Monday, December 31, 2007

Goodbye 2007, Hello 2008

After a glance at the newspaper, with all its commentary about 2007, I feel the need to write something profound. More than "guess what Argus did yesterday?"

Except that what Argus did yesterday (play with a friend) IS profound, and perhaps it matters as much as the exploding real estate bubble, or the southward-sailing economy.

Argus is a horse, except that he is at the center of a larger picture: how we value and treat our animals. And in turn, how we value and treat each other.

They say that children who abuse and torture animals show evidence of such profound disruptions in their basic ability to empathize and attach to others that they are almost certain to go on to abuse other humans.

The emails come in nearly every day. The occasional phone call. The other day a visit to a local horse supply store.

The owner, who delights in hearing about my latest rescued horse (I think I am more a curiosity than an inspiration.) listened intently while I told him about Argus. "Oh yes!" he exclaimed, "THAT horse. That's the gray horse whose tail was so badly matted that his rear leg became entrapped in it! They had to cut the tail off!! Those horses have lived liked that for YEARS."

I stand there, stunned. He knew.

He goes on to tell me that he has known Argus' former owner (monster seems a more fitting term) for 40 years. "She was once big-time, you know," he continued. "Showed and bred horses, took good care of them, too." Then he pauses, and I sense that he is about to say something meaningful. His eyes soften. "She's basically a good person, you know. She just has a different way of doing things."


An email. From a neighbor who watched the decline of Argus and his companions over the course of 30 years. They called Animal Control years ago, but were turned away. They stopped calling. The animal-hoarding neighbor became more erratic; they were afraid of her. They had once been friends. They watched Argus weave his madness dance for years, and years, and years, and years.

It seems that just about everywhere I go, people knew about Argus. They KNEW. And they did nothing.

I am one of them. I knew, too.

A few months ago, a local horsewoman said to me: "We've got to do something about these two horses. They are locked in pens. They never get out. They live on stale bread." She implored me with her eyes and said things were getting desperate.

I scarcely believed her. Must be a mistake. After all, who in their right mind would do such a thing? So I tried to forget about it. Someone else would do something. I was busy with my own life.

We all knew. And we let it go on for years. In fact, Argus' former owner has a history of complaints with Sonoma County Animal Control that range back nearly 30 years.

What can we learn from this? Take action. If you see suffering animals, get on a first name basis with the local Animal Control director. Mark your calendar and call weekly. Call 10 friends and ask them to do the same. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Argus' wheel finally became squeaky. People had finally had enough. But it took 16 years for him. That's too slow.


Argus can now do all of these things: walk from the barn to the arena on a long, casual lead line, without shaking. He actually looks like a regular horse. He can be turned out in the arena, and he can roll from side to side. He will let me halter him. A visiting friend yesterday said "I am starting to see some definitition in his legs." They look a bit less like sticks.

Argus can walk politely beside me all over our property, although at times he is very spooky and frightened. He is nice enough to "spook in place," and doesn't bolt or attempt to climb into my lap. Everything is still very new to him, but he is learning that the real world has loud noises and barking dogs and doors slamming. That is OK with him.

Argus has learned to eat grain and put away a good 3 flakes of hay a day. This is a real triumph because when Argus arrived at our farm on December 8th, 2007, he did not have much of an appetite at all.

Argus has learned his name. Argus. But he prefers to be called "Argies." If I call him in my high-pitched, girly voice, he lifts his head expectantly, looking for me.

He has learned that he dislikes goats but likes dogs. He has learned that although he is terribly afraid of flags, the Himalayan prayer flags that dangle dangerously (to him) across the barn aisle mean him no harm. He ignores them, now.

Argus has learned that strangers may come bearing carrots, or apple slices, and are full of kindness toward him. He has learned that the people he sees now are fun and lively, and he wants to walk toward them instead of away.

Argus has learned that it feels good to be groomed by another horse, and that when you are turned out with a buddy, you can play fun games like "bitey bitey" and "wither burger."

He has figured out that a blanket feels good once it is on, but he has not yet figured out that he can stand still for its application.

Argus has figured out that the comforting act of "weaving" is a security blanket that he needs less and less. That the brunette food lady brings good things to eat, and has a warm and kind hand, and speaks softly, telling him of the good life he has ahead.

In the case of Argus, people have been kind. That is good, because supporting a rescued horse is expensive work, and something best done as a team. I want to publicly thank the following people for their contributions, all of which make this effort possible:

  • All of the people I don't know, and might never meet, who have worked so hard to help Argus escape his bad situation. And all of the people who read this blog, and like it.
  • Michelle, Harvest Moon Ranch --- vitamins, animal communication services, Gastrogard, flower essences
  • Nanci, who enthusiastically drove an hour+ to my house to be with me the day Argus arrived. She was there at "ground zero."
  • My mom, who is retired, for saying she'd write checks to help support Argus, and for wanting to have him live in her Fountaingrove backyard (sorry mom, I don't think your neighbors would like that).
  • Michelle, Saddles To Boots tack shop ---- Beautiful, brand-new, warm waterproof winter blanket that will go with Argus into his permanent home
  • Kate, for tucking $100 in the mail. Your donation will purchase feed for January, and it made me cry.
  • Jane, Lone Willow Ranch, who showed up with 7 bales of beautiful Oregon orchard grass hay the morning after Argus arrived, and who also helped trailer Argus.
  • Josey, horse trainer, who trailered Argus and his cell-mate Bobby out of their hell-hole, and who deftly got a halter on the terrified Argus
  • Lisa T, donation of $100 which was used to purchase grain and supplements
  • Amber, a kind lady who fed Argus during his last week in hell. She showed up with a partial bale of grass hay and a partial bag of alfalfa meal. Remnants from her attempt to help Argus while he waited on rescue. Amber had it all in the back of her car, which was ruined by all the loose hay. She shrugged her shoulders as it it did not matter.
  • Cynthia C., who showed up with an "old" Rambo blanket and box of carrots, apples and peppermints. She gently feed pieces to Argus, who loves carrots and apples (but not peppermints).
  • Grant Miller, DVM, for getting WAY out of his comfort zone to create a system that gives these horses a second chance, and for caring for Argus' medical needs so well.
  • My husband, Ken, who could live without horses just fine. He works very hard to support a family of 6 people, 3 dogs, 3 cats, and 8 horses, and rarely complains
Goodbye 2007, Hello 2008. The start of Argus' new life.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas, Argus!!

Santa Claus visits the barn at Watermark Farm every year. Each horse has a Christmas stocking. Santa fills them all with carrots and apples.

Argus looked especially pleased on Christmas morning. Smug, actually.

I checked his stocking: FULL

It seems Argus and Santa had a good visit, and Santa determined that he must make up for all the lost years of Argus' life.

So after the happy bustle of Christmas morning packages, excited children, and breakfast, I headed out to the barn to clear my head with some meditative stall cleaning.

I discovered that Argus LOVES carrots and apples, and has in fact learned how to eat a horse cookie during recent days.

Argus is shy, and not that easy to catch. Not even in a small pen. He is getting better every day, but I need to help Argus be more excited about being caught and haltered before he can graduate from arena turnout to something bigger and more exciting (we also have to make sure his body can handle it), like pasture. I'll use carrots and apples to help Argus overcome his shyness. I have to turn this boy into a regular "pocket pony."

Argus was turned out on Christmas Day. He actually BUCKED. Not once, but three or four times. He was relaxed and happy. He cantered, and looked at me with his merry eyes as he slid gleefully into the pipe fencing.

I saw something new. It took me a moment to realize what it was.

It was Joy.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Every Day Something New

Poor Argus, his body can't do what his minds want to. He gets turned out, and you would THINK that he would run around, but he doesn't. I have seen maybe 12-15 canter strides out of him in the 2 weeks he's been here.

No bucks. I don't think he has the strength. He trots on occasion.

He is sore and stiff each morning. I wish I had a larger enclosure for him to live in 24/7. His knees and pastern joints have some arthritis and make for a slow start each morning. It will take months to see where he will eventually be at, soundness-wise. I don't know how a horse can develop and grow properly with no exercise and fed bread and lettuce. He should improve with time, movement, good feed, and love!

On Friday, I rode the other gray horse, Ridge, in the arena while Argus was turned out. If Argus' eyes could have popped out of his head, they would have! I do not know if Argus has ever really seen a human ride a horse. He was curious and wanted to follow us around the arena. I will do this a few more times in preparation for ponying Argus off of other horses. My horse Ridge is kind and patient (and bossy) with Argus, but he is also JEALOUS. Ridge knows his mommy rescues horses (he was a rescue himself), but none-the-less hates sharing. A typical kid.

I really, really like Argus. He is really smart and tries very hard. Getting a blanket on him takes skill. He is afraid of it, but if I go very slow and lay it over his back quietly, while holding the lead rope, he will let me put it on him. It take me about 5 minutes to do it. He could easily plow me over and run me down to get away. He could really hurt me. But he doesn't. I feel a lot of trust in this horse and know that he would rather not hurt me. I am touched by how hard he tries to understand and cooperate.

Yes, he's thin. He is not scary thin but there is very little *substance* to him. He is 16.3 hands ---- I measured. Not only is Argus lacking fat, but he has very little muscle. We are taking things slow. He gets tired easily, and cannot tolerate long periods of stress. My past experience with starved or malnourished horses is that it takes a full year for them to recover, for you to see how "far" you can get them.

Yesterday, I turned Argus out with another rescue horse (do you seem a theme here at our farm?), Pay Day. (Pay Day is a slaughter rescue and a gentle riding horse who is available for adoption.) They enjoyed each other! Again, Argus played the role of dutiful follower, while Pay Day gently bossed him around. This interaction is helping Argus to feel more secure; horses like to have a leader.

Again, Argus rolled and rolled and rolled. He rolls a good 10 times when he is turned out in the arena. The coarse footing must feel so good. He has a lot of bad skin under all that white hair.

Today, I will de-worm Argus for the first time in his life. I will also be starting him on some joint supplements next week. Taking things slow....

And as always....

Could you be the happy ending to Argus' story? This special boy needs a forever home with someone who has an interesting pasture, good shelter, advanced horse experience, and a few horse buddies. He will thrive on a few hours a week of grooming and love. He is not considered a riding prospect and he will need continued training and a confident handler to learn horse things he has missed. He has a really good mind and is quite sane. Please contact Katie at or 707-544-7584 if you are interested in learning more about adopting Argus. He will stay in foster care here in Santa Rosa until he is healthy and stable and ready for his new home.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Yesterday, Argus had his first turnout session in the big arena. He was so calm and level headed --- Argus just rolled, and rolled, and rolled.....and then rolled some more. I think he rolled 10 times in all. He and I are working a lot on leading skills in the arena, and he is doing GREAT!!

Today, I decided to put Argus out with Ridge, my 21-year-old gray Thoroughbred (another rescue horse). Ridge and Argus are buddies. Here are the two geldings greeting another gray, our 29-year-old Arabian, Deema, who curiously approached the arena fence. Argus is the one in the halter:

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Argus and Ridge had such a nice time together. To think, this is one of the few times in Argus' life that he has been turned out with another horse. He had perfect manners. This was the happiest I have seen him since he came to Watermark Farm:

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Relaxed and happy:

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Great Miracle Happened Here

Every year, our Israeli friend gives dreidels to the children. He brings these dreidels back from Israel, and explained to me the diffence between American and Israeli dreidels: The American ones say "A great miracle happened there," and the Israeli ones say "A great miracle happened here." I don't know why, but that has always stuck with me.

So, A Great Miracle Happened Here. Or There, depending on where you are at this moment.

For me, it is Here, so let me tell you what it is.

Argus is wearing a blanket. And standing in his stall, eating. Out of the rain.

Last night, I was hopeful. Argus almost casually stood in his stall, eating dinner. It was raining, and all seemed well. Hooray! I could sleep, knowing that he was not out there freezing his little white Thoroughbred butt off. After all, I can't possibly rest on a cold, stormy night without knowing that all 10 of the Watermark Farm horse residents are encased in thousands of dollars of waterproof, breathable winter gear. Come to think of it, even the names of those expensive horse blankets (I can only dream of the day when I might own a $250 Gortex jacket) denote strength and assurance: Rambo, Horses In Black.

This morning, the heavens opened, dumping enough rain to float an ark. Argus was soaked clear through to the skin. He'd spend the night standing in the pouring rain and by 8am was shaking so hard you could practically hear his teeth knocking together.

"That's it!" I cried out, "YOU are going to wear a blanket RIGHT NOW."

I grabbed the trusty, horse-eating, 12-year-old Rambo and marched into the stall. Argus let me retrieve him from the paddock without issue, mostly because he was too damn cold to argue. This was my Big Chance to prove to him that blankets are lovely, warm things that could make his life easier.

My left hand on the lead rope, my right hand on the blanket. My eyes watching Argus for some sign he was planning to integrate my body into the shavings on the floor. I was not about to take "No!" for an answer. I knew Argus knew it. He put up a half-hearted protest, circling around me in the stall. I slid the rug up over his neck, gently and quietly. Then unfolded it on his back and slid it in place as best I could. He did not go crazy. He knew we needed to do this. I buckled the chest, took a deep breath and reached under for the belly straps. And then, it was on!

No big deal!!

Fifteen minutes later, Argus stood eating in his stall, snuggled down happily in his newest discovery, The Horse Blanket, a look of great contentment on his face.

Monday, December 17, 2007

"I Know My Name, And It Is ARGUS"

Another night of cold rain, another night of worrying about the thin, nervous gray Thoroughbred.

Argus will now stand inside the stall to eat his grain. He will walk inside the stall to see what is going on in the barn. With four young children at Watermark Farm, there is almost always something exciting happening. He is getting used to the joyful shrieks of kids and the comings and goings of nine other horses.

He put his head and neck inside the stall last night, out of the rain. Progress.

But the rest of him is cold, wet and bedraggled-looking this morning, and I try not to feel sorry for him. He is eager for the now-familiar circling of the blue rubber curry that he likes so much.

He is also eager for his morning grain.

But I am frustrated. After 10 days, it is getting harder to approach Argus in the pen, not easier. Then, I remember the three PMU mares (who were only half tame) that I fostered in 2005. They were friendly the first week, and hated me the next.

And then I remember the feral Belgian draft gelding who came to live here. Same thing. Friendly during that first "I-am-in-shock-what-the-hell-happened-to-me" week.
Week Two: Angry.

And then I remember our short-lived stint as human foster parents (we fell in love with and adopted our only two foster children). Week One: The Honeymoon. Week Two: We Hate You And Wish You Were Dead.

I adopt my little old lady stance this morning, inching closer and closer. Argus reaches for my hat with his muzzle and breathes softly down my neck with his warm breath. He sighs deeply, then moves away.

We try it again. He moves away, trotting past me quickly.

A third try. I speak softly. This time Argus stands quietly, waiting. I reach his side and gently work my fingers across his chest (his favorite scratching spot) to his shoulders and neck, then up to his mane, where I work my way down to his withers for a "friendship" rub. He takes another deep breath, and closes his eyes for a moment.


Argus is funny. He is afraid of swishy-sounding jackets and corduroy pants. He is not afraid of wheelbarrows or manure rakes, or even the sound of velcro. He does not like it when I wear a baseball hat ---- he prefers the black wool watch cap.

Argus is terrified of horse blankets being put on or near him, but will stand licking the salt off the one laying over his paddock fence ("densensitization") for hours while I am watching in secret from the house.
Nobody liked the name Argus when Argus arrived. "Argus!?!" they would say, as if something bitter had crossed their tongue. I did not like it either. But try as I might, I could not bring myself to give him a different name. We tried similar names: Seamus, Marcus, August.


He did not know his name, so what harm could come from re-naming him? Can you believe that? After 16 years of being Argus, Argus did not know he had his very own name.

I call him by his name all day long. In the barn, from the house, from the back of the horse I am riding in the arena next to his pen. "Argies!!" I call out when I drive up, and "Hello, Argus!" as I clean stalls. His eyes brighten. He knows his name. It took him just one week to learn that he has a name, and his name is Argus.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Argus' familiar turnout was extended yesterday. It seemed like it was time to do it. He was comfortable and lazy in the smaller one.

The first time I put him out, last weekend, 16x45 seemed a vast prairie of room to run. I was nervous that he'd go nuts. Argus handled it well, continued to handle it well throughout the week. By Friday, it was starting to feel small.

My son and I move the pipe panels chopping down our alleyway turnout. We enlarge Argus' run to 16x90 ---- the length of our arena. Argus goes out thoughtfully, careful, sniffing and shaking and never eating grass (he seems very hesitant to graze, even to the point where he seems totally disinterested in grass; in light of the discovery about his incisors being so rotten, I am now wondering if grazing is painful for him).

He does not go nuts, but he is very anxious about the bigger area, and anxiety plus a winter coat = bone-chilling sweat. And bone-chilling sweat on a horse you cannot blanket (and who will not stand inside during a rain storm) could be the kiss of death. I am nervous, again. Argus sensibly tries his legs, producing some beautiful strides of trot and 8 or 9 tentative canter strides, despite the sad arthritis in his knees. He is balanced and athletic. What an incredible sporthorse he might have been --- uphill build, long legs, and floating gaits.

It goes reasonably well, but the size of the paddock made Argus nervous. He just could not handle all the freedom. So today we will move panels and shrink it back down to 16x45, something he is very comfortable with.

There is no roadmap for this process. Argus is almost phobic, which presents challenges. For example, turnout in the arena will be challenging since Argus will spook at the sound of his feet on the crunchy footing. He has never felt that before. But with a huge rain storm coming, and Argus beloved tiny turnout soon to be off limits, the all-weather arena will soon be our only option. THAT should be an adventure!

Both Argus and I wish he could go out in the pasture, with all the other geldings. But I'm afraid he might run and pace incessantly, and I could not catch him. That will come with time.

Baby steps.....Argus led very nicely for 30 feet!! He has learned "whoa" and is respecting my space better. He is VERY intelligent and sensitive.

He had a good 2 hours in turnout, all in all. He got sweaty and rolled, and now he looks dirty again. But a different kind of dirty, good dirty!! Sheesh!! All my hard work...but so satisfying to see him having these experiences. At 10pm, when I groomed him (again) to try to loosen up all the sweaty hair, I thought that despite my worries about the sweat making him cold and clammy, that it was good for him to actually sweat, cleansing him, in a way, from the inside out. Like taking off his mane, it was another cathartic experience.

One more thing: a tiny victory, but significant.

Last night, when I fed the horses, I was standing in the tack/grain room, making the various dinners. I felt a pair of eyes on me.

Argus, who can see the "kitchen" from his stall, was standing, alert, looking at me with merry bright eyes and an air of expectation. This is the same horse who, a week ago, turned down grain or any sort of processed horse food as if it were rocks. He was excited! I gave him his tub, in the stall. With great gusto, he dug in to eat it, just like any other horse.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Show Us Your Smile...

Meeting Dr. Miller for the first time, I am proud of Argus' progress: "Pretty good for a horse who has spent 10 years locked up." To which he replies, "Ten years! More like 16!"

Every time I learn more about Argus' story, it just keeps getting sadder. How did Argus survive such madness?

Dr. Miller and I have never met. On Wednesday, he visits my farm, and I get to meet the energetic and passionate vet who (he won't take credit for this) has saved Argus' life. Argus is wary, so Dr. Miller stays away while he drags out his dental tools. Adrenaline tends to overcome sedation. We've decided that our first order of business is teeth.

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"He was locked up for nearly ALL of his 16 years," repeats the vet. "His whole life. He has never really been out of that pen."

Argus' life has been sad in a way that is nearly incomprehensible. This sadness has kind of seeped through me, like cigarette smoke in a bar. I cannot get the smell out of my hair.

Yet in front of me is this beautiful white horse, with kind chocolate eyes and a desire to live.

And a fear of needles.

Dr. Miller proves his skill as he calmly hangs onto Argus for dear life, me rising and falling each time Argus gives a half-hearted rear. Yet as terrified as Argus is, he is very careful not to bolt forward over us. "You can see he doesn't want to hurt us," the vet says as he hangs onto the syringe sticking out of Argus jugular vein.

Finally, a dose of sedation. The dormosedan does its work. We get a look inside Argus' mouth, surprised by a perfect set of molars needing only mild floating. Some horses have all the luck.

His lower incisors are another story: chipped, broken, and rotten. Dr. Miller will tackle them another day.

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Argus walks stiff-legged from his daily turnouts in a small paddock; he's not used to so much exercise (which is saying a lot ---- his "turnout" only measures 16 x45). The vet says it's arthritis, no doubt brought on by all the years of standing and weaving wildly. Argus weaves at my place, but never wildly. "Come see this video," and the vet summons me to his truck.

It's Argus' old home. Something I want to see and something I wish I could forget. Dr. Miller has taken photos, video. The video shows a white horse so filthy that it's hard to distinguish him from the bay horse next door. He's swinging his head in a huge half-circle, like a clock's pendulum. He moves his front legs in time with each swing; when the head swings left, the right leg crosses over the left leg and does a little step. No wonder Argus' knees are so sore.

The dental work over, and Argus still sedated, Dr. Miller decides to groom Argus. First brushing and trimming his mane and forelock, then vigorously currying his body. It must be so satisfying to the man who worked so hard to free Argus from his filthy prison. With Argus relaxed, Dr. Miller adjusts the painful Atlas area of his poll.

Dr. Miller also shows me photos of Argus old home. It's hard to believe it until you see it. Here a feed cart filled with white bread. A feed tub full of rotting lettuce. A case of lettuce fermenting in the sun. The horses' water so putrid, I doubt anyone had cleaned it in many, many years. No wonder Argus loves his water tub here so much. Trash everywhere. The pictures are horrifying; the only thing they have not captured is the sickening smell.

There's 32 bales of hay neatly stacked and tarped, too. But that wasn't fed to the horses.

Six days after meeting him, I love Argus fiercely. He and I have spent many, many hours together. I try very hard not to cry in front of the vet.


Argus is gaining ground. He can now do all these things without shaking: go into his stall, walk the 36 feet from his stall to his little turnout paddock, let me approach him. He likes people and touch and loves to be groomed all over, but your first approach must be made slowly. I have developed a funny habit of walking over to him, hunched over like an old lady, eyes down. I make first contact by placing my cheek against his shoulder. Then I slowly bring my hands forward, and stand up.

This is a kind, kind horse. He is scared and has had many chances to hurt me, but he tries very hard not to.

Here are some photos of Argus in his little turnout. They were taken the very first time he was ever turned out. He was very sensible!

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This is Argus with his friend, Ridge, a sweet boy who was rescued from slaughter in 2006. They are both grey Thoroughbreds, and they look like book-ends. Ridge is so kind; he stays with Argus even when he doesn't have to. In fact, he's been most unlike himself this past week. When I turn Ridge out into the pasture, he stands forlornly next to Argus' paddock gate, waiting. These two look so much alike --- that's Argus on the right:

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Here is Demi, my daughter. She is 12-years-old and loves horses almost more than her mom. She provides unfailing support and help each time a new rescue horse comes to our farm. I really could not do it without her. Demi is an active Pony Clubber who rides a mule in dressage and jumping events!

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Just a little bite of grass...

By Sunday, I knew Argus needed some token bit of turnout. We chopped down an alleyway turnout using pipe panels, leaving a 16 x 45 paddock with firm footing and a bit of grass. It was twice the length of his current paddock, both enclosures seeming almost palatial compared to how Argus has spent the last decade.

New buddies Half Pint and Ridge stood ready in adjoining paddocks, primed with armloads of hay along the fence line. Their job, as I explained it to them, was to eat quietly and encourage Argus to keep his head on during his maiden turnout session.

I led Argus in, and casually unclipped his lead rope. He shook nervously and walked around, brown eyes wide and concerned. He eyes his friends all around him, and decided to explore.

The whole thing lasted about 45 minutes, me tearing up intermittently. Argus walked, mostly, and trotted here and there. He took a few steps of canter, but his body just could not cooperate. His whole hind end slid out from under him, and he ended up sitting, momentarily, like a dog.

Freedom!! You could almost hear him thinking this. He is a sensible horse, and did not tear around. He knew he could not handle much.

A hearty roll, in which he flipped from one side to the other (a horse chiropractor once told me this was a good thing), then a few bites of grass. Then back to his stall & paddock, where he was tired and relaxed.

MONDAY I realize for sure that this does not come without a price. I knew Argus would be sore, but he walked post-legged and stiff. Whole Body Sore kind of sore. Monday morning, I presented Argus with his hay and tub of feed (he looks at me with amazement when I feed him, as if he just cannot believe I have come again). He actually dove right in! Then Argus let me curry his entire body with a soft rubber curry. I curried nearly every square inch of him. He closed his eyes and licked his lips and took huge, deep sighs. I didn't even have the lead rope on him. I hugged him while he slept.

We took a walk later that day. Argus' leading skills leave much to be desired, but he is learning quickly. Mostly I am teaching him that ON TOP of me is not the place to go when you are scared!! Argus hurts all over from that little bit of play on Sunday.

TODAY we repeated the turnout. Argus is sensible, and walks around his turnout paddock calmly. Half Pint stands watch next door. They share breakfast along the fence. At some point, I get the feeling that Argus would like for me to find the rubber curry, so I do. Once again, he stands for a long time while I curry his whole body. After a few hours and a bit of trot and canter, I return Argus to the barn, where he can rest up for his next adventure ---- hand walking this afternoon.

Argus has gained weight. He eats well, but is not a hearty eater yet. He is making great progress!! Tomorrow he gets a visit from his friend, Dr. Miller.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

48 Hours Later: Argus Takes His First Bite of Grass

It's been a wild 48 hours. It's like having a sick baby.

Small victories. Argus has survived his first 48 hours here. He has overcome, to some degree, his terror of the stall. That's good, because a fierce north wind is not kind today. It's bone-chilling cold, and Argus will have nothing to do with a blanket.

I can touch him, if I move slowly. He remembers something from long ago.

Argus is eating with great enthusiasm now. He likes his clean water, too. Mostly, he likes Half Pint, the big black Percheron who is stabled next to him. We are having to keep Half Pint next to Argus all the time, or else Argus panics. Half Pint is wise, and kind. I pat him, and tell him thanks.

How do you rehabilitate a horse that has not moved in 10 years? The 12 x 36 paddock provides chances to trot, something this horse has not done in so long. His muscles are wasted, his tendons and ligaments ropy lines running down his legs. These structures are fragile under these circumstances: real freedom must wait.

He is at first fearful of touch, but relaxes when I rub him with my hands. He takes his first deep breath. It feels good to be touched again.

I find out that Argus is more halter broke than first thought. He is intelligent and tries hard to follow my lead. We venture outside the barn. It takes 20 minutes to move 50 feet, Argus sniffing and snorting and shaking, shaking, shaking.

He is about to explode, but he resists. Oh! To experience freedom again! To run, to buck, to play! But it must wait for another day, when Argus' body is ready for what his mind wants to do.

In the end, he explores, frightened but exhilerated. I show him green grass by shoving some in his mouth. Tentatively, Argus takes a bite.....remembering.

When it is all over, we head back to the barn. I am calm on the outside, but my adrenaline is flowing. I have just walked a horse who has not walked in a decade.

And once back in the paddock, Argus decides that maybe, after all, he will try out his new stall. The gray horse in several of the photos is our beloved Arabian, Deema. He stayed with Argus to keep him calm.

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A Housewife, A Vet, and a Giant Leap of Faith: Argus Arrives at Watermark Farm

"I'm just connecting with people who might be able to help," said the vet on the other end of the phone. "We are going to take these two Thoroughbreds. They have lived in pens for over 10 years. The gray one is in bad shape. I need an experienced foster home that could give him a chance."

I had no idea this phone call from a local vet contracted to provide Animal Control services would lead to the arrival of a shaking, skinny, filthy and matted grey Thoroughbred gelding: Argus.

But I found myself saying "Bring that horse to me. I will see what I can do."

You could smell the horses before you could see them. Two geldings, one bay and one gray, huddled, shaking, in a horse trailer. The hauler quickly offloaded the gray horse. The bay was headed for a nice new home.

The gray was headed for me.

Wild-eyed, somewhat halter broke, I dragged the stunned gelding toward my barn, praying I could hustle him inside.

He was in shock. He had no idea anything like an outside world existed. Nothing but the madness of being locked up, and the filth and the stench.

I placed him in a safe stall & paddock. He stood forlornly in the paddock, head high, looking off into the distance. He shook violently, and weaved, rocking back and forth rhythmically.

That night, a cold rain. Argus was afraid to go inside, perhaps afraid he might be locked up again, here in this strange new place. He stood outside, shivering so violently that I thought he would fall down. I could not get near enough to blanket him; I could only check him all night and hope that he made it.

He did.

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Saving Argus: How a horse survived 10 years in prison

This is the story of a grey Thoroughbred gelding named "Argus."

For his first 16 years, Argus lived on the ranch where he was born. His owner, an animal hoarder, kept him locked in a tiny pen for 10 of those years.

He was never taken out, or touched.

He lived in his own waste, becoming more frantic and neurotic with time. Argus was fed very little hay. His water was filthy. He was fed stale bread and rotting produce. Rats crawled everywhere. He was covered with matted hair; cement-like mud and manure. The stench of his pen was unbearable. Argus died inside.

Finally, after more than a decade of complaints to Animal Control, Argus was released from his prison, and taken to our farm for foster care and rehabilitation.

The date was Thursday, December 6, 2007. What follows is the story of his journey from Hell to Heaven.