“You can either pick them up or I’ll send them to the auction.”
At first glace, it looked like an easy pickup – two beautiful, full Arabians stood off to the side, next to the fence line of a pasture with a few scrub trees scattered around. It should have been a matter of a feed bucket, a couple of halters and a safe ride back to the ranch. When I drove within twenty yards of them, the whole situation changed. They took off running, snorting, and galloping away like I was a mad monster, ready to eat them alive.
It took four of us, Jennifer, Debbie, Eddie and myself, the better part of two days to work them enough to wear them down. Our goal was to provide them with a “safety” zone, a place where they were not being chased. If they left, we came toward them, getting them to run again. In the safe zone, an area where we had panels set up, we left them alone. On the afternoon of the second day, two others came with their horses and slowly guided them into the pen. Only then, surrounded by people and horses, were we able to halter and load them into the trailer.
At the ranch, we did the unthinkable – we let them go. One of the best calming techniques we’ve found, short of round pen work, is to let the horses run with the herd. Twice a day, the herd gathers around us for their feed and care. Darby and Bronson came along, still quite wary of us, but when the food came, both of them adjusted rapidly to the presence of people.
It didn’t take long for them to become part of the easily managed herd. Seldom have I seen two such perfect examples of the Arabian breed. When the ran, which they loved to do, the motion of their muscles, the flowing manes and tails, were magical. From one end of the pasture to the other, in a continuous circle, they celebrated being horses, full of energy and life, exuberant in their youth and majestic in their flow across the earth.
One night, when no human was around, Darby took a fall. The next morning he stood before us, in shock, unable to move or bend his head, barely able to walk. His lips and mouth seemed frozen in place. Visits from two vets gave us two different diagnoses; neither offered any hope for his future. It was either a head injury or a spinal cord injury, both deemed incurable.
Darby started losing weight rapidly. Unable to lower his head or move his lips, what little feed he would eat had to be held up for him by Jennifer or Debbie. Every few hours they held water to his mouth, urging him to drink. He simply stood before the raised hay, either not wanting or not able to gather the energy to chew, but mostly he just stood, looking out at the pasture, wanting to be with the herd once again. His weight became a grave concern, with ribs and hips starting to show. His once sparkling white coat became something gray and dead. Jennifer and I made the decision to move him to the ICU barn, knowing that a final decision would have to be made unless a miracle happened.
After a long conversation with Lark about alternative medicine, she offered $500 to cover the cost of an acupuncturist. I called Marcia DuBois, a DVM , in Houston and asked her to take a look at Darby. She came down the next evening with another person, who turned out to be a friend of mine, Jean, who was once an investigator for the Houston SPCA. While Jean and I discussed old times, Dr. DuBois started performing her magic.
I’ve probably given over a thousand shots in the last five years, joined in countless operations and applied a ton of ointment and medications to wounds and scrapes of all sizes. Jennifer’s far surpassed me in her treatments and Debbie, being a nurse, not only surpasses both of us, but actually understands what the medication is supposed to do. While I’m familiar with some alternative methods, watching the Doctor was far beyond what I thought might happen.
Jean and I were discussing old cruelty cases while the Doctor walked Darby slowly around. After a few steps, he almost fell over. He still showed all the symptoms he did at the ranch, with only a slight mobility increase. I stopped talking when the Doctor ran her hands over his body, not touching him, feeling for the warmth, I thought. Not so, she explained. She was feeling his energy, seeing where the disturbance was located.
She had my attention then, for this was getting into an area that seemed a little strange. She walked toward his tail, ran her hands over, but not touching, his rump, and pushed her finger into a place close to his tailhead. She held it there while I held Darby’s lead rope and wondered what weirdness she was doing.
For the first time in three weeks, Darby lowered his head and started licking his lips. “That’s the release I’m hunting for,” she said, as she went to the other side and did the same thing. Once again, after about two minutes, Darby’s head went down, even lower this time, and his once frozen tongue became mobile and licking.
“I’ll be back in two week to give him another treatment,” she announced. With that, she and Jean drove off. I stood with Darby in his stall for a while after they left, wondering if I had either just been visited by a witch doctor, suckered by a con artist, or witnessed something magical. I found the answer the next morning when I started feeding. Darby lowered his head, he’d swallowed gallons of water, and he turned around to watch me as I fed the others.
“He turned his head to watch me.” I must have said that to twenty people that day. The first sign of improvement, the first step in coming back, the first positive reason we’d had for not putting him down. He had turned his head.
Each day after that brought great leaps in improvement. Dr. DuBois’s next visit was much the same as the first, a finger touch here, a little pressure there, a jar of herbs to put in his feed, and she was off. I must have asked a million questions, heard a simple explanation and once again stood before Darby’s stall in wonder and amazement after she left, looking at a horse that was once within days of being put to sleep, but that was now full of energy and gaining weight.
Six weeks later, Darby returned to the ranch. There were troubles at first – Bronson had been adopted and Darby had problems fitting into the herd. He was still weak, so Jennifer moved him to the back with the babies and more gentle older horses. Over the last month, his lips finally reached the ground, enabling him to graze. He’s no longer the lowest man in the herd, nor the weakest. He’s gaining ground, both mentally and physically. He’s still not back completely, but there is every reason to believe he’ll return in time, given proper care and lots of hugs.
In his own way, he knows people cured him, for he’s a people loving horse now. Cheryl, the wonderful woman who works at the ICU barn, became his best friend. One call from her during her all to infrequent trips to the ranch brings him running to the gate. If anyone shows the least desire to hug him, he’s there for them, ready and willing to receive all their attention.
Acupressure is a fascinating science. We can vouch for it and for the ability of Dr. DuBois. She saved Darby’s life.
On a quiet, cool Sunday morning at the end of November, Jennifer saddled Darby for the first time since he came to the ranch. After the initial round of tension for both horse and rider, it appears that Darby is a perfect horse. Although we know he hasn’t been ridden in years, it’s obvious that he’s had training. He’s extremely smooth and, once the edges are taken off, he’ll make someone a great horse.
Initially, we noticed what seemed like a slight vision problem to his left, but after a few minutes he no longer acted like he was having a problem. Jennifer circles several barrels in the arena, I tossed a lead rope in front of him, but he didn’t spook. She’ll keep riding him through the remainder of the month but both of us feel at this point that Darby is ready to be adopted. Although we’ve spent well over $1,500 on him, his adoption fee will be $800 to the right home.
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Habitat for Horses is always on the lookout for a few great people at our ranches. The work is unique, the animals are special and we want folks who both know and understand the special connection our animals need.