Wild Hearts Horses for Heroes
Wild Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian Program
When one of our long-time supporters, Terri Carman, posted the story of her beloved Paso Fino, Tico, on Facebook, I knew I needed to share it with the Wild Hearts family. After being seized in a drug raid by the state, Tico ended up at the Boston Animal Rescue League, where Terri adopted him. Tico's behavior indicated that he had suffered trauma from abuse, and Terri soon realized that she had a much bigger challenge on her hands that she had initially thought.
Even when it wasn't easy, Terri never gave up on Tico and worked tirelessly to give him the life he deserved. In Terri's words: "The one point I need to make above all else is there are no simple fixes to emotional trauma to either horse or human and the idea of 'you're safe now, just get over it,' is ridiculous."
Terri's journey with Tico is truly inspiring. Thank you Terri, and Tico, for showing us that there is always hope.
Below is Tico's story...
I wasn’t looking for a new horse. I had, still have, 3 wonderful trail pasos, the last thing I needed or even wanted was a 4th horse to feed, especially a “project,” but when a friend sent me a link to a paso at the Boston Animal Rescue League, it seems worth checking out for curiosity sake, besides, his picture looked awfully cute. He was just as cute in person as in the picture. My friend, Kim Wallace and I tried him out in a round pen the rescue had. He did seem a little on the “hot” side and he did seem to lack quite a bit in training, but in a rush of over confidence we felt certain we could “fix him,” besides we knew a young woman who had started riding with us that needed her own horse. When we got home we looked up his breeding, and that cinched the deal. We were overly pleased to find he was a son of the beautiful Mercenario De La Vintrina. So we hooked up the trailer and went and got him. Our first red flag should have been how quickly the rescue workers helped us load him and waved goodbye without even checking our references. Also the fact that this well bred little horse had been sitting at the “pound” for 6 months didn’t seem to register with us at all as we watched the rescue volunteers wave goodbye with big smiles on their faces.
When we got him home it didn’t take long to realize we had a bigger project on our hands than we thought. We saddled up and decided to try him on the trails. Remember we were a bit over confident. It took a person on the ground to hold him while I mounted and then he reared up as I hit the saddle. I survived that 1st trail ride and the one after that, but it wasn’t easy. Rearing was his “go to” out, his 2nd choice was bolting. He had no turn, bend or stop and his gait was at best fleeting and at its worst jarring. But other than that, he was great. On the plus side, he did seem fearless, not spooky at all. Maybe it was because he was going too fast to notice something to spook at? But it seemed the more we tried to work with him, the more difficult he became.
We started to look into his story. How did this pretty little well bred paso end up at “the pound?” It turns out he was seized by the state police in a drug raid. The Massachusetts State police raided a drug dealer’s house in the western part of the state and found several malnourished abused Paso Fino Horses in the back yard. I was told one of the horses died shortly after of malnutrition. My Tico had been purchased by these low lives as a young horse and had spend most of the 8 years of his life suffering abuse at their hands. We decided the best thing for him would be to give him the winter off, let him just “be a horse” and toss 30 days of professional training into him in the Spring and all would be well. Remember, we still had that over confidence thing going. Well, come Spring, things weren’t any better, in fact they were much worse. He had narrowed his primary gaits down to just 2: rearing and bolting, and he was VERY athletic. He didn’t need training, he needed therapy. I took him to a clinic with a well know local natural horsemanship trainer. I got on him in the round pen and he pulled a move that sent 5 watching woman scurrying to find me a helmet. A few weeks later, after he bolted and threw me into a fence, I had friends and neighbors tell me he wasn’t worth getting hurt on and made me promise never to get on his back again. I didn’t know what to do. We tried giving him away, but he scared away all prospective owners. He did have one thing going for him, he was sweet, if timid, on the ground. He didn’t trust people to pet him or feed him treats, but he also wasn’t aggressive, so I didn’t worry about getting hurt on the ground. So given his sad story, I decided to keep him as a pet.
Then something wonderful happened. My Drill Team came to my house to practice one day. A friend of one of team members, Ronnie, came along too. He is a Thoroughbred Race horse trainer who has made a name for himself taking on the difficult horses who have been burned out at the track. I noticed him in the stall with Tico, just crouching down looking at him. Tico
was looking back with wide eyes. I asked Ronnie if he would work with him and he agreed. He told me didn’t know how far he could bring this horse, if at all, but he would be willing to “mess around with him.” Ronnie had never worked with pasos before but it didn’t take him long to learn to love the breed for their intelligence and sensitivity. And so began an adventure in learning for both me and Tico that has lasted for over 2 years. I wish I could say it was exciting, it wasn’t. There were days when Ronnie and I would just spend a couple of hours petting him and teaching him to take treats from our hands, often in the freezing cold. There were other days of endless ground work and desensitization. Odd things frightened Tico. We could roll a soccer ball all around him of pull a wagon full of rocks behind him and he was fine, but if Ronnie even walked in the ring with a dressage whip in his hands, Tico would completely melt down. I think he must have been beaten. It took a long time, but he now trusts me to scratch him with the whip or flick a fly off his back with it. Ronnie did lots and lots of long lining. I once watched Tico hop on his hind legs across a field with Ronnie holding on to the long lines…did I mention he was athletic?. When we finally started doing saddle work, the word tedious would be kind. It seemed forever before we got out of that small round pen where we worked on getting him to just walk, to give to rein pressure, to bend…..slow work. I call these the “dark days.” Working with Tico was a chore and for months and months we seemed to be making no progress at all. Ronnie later told me that he wondered why I ever wanted to ride that horse and he was hoping we would at least get him to a point where I could ride him in the ring and have a little fun with him. Eventually breakthroughs started to happen. I could ride him safely in my ring, I could ride him around the yard. I could take him to a friend’s house and ride him in her ring, in her field and on her trails. He started to relax under saddle and as he relaxed his beautiful little gait started showing itself more and more and best of all, he had brakes!!! It was time he had a job.
I started taking him to Drill Team practices. At first it was hard. Every time we lined up in a company front, the thought it was a race. First horse to the other side of the area wins! But he started figuring it out and learning the pattern and he actually seemed kind of proud of himself when he did it. The pay off came at a 4H horse show on August 10, 2014. Tico was ready to go public. It was his first Drill performance and I am so proud of him. He was everything I ever dreamed he might be. His gait was flashy and beautiful and smooth. He was responsive and willing. He was sane. Ronnie called me that night and told me he was so proud of him he could cry. I don’t know why I stuck with him during the “dark time,” there were many times I wanted to give up, get rid of him. There were countless times I wished I had never taken him. But I kept thinking of his early years. How he never knew a soft hand or kind voice. No one ever told him he was a “good boy.” Ronnie often shook his head and said what a shame it was, Tico should have been someone’s beloved show horse. Was it worth it? After that show I would definitely say “OH YES.” We still have much to learn and more to do. But Tico is now a willing partner and I feel we will continue to grow together. They say the most difficult horses teach you the most. I can attest to the truth of that. Tico has made me a better horsewoman by far! And I have given him the forever home he had been looking for. So don’t give up on the difficult horse. Time, patience and kindness pays remarkable dividends.