse can readily accept a rider other than their primary trainers, has the point in the process been reached when a “forever home” can even be considered.
4-R Ranch might be a more suitable name for Icssoma Farm, home of Well Trained Horses, since the core of the work is most easily-described and alliteratively-lassoed as Rescue, Rehabilitation, ReTraining and ReHoming. This comprehensive four-phase approach comes at a hefty cost, however, which is why, in part, this model is so rarely seen.
These days, Well Trained Horses is poised and ready to jump to the next level. Their Facebook page is picking up steam, drawing in fans from across the country and around the world. A network of kindred spirits is creating itself like a spider’s web. The plight of cast-off creatures, be they felines, canines or in this case equines, is a universal one, which is why local media outlets are standing up and taking notice of the heart-centered work of the little rescue that could. Maybe you can, too.
Icssoma Farm is located at 11114 Falstaff Road in Sebastopol, California. To visit, volunteer, inquire about lessons or adoption, or to make a charitable contribution to Well Trained Horses call 707 829-3600.