By Lisa Talley
“There was no way I was going to send him back.” These are words that echo across everyone who has ever looked into the eyes of an animal and have seen in them the need for a loving hand. It’s a snap decision that has us racing with arms wide open, scooping said animal up and into our lives for a happily ever after. Although the ending is much the same, the journey to get there can be considered far different for that of a horse, and more specifically, a beloved 21-year-old Friesian named ‘Skinny’.
6 years ago, Visalia-based horse trainer, Leeanne Lloyd, was on her way to pick up a gelding from a local breeder to take part in the Clovis parade. However, when she arrived what she found was not what she expected. “He was completely emaciated… we’re talking skin and bones,” shares Lloyd.
A discovery like that is no doubt alarming, but it’s important to note here that his story goes back further than what was found on that one particular day. Malnourishment is a state that’s only achieved after a long period of a gradual decrease in food. As it turns out, Skinny, the (now) not so skinny rescue horse, arrived at the breeder already emaciated from a man who had inherited him through the purchase of a large property. Skinny had been out to pasture quite a long time before anyone even noticed him.
Another factor that turned out to be a surprising result of Skinny’s condition was that his emaciated state wasn’t because he didn’t have access to food… he did, he just couldn’t eat it.
“Horse teeth can grow sharp edges and if it goes unchecked they can rub against the horse’s gums causing holes in their mouth, ulcers, abscesses, and cause all sorts of problems,” explains Lloyd, “ [Skinny’s] teeth were jagged like a serrated steak knife, he couldn’t even pick at the grass.”
Over time, Skinny’s condition continued to worsen, and with it his ability to defend himself against other horses. Much like a pack of canines, droves ( a group of horses) have a pecking order and without a consistent show of strength, a horse could quickly find themselves at the bottom of the totem pole. Skinny was that horse. Picked on, pushed around, and the last in line to eat (if he was even feeling well enough to attempt to chew) left him living a very isolated and uncomfortable life.
“He was simply overlooked. He could have easily died out there in the pasture,” shares Lloyd about Skinny’s alternative future had no one taken an interest in him.
Bringing the Friesian back to health was a long process that required a combination of patience, hard work, and kindness. Trust is the single biggest obstacle to overcome when adopting horses coming out of poor environments. “Rescue horses have a lot of emotional baggage,” says Lloyd. When they’ve gone through an abusive or neglectful situation, they’ve learned to either distrust people or they’ve never learned to trust human beings in the first place. This can be a dangerous situation for anyone without the proper experience to attempt to take on. Sometimes rescues are untrained or have never been handled by a person and can become defensive or unruly, without a solid background in knowing how to take back control of the situation should things go awry, it’s most likely someone will get hurt.
Leeanne Lloyd has over 15 years of experience not only in competition, but also in training horses specializing in Andalusian and Friesian breeds more specifically, and it made for a wonderful match in the case of rehabilitating Skinny.
“It took a solid 6 months. To build trust, to build back enough muscle and fat before I could do anything with him… with horses like him who were literally skin and bones, you have to be careful not to push them too hard too fast, so you never go more than 15-20 minutes a day. It’s like training for a marathon, if you don’t work out regularly you have to start small, so maybe you run to your mailbox one day and then you run to your neighbor’s mailbox the next day each day going further until you can run the marathon,” Lloyd explains
After Skinny’s teeth were taken care of, he was able to eat on a regular schedule consisting of small meals until his stomach was able to handle normal sized portions. As the Friesian slowly began to put back on weight, Lloyd worked on his trust. It began with the food and proving to him that he had something to look forward to every day. Next, it was proper grooming, proving that it welcomed a gentle touch from a loving hand. With repetition, consistent care, and positive reinforcement Skinny’s personality blossomed…. after 15 years.
“He probably never had a person. He always just had someone throwing food for him and that was it. [and yet] He’s turned out to be a fabulous horse. A big gentleman… super tolerant, patient, kind. A big gentle giant,” Lloyd shares.
These days, Skinny is a name reminiscent of a time long gone. Originally a nick name derived from his unhealthy state when he first arrived, the name eventually stuck, despite all efforts Lloyd made to find something that felt more suitable for the distinguished horse. And after years of being adored and showered with not only affection but also treats, ‘Skinny’ is now a bit of an oxymoron that seems more of a joke than tragedy to anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting him.
Now, at 21 years young, Skinny has the standing reputation of being everyone’s favorite horse. His easy going and pleasant disposition makes him an excellent choice for small children and elderly students learning to ride. His calm confidence makes him a great role model for the young horses Lloyd trains to follow in disciplines like cart driving. After 6 years of being under Lloyd’s care, Skinny has gotten a second chance and is currently living with a brand new lease on life.
If you’d like to learn how you can help other horses like Skinny, reach out to your local shelters and find out how you can lend a helping hand by donating hay, grain, or services. Seek training and assistance, if you are without experience, before adopting a rescued horse.
To learn more about Leeanne Lloyd, her work with horses, other specialties and training history please visit www.LeeanneLloydEquestrianTraining.com