Santa Fe barn adopts both mother and daughter, and gets twice the challenges and rewards
By Cecilia Kayano
Equinimity 505 is a small, private rescue/rehab barn in Santa Fe. In May staff were looking for a playmate for ZaZu, a sassy 8-month old filly they had adopted from Four Corners Equine Rescue. “We wanted ZaZu to learn how to interact with another horse,” recalls owner Lori Kunkel. “Our plan was to adopt a horse about the same age, let them play together, and train them.” The vision of two fillies chasing each other and joyfully rearing up eventually happened, but it took a few months because of several turns of events.
The first surprise happened when staff visited The Horse Shelter to look at Valley Girl, a black, year-old Thoroughbred/Quarter horse, who was coming out of quarantine with her mother. They not only fell in love with the filly and her puppy-dog manner, they liked the looks and temperament of her mother. They noticed that mom Vi had rough looking hooves. They had been neglected and were overgrown, which led to her being rescued.
Since the filly wasn’t weaned, it seemed like the least traumatic thing to do was to adopt both horses. “We got the mom, too!” announced Susie Spicer, a barn volunteer, when the group returned from The Shelter. Now they had two horses to get to know and train: a minimally handled, not yet weaned yearling, and a timid mare with unknown training. But the crew felt confident they could bring both horses along because two expert trainers, Ginger Gaffney and Leela Brightenburg, would be working with mom and daughter three times a week.
But before serious training could begin, there was an important task: to find new, fitting names for the pair. This took at least three weeks and about a dozen iterations in three languages. Finally, the names Lady Gaga (for mom) and Stella (for the filly) were chosen and stuck.
During this time the personalities of the two horses emerged. Lady G is super sensitive and a quick learner. And, although Stella is “in-your-pocket,” she has a stubborn and wild streak and at times just plain refuses to do what is asked. Both horses enjoy the company of people, which can be good, but this trait can also be a challenge because they can bump into and run over a handler.
Weaning the pair was relatively easy. Stella had quickly accepted the halter, and staff led her several steps to a large pen out of sight from Lady G. There was minimal calling, but mom expressed her separation anxiety by pacing, which caused her to overreach and damage the bulbs behind a hoof. Staff bought paisley-patterned bell boots and doctored the sores. It took two weeks to see healing.
Stella, a confident yearling filly, had never taught to lead, or follow the direction of humans. The trainers knew she had to learn this before they could turn her out with Zazu. Stella’s confidence quickly turned into resistance when the trainers began to ask her to move around her corral, first going to the right then turning to the left. Stella found the corners of her pen perfect places to dive into, then kick out and resist the trainers. Stella ran in one direction, stopped, reared up, twisted around, insisted on going her way, then protested by kicking out with both hooves. These antics happened again and again, and one session lasted for an hour. And although it was quite a show that Stella put on, watching Ginger run back and forth holding a long whip to keep Stella at a safe distance, sometimes jumping on the fence to avoid her hooves, knocking the whip against the ground, the pipe corral, the side of the barn – all in an attempt to get Stella’s respect and attention – well that was a sight to behold!
But the dedicated insistence and expertise of the trainers worked. Stella understood that she had to follow the direction of humans and the day finally came for Stella and ZaZu to be turned out together in a large round pen. Stella was still a challenge to lead. Ginger took the rope, Leela led ZaZu alongside, and four strategically placed people and two ATVs blocked areas where Stella might be tempted to run. “Get ZaZu in behind her! Close the gate,” ordered the normally soft-spoken Ginger. The two trainers unsnapped the leads, ducked through the pipe rail fence, and the fillies let ‘er rip. Rather, Stella let ‘er rip. She reared up, darted around, bucked. Her bucks were impressive, hunched back, all hooves off the ground, lots of daylight underneath. “Maybe she should be considered for rodeo stock,” commented Addison Ullom, a barn stable worker.
In several minutes Stella calmed down, then noticed ZaZu was in the pen with her. The two girls instantly became BFFs. Now, they are so enamored with each other they often wrap their heads around each other’s necks. Their nickname is, “The Two Headed Monster.”
The training of Lady Gaga and Stella continues and will go on indefinitely. It was a challenge to get Lady G to move her shoulders away from a handler, and to transition upward with calmness on a lunge line. Staff suspected she had been lunged rather aggressively in her prior life. And, as staff are now saddling her, sitting on her and leading her around, she is giving clues that she has been ridden. “She loves having someone riding her,” says Leela.
Stella now is calm when she is led to the round pen. She lunges without a line, doesn’t get too excited and changes direction when asked. She picks up her hooves for cleaning, and recently had her first hoof trim.
The past history of Lady G and Stella will never be known. But staff know this: Both horses love people. They respond quickly to gentle, consistent training. They are hungry to learn more.
The vision of ZaZu having a friend has been realized. Now, there are new visions: Lady Gaga calmly going down the trail, neck reining, trotting quietly when urged. And Stella transforming into a long-legged black roan, and becoming a dependable, versatile saddle horse, with no bucks and an agreeable attitude.
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