Diane + Gabe
Height 14.1 hh
Gabe was one of the first horses I met at Days End Farm Horse Rescue when I first started volunteering and he had immediately caught my eye. He was too high level for me then – a brand new volunteer with no previous horse experience at all. While I admired him from afar, I never really expected much to come of it. Instead, I threw myself head first into everything I could, drinking up every opportunity to learn. When volunteering alone wasn’t enough, I began fostering a horse; a chance to spend time with them one on one for an hour each week. It was a great way to learn more and grow, while supporting the rescue. Over the course of my first nine months, I moved from one foster to the next as horses got adopted; after the second got adopted, I found myself at a loss.
By this time, I’d been at the farm long enough that I knew many of the horses, but when I sat down to think about who I could foster, I found myself drawing a blank. I’d decided that perhaps I’d try to foster horses that could use the additional attention, to help them get adopted. It was even a joke – when I fostered a horse, they seemed to leave, which was a great thing! But while I had a few ideas, none of them really excited me. So, as per usual, I turned to my partner for her opinion. That was when she reminded me about Gabe.
I learned that he was an interesting case; an 11 year old bay Polish Arabian who had been at the rescue for several years with no adoption, despite working with multiple trainers. Time and time again, they found the same thing: he was conformationally sound, but consistently panicked under saddle. With long, slow, dedicated work he could be ridden but it took a great deal of patience, time and one on one attention. Each new trainer had to essentially begin from scratch. So time and time again, he was passed over.
It seemed like a perfect opportunity. A horse with a great deal of potential, who was out of work but had a great deal of training. Gabe would provide me a new challenge. When I had first started volunteering he was too advanced for me, but now it seemed the right time and the right match for my slowly developing skills. I asked to learn the basics of doing groundwork, lunging a horse, so that I could spend my fostering time giving him some exercise (as one of the most constant members of his herd, he was right near the top and had more of a stomach than any Arabian should) as well as love and attention. I laughed that it would be a challenge, to see how long it took for him to get adopted this time.
Initially, I was far more fond of Gabe than he was of me; he was rather used to his routine of life left alone out in the field and was very unimpressed with my newfound commitment to pulling him away from the plentiful summer grass, grooming him, trying to braid his mane and tail and taking him down to the arena for work. His expressive face was wary, and while he would never misbehave, his displeasure would show in the wrinkle of his nose. Well – challenge accepted.
I persevered, amused as he found new ways to challenge me on the lead line during lunging; he was talented at knowing exactly what was being asked and doing that but no more and one false move was, in his mind, a cue that he could stop. I learned more, learned to break out of my comfort zone to ask for more help when needed, and to challenge him right back. He helped me to grow, a watchful teacher.
Looking back, I have almost no doubt that he knew before me. I was unwilling to admit what was in front of my face, even when other people pointed it out to me, that he was different with me than they’d seen him with others in his many years at the rescue. I kept musing that it was incredible to me that no one had adopted him yet; who wouldn’t want to give him a forever home? Time and time again, I commented on it – “I can’t believe no one wants to take him home!” “Why has no one adopted this sweet boy yet?” “He’s going to make someone so happy some day!” “I can’t wait for him to find his forever home!”
I fostered Gabe for nearly a year before realizing that maybe the reason he’d never found a home was because he had been waiting for me. That maybe, there was a forever home waiting for him already. People kept teasing me – “so when are you taking that horse home?” – and instead of laughing it off like I used to, it started to make me think. Could I do that? Could I make that commitment?
I started to reorganize my life, started talking to other people and looking around. And finally, I took the plunge and asked for an application. I filled it out, turned it in, and waited, more anxious than I should have been. I was approved with only one question: “So, when are you taking him home?”
It took some time before I was ready, but finally, I had an answer: November 4, 2017. When the day came, I woke up first thing in the morning, gathered all the things I had gotten and went out to the farm to see him there for the last time. A brand new halter for him and a homemade shirt to commemorate the day for me because I wanted everyone to know that he was leaving, finally, for good. I loaded him on the trailer and away we went, leaving the rescue behind for his new start with me.
I laughed and cried and hugged him so much he got impatient and bored. He slowly settled into his new home, merging right into his new herd and asserting himself right back at the top. It’s been a whirlwind ever since then. He’s met the outdoor arena, which he is not particularly fond of and the indoor arena, where he made faces at himself in every single mirror lining the room with wide eyes and big snorts. We both took a few steps backwards while we adjusted to our new rhythm and routine, but we’ve worked our way back to our rhythm together.
Everyone still asks me if I plan to someday ride him and my answer remains the same. Right now, it’s not in the plans for either of us. Surrounded by other Arabians, he’s now taken to showing off more and I am fairly certain he missed his calling as a halter show horse, so we’ll play with the idea of training and going to shows. His quick mind and eagerness lends itself to trick training, something we can learn together, though he has already learned to give me hugs and, his new favorite, to kiss all over my face when he wants a cookie. And someday, some years down the road, if he shows an interest, then we may go slowly and see where it leads us. But I made him a promise when we stepped onto that trailer, and again when his feet landed at the farm: You are home now. You’re mine. All I want is for you to be happy.
Sitting out in the field with him on Christmas Day, he brought his face down to mine, his eyes soft and his breath warm on my cheek. For once, not seeking a cookie or attention – just to check on me, to remind me that he was there too, standing watch over me and guarding me. If he could speak I know that he would be saying thank you, that he knows that he’s home, that he is happy. More than anything, in those moments, I know that I made the right choice for both of us.
What #RightHorse means to me
The right horse is not a breed, or an age, or a sex, or height, or color. The right horse is about partnership and connection. It’s sharing something special, built on love and trust and belief. The right horse brings out something in each of us and makes us better people by virtue of that bond. More often than not, I believe the right horse is one that surprises us by being not what we wanted, but what we didn’t know we needed. And the best part is that they each play a unique role. With so many people and so many horses in the world, there are many right horses waiting to touch our lives and be loved in return. All we have to do is open our eyes.