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The Rescue Pony that Rescued Me

Posey and Charlie, the first two ponies that I rescued from the kill pen. Spring 2016

By Samantha Sansevere

Rescuing animals has always been a passion for me and my family. It always will be. Even when we’re stretched thin, busier than ever, have plenty of other animals to take care of… When there’s an animal in need, we step up to do whatever we can. I personally try to do my part by rehabilitating and retraining rescue horses, whether they are rescued from kill pens, neglectful situations, or just a bad circumstance in general. 

Sometimes my efforts all work out beautifully. Like Posey — a terrified and flighty reject from the kill pen that I worked with who became a competitive children’s hunter jumper pony. Sometimes everything works out the way I wanted it to. Other times, the kill pen rescue I am trying to rehab breaks my collarbone. And then six months later another kill pen rescue comes along and breaks my other collarbone.

 

This is a video taken by my mom when I got bucked off of a kill pen rescue pony I was working with in the fall of 2016 and broke my right collarbone. This was one of the first times I’d ever been bucked off, and the first time I’d ever been seriously injured from riding. I work with a lot of troubled horses, but I have never been bucked off of a full size horse, which is why when this happened I was confident in my ability to keep my seat. Unfortunately though, when a pony bucks and you’re a full grown adult, it can be difficult to keep your balance. One moment that pony was under me, and the next she had tucked her head between her legs and was gone from under me. Full size horses are much easier to ride the buck out of!

Working with horses is such a remarkably humbling experience because you can feel so in tune with them and so connected with them one minute, and the next you’re lying on the ground broken.

It isn’t always easy. It doesn’t always work out. Working with horses is such a remarkably humbling experience because you can feel so in tune with them and so connected with them one minute, and the next you’re lying on the ground broken. I didn’t lose confidence in my riding ability or being around horses in general — I never blamed the horses for me getting hurt, I blamed myself. It was my fault and I knew it. So, I spent the next year trying to educate myself and read every training book I could come by. I went to every clinic I could. I traveled to Arizona to learn from some of the best trainers in the country. I studied, studied, studied just so that I could understand what went wrong. How I could’ve let something like that happen. How I could’ve been so out of tune with those horses, and how I could’ve misjudged those situations so much. How I could’ve rushed things when my philosophy has always been to do things on the horse’s time. I lost faith in my ability to help rescue horses. I lost faith in my horse sense.

I stopped posting about my horses on social media. I stopped taking clients. I stopped responding to messages other than for lesson students or camps — I believed in my ability to teach people, I just doubted my ability to help troubled horses anymore, and that was hard to admit to people so it was easier to just not respond. (As a side note, I am so sorry to anyone that ever reached out and didn’t get a response for the last year about horses for sale, training, or anything else. This was a difficult time for me.) I avoided risks. I took it too easy. I only rode horses I knew well and trusted. I tried to figure out what I should’ve done differently — to understand how I misunderstood and misread a situation so much that it resulted in broken bones after being tossed off ponies I was just trying to help, TWICE. 

Taken right outside the hospital after I broke my second collarbone in six months. Ha, this was a rough day.

Time passed. I kept riding the horses I knew like the back of my hand, kept giving riding lessons — because fostering a passion for horses in children is such a huge passion for me, and is so therapeutic and rewarding. I started training horses that I knew, and even put a couple first rides on some horses — horses that didn’t doubt humans, horses that trusted me, and horses that were calm. Horses that weren’t rescues with an unknown history. Horses that weren’t risks.

Meanwhile, my rescues waited in the pasture until I was ready. They waited for me to be ready because there’s no way in hell I’d ever actually rehome them until I know they are equipped with skills that make them valuable enough to go to a home that would never let them end up in a bad situation ever again. I owe my rescued horses and ponies better than that. So they waited until I was ready to give them the training they deserve.

Gru, a pony I rescued in late summer 2016, the day that he came home. He was skinny, cut up, dirty, and had no energy.

Slowly, I started working with them again. I started bonding with them again. I started trying to understand them again. And finally, when that naughty kill pen rescue that nobody wanted and has been waiting so patiently for a chance to show that he’s worth something gave me the best ride I could’ve asked for one day and showed complete trust in humans, I felt complete again.

These kill pen rescues, these rejects of the equine world, these backyard throwaways… They have so many stories to tell us, if only we’d listen; so much to teach us, if only we’d slow down and pay attention; so much to give to the world, if only we’d give them a chance.

There a lot of rescue horses on our farm right now that I could write about in this post, but this one is about Gru. Gru is just under 14hh, and according to our vet, he’s in his mid-teens. Gru was the last pony I rescued before I broke my collarbone for the first time. Gru was the pony that I thought would be my biggest challenge, but he has become the pony that has made the biggest impact on me.

Gru was rescued from the kill pen in the summer of 2016. I broke my right clavicle in the fall of 2016 working with a different rescue pony, and my left clavicle in the Spring of 2017 with another different rescue pony. And to be honest, it was really hard for me. The first collarbone break didn’t really damage my faith in my ability with horses, but after it happened a second time just six months later, I really started to doubt myself. How could this happen to me, twice? How could I have messed up so badly? I blamed myself and my training abilities completely for getting hurt. I never once blamed the horses that hurt me. It was my fault for not retraining them properly. So I spent the last year healing, reading, riding, teaching, and trying to get back to the groove that I felt after training ponies like Tater Tot and Misty. Now, these days, because of horses like Gru, my pony Louie, and my mustang Clark, I finally feel like I am back to myself again.

Me with Gru and the blind miniature appaloosa that we rescued him with, Cowboy.

When he got to the farm, he was skinny, and crabby, and angry. He was a biter, and he turned his butt to people. He kept his head down low. He didn’t run away from us, but I think that is mostly because he just didn’t have the energy to. He was frustrated with the world. He wanted us to all think he was the toughest dude on the farm. I could see through it, though — we rescued him with a second horse, a tiny miniature leopard appaloosa that is almost completely blind (who has a permanent home with us because of his vision problems). For all the crabbiness Gru showed us when he arrived, he was so sweet and kind and protective over that little appaloosa. So, I named him Gru, after the character in Despicable Me who tried so hard to be a villain but deep down was actually so sweet and kind-hearted.

 

Gru is a really pretty and uncommon color — a silver grullo — which attracted a lot of attention to him when he went up for adoption in the kill pen at Simon’s Arena. Several folks inquired about him, but the staff at the kill pen said that three people backed out from adopting him after they heard he was a biter, a fence crasher, and just had a bad attitude in general. He has come such a long way, and he has taught me so much, and I am so proud of him. It turns out he just wanted to be seen and heard and wanted a job.

So I tried to give him one. I started bonding with him again, and taking it slow. Until one day, things just started to feel right again.

Gru amazed us all when we took him cow sorting in the fall of 2017. I put my first ride on him in the OutWest parking lot fifteen minutes before our team’s turn! Risks like that are probably lead to my broken bones, but for some reason, that day, I had 100% faith in Gru and it paid off.

My mom was very concerned when I decided one day that my first ride on him would be at cow sorting practice at Out-West Arena (sorry ma, even two broken collarbones later I still take risks). For some reason, it just felt right that day. I suddenly felt like it was the right thing to do. I felt compelled to take him out and ride him. I had faith in him that day, and he amazed us all. He wasn’t spooky. He watched intently before his turn to go, and for the first time, I felt a change in him — and a change in myself. After that day, he was a different pony. Since then, we’ve used him as a camp and lesson horse and he loves attention and having a job. When he has a purpose, he is such a hard worker. It’s been a journey, and he didn’t always make it easy, but he has helped me feel confident working with rescues again.

 

That’s Gru’s cute grullo butt! Gru has been ridden in our day camps for kids, and at the end of the day, he’s the only horse that isn’t tried and crabby. He rode the same for every kid, and at the end of the day, he still wanted more.

In just a few months, Gru will be looking for a new home. It will break my heart to say goodbye to him, but it will also be such a wonderful moment for both of us, because I know that he will be going to a home that will love him the way he deserves and he will make room for me to rescue and rehab another pony like him, which I wasn’t sure that I would ever have the confidence to do again. Because of him, I know that I can move on and begin rescuing and rehabbing again, and for that, I am forever grateful to him.

He will become a little girl or little boys best friend, or maybe he will become the beloved family member for a small adult rider. Either way, I know that he will move on and find the home that he is meant to have, and that he will be treasured the way that he deserves, because he is finally a pony that has proved he is worth being treasured.

Thank you, Gru. You’ve helped me more than I could ever help you.

“There is no mysticism, no magic, or only one method in the realm of good horsemanship. It’s knowing that everything you think you know about horses may change with the very next horse.” – Tom Dorrance

 

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The Kiger Mustangs of Enchanted Hollow

This is the story of a mother, a daughter, and their two mustangs.

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Mary and her beautiful eight-year-old mustang, Ki, who she has owned for almost four years.

Almost four years ago, Mary and Sam went to a traveling mustang adoption. Mary adopted Ki, a dun 4-year-old Kiger mustang that was rounded up as a two year old by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from a mustang herd management area (HMA) near Steenes Mountain, Oregon. Ki has been trained to ride and Mary loves spending time with him in the arena and out on the trails. He is very easy going, and extremely smart! Despite running wild in the mountains of Oregon until he was rounded up as a two year old and then spending another two years roaming almost-wild on a BLM management facility, when we adopted him as a 4-year-old mustang he was such an easy guy to get along with. His personality is just so sweet and mellow, and the gentling process was very paimless with him. We are very thankful to have added Ki to our family — he is so very, very special and he is with our family for life. Seeing Mary gentle, domesticate, and train Ki inspired Sam to set a goal to adopt a mustang from the same area at some point in her life. 

Ki looking majestically adorable on a chilly winter day.
Ki looking majestically adorable on a chilly winter day.

The day that Mary adopted Ki at the traveling BLM adoption, there was a young grullo gelding from the same complex also in the pen. We almost adopted that grullo gelding, but in the end, Mary decided on taking Ki home.

About two months ago, we stumbled across a beautiful grullo gelding on Jeremy Kaiserlik‘s Minnesota TIP Mustangs page and saw that he came from the same complex and roundup year as Ki.

The Mustang Heritage Foundation created the Trainer Incentive Program, which is better known as TIP, to bridge the gap between potential adopters and American Mustangs housed at Bureau of Land Management facilities.

TIP trainers like Jeremy select mustangs from BLM Management facilities to bring home and begin the gentling process so that they can find new homes.

We started doing some digging, and evidence suggests that Clark, the grullo gelding on Jeremy’s page, was at the same BLM holding facility as Ki for two years before they were separated — presumably when we adopted Ki at the traveling adoption. Using the information that we know, it isn’t very far fetched to assume that Clark was the grullo gelding we almost took home from the adoption pen that day.

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Clark trotting through the snow.

Ki's official BLM papers with information relating to where he comes from, when he was rounded up, and his medical history from his time in holding.
Ki’s official BLM papers

Clark's official BLM papers with information relating to where he comes from, when he was rounded up, and his medical history from his time in holding.
Clark’s official BLM papers

If you look at Ki and Clark’s BLM paperwork side-by-side, you can see that they come from the same region, the same roundup, and the same holding facility. The evidence comes all the way down to the handwriting and the color of the pen ink in their medical histroy — it all matches up! What are the odds!?

This is Sam writing this blog post. I’m Mary’s daughter — the lucky adopter of Clark the mustang. Yes, when we found Clark on the Minnesota TIP Mustangs page and realized that he’d come from the same herd and the same roundup as Ki, and had even been in the same holding facility for quite a while, I knew that we had to add him to the family. Luckily for me, I have extremely supportive and understanding parents that encouraged me to move forward with the adoption despite the fact that we weren’t planning on adding to the herd anytime soon. I had been planning on adopting a mustang from the same region as Ki eventually, though not for a couple of years. But when Clark showed up on my Facebook feed available for adoption through Jeremy’s program, I knew that I had to bring him home.

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Clark enjoying a gallop through the field during one of his first moments being set loose in the pasture since being adopted by Sam.

I don’t always say “meant-to-be” about situations in life, and I’m probably attaching a whole lot more meaning to this moment than I should, but I honestly feel like this big beautiful mustang and I were somehow meant to be together. Maybe it was him that I was drooling over that day almost four years ago, and he’s just been waiting for Jeremy to spot him at that holding facility in Nebraska and bring him home so I could find him. Realistically, I know that I wasn’t ready for a mustang of my own the day we adopted Ki. I sure wanted to, but I’m glad I waited. In that time I have grown so much as a rider and a trainer. I have rescued and rehabbed many horses that have taught me so much, and I’ve broken out many young horses and ponies to ride well enough that they’ve all gone on to be wonderful childrens’ mounts. I am at a point in my life that I am ready to take on the trials and challenges that a wild horse may present me with. I still have a lot to learn, but knowing that and having the experience under my belt that I didn’t have four years ago makes me feel like Clark was meant to come into my life at a time when I was really ready for him. 

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Clark LOVES to nuzzle everyone!

Either way, I’m so happy.  Clark is everything I’ve dreamed of. He checks every single box in my “perfect horse,” and I cannot wait for this journey that I am about to embark on with him to begin. He’s with me for life, and I can’t wait for us to get started.

I plan to blog about Clark’s progress here on our website, and I also made an Instagram account to use for documenting our adventures. Follow us: @clark_the_mustang

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The beautiful photos featured in this post were taken by the very talented Morgan Chapman Media.

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Training Example: Bridleless riding, kids, desensitizing!

This is an example of a pony that was bought, trained, and sold by Samantha Sansevere in the Spring of 2016. Tater Tot arrived at Enchanted Hollow in January of 2016 and was sold at the Houck Horse Company Spring Sale in May. When he came to our farm, he had never even been inside a barn before, and had zero training. He was a clean slate, but had the best attitude, and he’s now happily owned by a beautiful family in Stillwater.

Here is the description of one of his ads.

Tater Tot is 13.3hh and 5 years old. Not only does he ride bridleless like a pro, he also has a very soft mouth, gives to the bit great, flexes well, and loves his 3-piece snaffle! He is well started in basic reining maneuvers like seat stops and pivots/spins. Neck reins. No spook. Does great on patterns and will pack around with a little kid all day long! He loves trail riding and will go over or through anything you point him at. If you’re looking for something safe for a child, teen, or small adult, it doesn’t get much better than this guy. He is athletic and built to work. Started well on the pattern — run him safe and slow now for a beginner kid to gain confidence on, or work with him and speed him up. He has the speed if you ask for it but he won’t run off with you. And to top it all off, he’s flashy and cute as a button!

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