Most horses that come to us arrive in trailers. Sometimes we drive 10, 150, even 1,500 miles to pick them up. Sometimes they are delivered by a hauler, in a trailer.
It was a Friday. As I walked out the barn door to check water troughs, I saw two men walking a horse up the driveway. A horse who could barely walk because he was clearly in pain. We live in a highly suburban area. There are many other barns, but outside of our next-door neighbors, they’re at least a mile away.
The men walked to the door with the horse. “Do you want him,” they asked. “He’s a kids horse,” they proceeded. Even before the words came out of their mouths, I knew I would take him. It would have been cruel to leave him with these men. They come from a very different background, one that doesn’t have much respect an animal’s feelings based on the condition of this horse. I simply replied “yes.” When I asked the horse’s name, the men laughed and told me his name was, “Stupid horse.” I’m sure you can imagine the thoughts that ran through my head.
This white horse with his arched neck and clearly Spanish bloodlines, was undoubtedly a magnificent animal in his prime. Now, he was full of arthritis, ringbone, lumps, bumps, pain and discomfort. His eyes were full of fear, waiting for me to strike him. I felt cruel just asking him to walk. Simply walking obviously caused immense discomfort for him. I wondered how far these men had walked him. I noted to call the vet on Monday, thinking humane euthanasia might be the best option.
That day I gave him a good dose of Bute. Our farriers were due out, so this guy made it on the priority list. His hooves were long overdue, having a couple inches that could come off. When the farriers looked at him, they saw each shoe had 12 nails. We decided to sedate this poor boy. He was shod all the way around, so we pulled each shoe. He was so well behaved throughout that first day. We put him in a clean, heavily bedded stall.
The next day, a Saturday, I decided to turn him out. Turnout is a priority on our farm. As I walked to his stall, he immediately darted to the back, his eyes panicked. I slowly took his halter in, let him smell me, hoping he would know I intended no harm. He accepted the halter. Instinctively, I reached up to pet his neck. Despite standing stone still, his eyes were full of fear. He had received Bute the night prior and that morning with his grain. We slowly walked to the turnout. Unsure of his level of difficulty to catch at turn-in time, or his exposure to grass, I chose a small pen with minimal grass growth. I removed his halter and he was free to roam. That horse was so happy. I don’t think he had ever been turned out. He wanted to roll, but his legs were too uncomfortable. He did a tiny happy dance. His eyes smiled, though there was still pain and fear. On Sunday we proceeded with the same routine. Bute and turnout.
Monday was the day I noted to call the vet about him. Between the good hoof trim, Bute, and turnout I saw significant improvement. I decided to switch from Bute to Previcox and give him some time. At this point, we knew he needed a name. (We prefer to see their personality before deciding on a name). He was such a regal horse. We knew somewhere behind the fear he had character. We named him Maximus, after the horse in Disney’s Tangled.
We continued this routine for a few weeks. Then we added a buddy. There was a distinct change in Maximus. He was happier, more comfortable, and looked forward to being outside with his friend.
Maximus had done his time being ridden. All the injuries and mistreatment had taken their toll on him. I decided he would be retired and enjoy just being a horse. He came in for grooming and loving attention, but was still very fearful. We’ve worked with quite a few horses, and Maximus took a very long time to trust us. Even at his sixth month with us, he would shy from us and pets made him nervous.
Often while students are taking lessons, the lesson moms will pick an older horse who doesn’t get much attention, groom and spoil them. One of those moms kept telling me, “Maximus wants a job. He keeps looking into the arena. He loves the kids.” Each time she told me this, I repeated that Maximus was retired. This mom was persistent. She swore Maximus wanted to be in the arena with the kids. I gave in. We put an itty-bitty student on him. Oh, the look in his eyes! Maximus was proud! He lit up! This was the happiest I had ever seen him. He was so careful with this little person. I was in awe.
One of our most popular events is one at which we dress our horses up as unicorns and little girls come dressed as princesses. They come to ride a unicorn and a professional photographer takes their photo. Maximus – he has become a star. This is his favorite event. He still gets a fearful look in his eye, he still doesn’t trust easily. But when he’s making these kids happy – that look disappears. We also have a spinoff event called “Superheroes and Steeds,” which Maximus also enjoys!
Maximus has been with us about a year and a half now. He is the most handsome of the steeds. He is still fearful and untrusting at times. But with his kids – he melts.
*Maximus is available for adoption, along with his best friend, Ember. Please visit our “Available for Adoption” page for more information.