The Little Horse with a Mighty Will

He was only a few years old but he gave it his all every day.

Lil’ Joe

Straining to keep up with the bigger, faster, stronger ones, he pushed his young muscles to the breaking point. When his one meal per day was served, he was often unable to choke down more than a few bites before one of the other captives chased him away. He’d circle around the rest of them, find an opening, and dash in to steal another mouthful. If he was fast enough he could dodge the frantic bites or kicks from the other starving souls fighting to feed. Or maybe the kicks aimed at him would instead strike the saddle he was forced to wear at all times, even when the day was over. At least, long enough to grab a few more mouthfuls.

The small statured, black and white horse could be called a large pony, standing right on the threshold of 15 hands. He was one of several cursed equines forced to endure conditions imposed upon them by the owner of a disreputable trail-riding business.

While many such businesses take responsible care of their horses, many do not.

The unlucky equines sent to serve at the worst places like Lil’ Joe found himself in are subjected to conditions even a Navy Seal would admit are brutal; tied to a fence for up to twelve hours with little to no water break or shelter, bearing the weight of saddles that can weigh anywhere from 25-70 lbs., carrying riders who can weigh several hundred pounds. Their sides can be kicked or gouged from broken equipment. Their mouths can be ripped open and bleeding from uneducated or simply merciless hands. Their hooves can remain untrimmed, leaving them with long feet that are painful to put weight on at all, let alone for the grueling days these horses face. Sore muscles or injury leading to lameness can be cause for a trip to slaughter or banishment to a back field.

Lil’ Joe’s life changed dramatically when he was saved by one good Samaritan, and fell into the hands of another. He was somewhere around 5 years old when his rescuer took him in. He had a few new barn mates and an idyllic upstate farm with grass greener than the Chicago river on St. Patrick’s Day. He should have run off the trailer, rolled in that grass, and gorged himself on all the fixings. But…

He was still terrified of everything.

He was still weak from his trauma.

He was still recovering from having his wind- pipe crushed.

When his rescuer attempted to let him enjoy the freedom of a field, without the ever-present saddle on his back, he screamed and ran in a panic at the sight of another horse, certain he was about to be attacked again. The sight of a saddle had him quivering in fear and dread, spinning and running away. He was a complete and total basket case.

But his Rescuer did not give up, and neither did Lil’ Joe.

For the next several years, Lil Joe was treated with compassion, patience, and more patience. Slowly, he learned to trust again. Slowly, he recovered from his wounds. Slowly, he even began to enjoy being ridden again. He was diagnosed with some ailments that required medication, and he began responding to the medication.

But life is not always easy, and eventually Lil’ Joe’s rescuer was struggling to manage a mountain of obstacles and bad luck. This happened at precisely the time I put the word out to my friend, who runs her own Equine Rescue not far from me. She was friends with Lil’ Joe’s rescuer, and one thing lead to another.

Lil' Joe & LennySoon Lil’ Joe arrived at my home with his new BFF, Lenny, a formerly skinny but now overstuffed Percheron I’d acquired after the dude who got him off the Internet realized he couldn’t handle him.

Life for Lenny and Joe has not always been super exciting, as my own life’s responsibilities severely detract from my horse time. They have been moved to different barns for a few months here and there, when I needed to focus on other duties and know they were taken care of. But they have always been taken care of, and time with them is always precious- even if I am just shoveling up after them. Although one of my neighbors would disagree, the smell of horses is just plain soothing.

It should be a happy-ever-after, but Lil’ Joe’s struggles were not yet over.

A couple years ago, he foundered. This foot disease, also called laminitis, can be excruciating and advance to the point the only alternative is to euthanize the horse. In Joe’s case, it was bad – very bad. But he didn’t give up. My friend Lynda Roemer from Equine Rescue, Inc, took over the advanced medical care he needed. A dedicated farrier put in extra sweat to help. Joe battled abscesses that crippled him in pain. Not even the medication brought relief, and for weeks he struggled.

But he didn’t give up.

I almost gave up. I couldn’t stand to see him in such agony. I thought he was too far gone and it was becoming cruel to prolong his suffering –but then he started to get better. And then he kept getting better.

His medical care was turned over to me and I somehow didn’t vomit at the stench that accompanies an abscessed foot. I brought Joe home and watched him with one part paranoid diligence and a billion parts of admiration for his warrior spirit. That horse has more lives than a cat and has used them with grace. He doesn’t mind an under stimulating life in a paddock because he’s just so happy to be alive. He has met no mud he doesn’t like to roll in. He cracks himself up by bossing Lenny around. He pretends he doesn’t like to be pet but can only hold out for so long before rubbing his head to let his admirer reach a better spot. He chews every bite of his food as if it is the most delicious thing ever, but must first nicker in giddy excitement when he sees it coming.

He’s still got some health issues but for now he is doing great for a horse legally old enough to drink. I don’t know how many years he will be with us but I do know he won’t give up until he knows it’s time. And I owe him the same.

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Barb Allen
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Barb Allen

Co-Founder, Author, And Speaker at
Barbara Allen is an Author, Speaker, Gold Star Wife, and professional veterans advocate who understands the personal and factual struggles of turning adversity into advantage. But this lesson did not come easily and this upper hand must be diligently maintained. Now, Barbara brings her life lessons to her audiences in keynote speeches and custom programs. She relates to her audiences’ lives and challenges, and teaches them how to become gladiators in their own life’s arena.
Barb Allen
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