Thursday, June 5, 2014

Eye of the Storm Equine Rescue and Sanctuary

      Eye of the Storm is a horse rescue and sanctuary that has been in operation since 1999, housing between fourteen and eighteen horses at all times. We usually take in end-of-the-line horses that can live a long, healthy life with the help of people to care for them despite their infirmities. These horses would otherwise be euthanized or sent to slaughter. Most of our horses can no longer be ridden, due to blindness or career-ending lameness. One had post-traumatic stress, which caused debilitating nightmares and anxiety attacks from having been “trained” as a Spanish dancing horse. She recently died at age 29, in our loving arms. Like her, most of our horses remain with us for their entire lives or are fostered to trusted friends. We do not adopt out our horses to the general public. Most of them could not thrive elsewhere.
Pink during an episode of PTSD being comforted by her friend Aly

      We also educate the public on the plight of the unwanted horse as well as expose atrocities within the industry from a common sense prospective, through our blog and Facebook page. We are internationally known for finding a natural remedy to manage Equine Cushing's Disease. We are the longest running small equine rescue in the state of Massachusetts and are completely run by volunteers. 100-percent of all the money raised goes directly to the horses' care.

      Many young girls have grown up as Eye of the Storm volunteers. One is now a marine biologist. Another, Jessica has gained her license as a therapeutic riding instructor for people with special needs. She has discovered “clicker training.” This is how sea mammals and other exotics are trained; it is a reward system that works well on horses and gives them much-needed stimulation. Jessica, now an adult, is still with us and is a valued part of our rescue.
One of Jessica's rescues trained entirely with "Clicker Training"

      All our little girl volunteers have one of our horses or ponies as their special project to clicker train. So, from our teeny blind miniature horse Butterfly to our 16.2 hand Thoroughbred, the equines are learning new and fun things that do not require being ridden.

      Most of the girls who have come and gone through Eye of the Storm have been unique, artistic and creative people. Horses tend to ground us in an otherwise difficult world. Most of the girls have told us about their difficulty at school and with friends; some had formerly considered suicide. The horses provide them a healthy, safe relationship free of judgment or bullying. We strive to teach responsibility and compassion. So far, they have all grown up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. Many start out doing community service for us, but end up staying for years. Horses and our girls thrive on their love for each other.

      One of our goals is to set up an area of the barn where these girls can feel safe and comfortable. We want a warm and nurturing place where they can do their homework while sitting with their favorite pony. We would like to be able to encourage them to pursue their talents and teach them that being a little different is okay. They feel valued because the horses need them. They would be welcome to stay with us long term, or just stop by when they need to.

Some of the ponies being groomed and "Clicker Trained" by the girls

      Our problem is that the property that we rent does not fulfill our long term goals. Our aging landlord is now considering selling off the property, leaving our horses homeless. It is an old chicken farm and the barn, built for chickens, is over 70 years old with outdated electric and water systems. (I routinely have to fish small wildlife out of the well.) There is no bathroom or caretaker’s living quarters on the property. We’re constantly trying to patch the barn and its roof, but sometimes it seems that it is only being held together by love. We really need to move before the situation becomes more dire.

      We want to rent or purchase a farm that fits our needs. Any grants approved will go into an account specifically for this project. Our target goal is $500,000. We, of course, still need to feed and care for our horses at our current location, but can no longer spend any money improving the building or fences.

      What we need is a place to house our horses, an onsite house or apartment for the horses’ caretaker, and money to hire a general handyman, hopefully a veteran.

      We are requesting any amount of money that you deem fit to help our cause. The sooner we attain our goals, the sooner we can set up our program to help all involved. We have proven that we are in it for the long term after being in operation for over fifteen years. Thank you so very much for your time and support.

Nina Arbella
Eye of the Storm Equine Rescue

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Not Another Sad Story, Yay!

       In my last article I was angry. In that state sometimes I get a little preachy, sorry. As I watched our beautiful Pink mare struggle in her last nightmare about the terrible abuse inflicted on her so many years before, I could only watch her and try to comfort her. I could not take away the horror that she had been carrying all that time. It was obvious she could not understand why so much pain had been inflicted upon her. What was the purpose? What was it that “The Torturer” wanted from her? It was obvious that her “training” was never completed, but what did happen completely shattered her mind and body. She could never forget, asleep or awake, she was haunted by the memories.

       Yes, I was angry. I hate being helpless, but I could not help her. Only death could take away her fears.

       Then, one day Jessica discovered “Clicker Training”. Ever a sceptic, I refused to believe! Why bribe a horse to do things that they should be doing anyway? After all we don't ask much of them here at EOTS. They only need to be respectful of us humans, stand for the farrier, move out of our space as we work around them, etc. For the most part they do all those things. In exchange we cater to their every whim and need. All of that works well enough – so there...

       Then along came Zephyr, my beautiful, incredible foal!! So kind, so good, with that “all the lights are on” look in his eyes, so focused on me, completely untrained. I knew the moment I saw him at 3 months old, just a little non-descript furball with sticks for legs, that there was something special about him.

       We got him and his mother, Thursday, in December and put them in a stall and did not have a chance to handle them much until Spring. By then Zephyr was bigger and untouchable. We managed to separate him from Mom in and ajoining stall and wrestle a halter onto his face, but he would throw himself over backwards if any pressure was applied. He also was still a stallion which comes with it's own group of problems.

I am 63 years old. I have been with horses every single day since I was 12 years old. I knew how to ride a horse before I ever actually rode one. Horses and I have always “known” each other. I have seen the progression of “training” methods in this country grow and change. From the tie them down, to bucking them to a stand still, to terrorizing them into a “safe place”, and all of the other stuff in between. I watched as the “natural horsemanship” craze kicked in, some of it was just a more updated version of cruelty practiced through the ages. Through it all many horses actually learned stuff, from “trained helplessness” to spinning in tiny circles on one hind leg until their bones and muscles gave out. Ever obedient slaves. All of it just a testament to their ability to learn, no matter how brutal.
To me “clicker training” was just something else to add to the list of training fads that have come and gone in my life.

Well through the years I have made a multitude of my own mistakes. Through ignorance and a seriously insane temper, I have instilled fear and probably caused a few nightmares myself. Not knowing any better is the worst excuse of all, at least for me. Though most humans would not agree, I am not like that anymore, for the most part. Most humans are not able to live inside my energy field but the horses seem to like it. So do I. The horses know they can count on me (almost) all the time.

I always felt there had to be a better way, that communication was the answer. But how? Horses have always been more intelligent to me than everyone else thought. They have been kind and patient for a very long time, though you can see the frustration in their eyes while trying to “explain” to us stupid humans. If we take the time to look, there is always a reason for their actions.

And so here I have this brilliant foal, a pure clean slate, a sponge to sop up all the good on the bad of the world. Here too, is another chance for me too, to do it right this time. I felt this way about Viking Too in the beginning, but his spirit is Loud!! His actions are violent and he and I never “clicked” (forgive the pun). He is a horse for a younger person to deal with. Jessica who is 24 years old is taking him to her new farm in Maine. They will have a blast together. I am too old to be yanked around by the likes of him!

The quiet, gentle spirit of my Zephyr is more my speed at my age. I am so charmed by him. With his huge liquid eyes and the softest nose in the world. He came along just in time to help with the heartache of loosing 4 beloved old horses in the last year.

Now Jessica is my teacher. It was really hard for us to swap roles. For the last 10 years I was the teacher. But she has discovered the thing that I believe I have been searching for all my life, a way to communicate with non-humans.

I watched the kids play the clicker game with their chosen ponies at EOTS and thought it was cute. The ponies responded and were taught to target and do little tricks. I still wasn't particularly impressed. When I was their age, unburdened by glimpses of mortality and the ability to ride any horse at all. Horses that willingly did anything I asked of them, I needed more convincing.

Enter Zephyr. I had no control over him what so ever. Though we had some kind of bond from the very beginning, he was still not halter trained but very excited to learn things with me. But where to begin? So Jessica said “Why don't you just teach him to stand still?” … “Huh?” was my intelligent response. So Jess taught us our first lessons in clicker training. I am now a believer. In less than one minute Zephyr was politely standing next to me with his head turned slightly away, a click and a treat and he would have done that all afternoon!

This came in very handy when the huge oak tree over his barn needed to be trimmed and he stood beside me for an hour while chainsaws screamed and huge branches swung from ropes while a man was strapped to the tree high above us. He was afraid at first, but the clicker game was definitely more rewarding and as I calmly stood there he felt safe. At that time he also learned to hack up. All of this took place without a halter or lead rope. He has since learned to walk beside me at the proper distance. We continue to progress together.

He has now been gelded and is ready to move into the main barn where there are lots of mares. I could no longer put it off. At 1½ years old, he had to be halter trained. With no real trouble at all, using the lead rope as a “target” if he began to get confused, I get his focus back by asking him to touch the rope with his nose.

All that I know about clicker training is what Zephyr and I have learned together. Jessica is becoming and expert.

And so just when I thought it was over for me, as I waited for the last of our old horses to die so I could quit, a new chapter begins. I guess you really can teach an old nag new tricks!

When I remember out poor beautiful Pink and all the horrors she survived during “traditional training”, I am so sad. This needs to be a new chapter for us all. Horses don't have to be terrorized or forced. We owe them the chance to show us what they can really do by this form of communication.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Letter to the Torturer

I just want you to know that Pink hated you to her last breath, who ever you are.
She was soft as a kitten and the color of pink cotton candy. She should have belonged to, and been loved by a little girl all her life, but she wasn't.
She was tortured by you. She tried to dance for you during her episodes of Post Traumatic Stress, we saw the anxiety come into her eyes when she remembered you. She would lift her legs, one, two, three, four. Then she would growl, roar, and kick out, she would bite the wall in rage! You think you broke her? Well you're wrong!

I saw her when she lay down for the last time, the ligaments in her legs gone. I watched her dream about you. I saw her kick and strike and bite you over and over again. All the years that went by, but she never forgot you. I pray that during this very last dream she finally killed you.
I sat at her head and petted her face, wiping the tears that fell from her eyes, I told her that I had her back and I would protect her from you while she slept in peace until the very end.
And so, Torturer, in the end, she won. She fought you one more time. Her spirit so strong that you could not break it.
She now is peacefully dead. Safe from the memory of you, never again will you haunt her. Awake or asleep she could not escape the memory of your abuse. It is over now.
And so all you others out there that think it's okay to abuse “dumb” animals, all you who think it's okay to maim, cripple or mutilate them in the name of sport, fashion, or “tradition” - cutting off dog's ears, horse's tails, horse tripping, bull and dog fighting, abusive “training” practices, the soring and tail breaking of the gaited horses, Spanish “dancing” horse trainers, Rollkur, etc. - Do you really think animals are so unaware? That this is acceptable? Really??

Well Mr. Torturer of Pretty in Pink, you are a Loser! This dear sweet soul responded to our love, she chose a human to be her very best friend. She loved her Aly. She came to us emotionally damaged and mentally shattered, but she never stopped hating you. Do you think horses don't have emotions? That they don't remember their enemies? Well, with my own eyes, I am a witness that you are dead wrong!

And so, soon, justice will be served. You will not be torturing horses much longer. I pray that you get to face the sins you have committed against Pink and. all the others that you have “trained to dance”. And to all the other torturers out there, you will pay. Very, very soon it will all end. There will be justice for the innocent ones, for none of them belong to you. They are the possessions of the creator of the universe and he is watching you! “revenge is mine, I will repay, says Jehovah” (Romans 12:19) All of the chapter eleven of the book of Isaiah describes the paradise to come concerning animals and humans “they will do no harm or cause any ruin in all my holy mountain”. At that time all the torturers will be judged. Where will you stand?
Poor innocent, beautiful, little Pink mare, may we find her again in paradise, untainted by fears, horror, and hatred of the torturer.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Just Another Sin Against Horses

There is a well hidden part of the horse business that not all horse people know about. I do no know all that much about it myself, but what I do know is ugly. There are places that keep pregnant mares that can be rented to “adopt” foals other than their own. They are called “nurse mares”. Now that sounds sweet doesn't it? They are used if a client's valuable mare rejects her foal, dies or can not produce milk to feed it. Still sweet, huh? Sometimes the client's mare is a show horse and needs to go back to work immediately after foaling and is not allowed to raise her own baby. In this case they rent a nurse mare and somehow get them to foal at the same time as the client's mare. The nurse mare's foal is euthanized. It has no value. It is the law, I'm told, these foals are not allowed to be rescued and bottle raised. They can not be transported into the state of MA. All foals less than 3 ½ months can not be moved without their mothers. The dept. of agriculture is working on the “unwanted horse” issues. This is the beginning. This dirty nurse mare secret is being exposed. Somehow though, I think people with too much money and not enough compassion will find a way around this little glitch. To continue to enable this horrible business ny trying to rescue these foals, is wrong, it is very difficult to bottle raise a new born foal. I'm sure most never get colostrum (first milk, full of antibodies) from their mothers. This means, basically, they have no immune system. They need this milk within the first 12 or so hours of life. After that they can not absorb the anti-bodies.
I have a solution to the “nurse mare” foal sacrifice problem. This is so simple I don't know why no one ever thought of it before. Now don't get me wrong, I do not approave of this business. I think it is just one of the “carbunkles (boils) on the backside” of the horse breeding industry. But if it has to be, I think is a large mare is bred to a very beautiful shetland, welsh pony (or otherwise) stallion, that big girl could not only feed the customer's foal, but her own teeny tiny baby as well.
One of the best kept secrets in the equine industry is that any pony (under 14.2 hands), especially typy pretty ones can be sold to A circuit people for thousands of dollars! I'll bet a weanling of this coupling could easily bring $5000 at the pony auction in (I think) Virginia? Once a year this auction takes place, all they sell is ponies and reps from very fancy stables are there to purchase for their clients children and students.
Combine the personality of some big, gentle warmblood or draft horse mare and the size and spunk of some fancy American Shetland and a really nice baby with looks and gentleness and personality will be the result. I've seen 14h A circuit ponies go for $40,000 or more!
I hate the whole idea of the breeding of too many horses. The foals of nurse mares can not be bought across state lines into MA. Bottle raising foals is very difficult. They need their mommies. According to “the law” these foals must be euthanized. Don't know all the details, don't want to. Just another sin against horses. But, if it's going to happen, this is a seriously great solution. These foals would have the chance to go on living (what kind of “horse person” would allow this to happen anyway?!) The baby would be valuable, could stay with it's mother and grow up with his adopted sibling, seems like a win/win situation to me.
This mare would have plenty of milk to nurse both foals, plenty of colostrum, the foals and mom could be a mini-herd. Socialization would not be a problem. Foals will learn to be horses from each other, no spoiled brats to deal with and beautiful baby to be sold for lots of money plus the adopted foal will probably be more successful as a horse as well.
I guess I said it before, but I really hate the nurse mare business. But this could work so well for all. Poor little babies...

Man Vs. Animal

When did torture, cruelty, and murdering of animals comes into fashion? Anyone seen “Swamp People”, “American Hoggers”, or “Turtle Man”? Why isn't it against the law in every state in this country to use dogs to hunt down and attack any animal, even feral pigs? For the hunted there is no escape.
What about “Turtle Man” who catches “problem” wild animals with his bare hands, all the while screaming at them as he terrifies them in a small area from which there is no escape. Obviously these “encounters” are staged. These animals, for some reason dont just tear this man to shreads, they only want to get away.
Then there's the “Swamp People”, somehow they trap alligators, haul them over the edge of their boat and shoot them to death before our very eyes. What do they do with them after they execute them? When did alligators stop being protected? Is this legal? Do they eat them? Most of those killed are huge. How can even their thick armor like hides be used for anything?
How can it be alright for horribly mauled and mutilated feral pigs, still alive, be allowed to be stacked on top of each other on their backs (literally “hog tied”) on racks of ATVs, possibly for hours while these people get their load filled? The dogs used are often terribly injured as well. Not just men, but women too are involved in these blood baths. They think of themselves as quite awesome.
I know that this crap has probably been going on for years but for some reason not they are filmed and put on public TV for the world to watch. Even the horrible documentaries of how animals kill each other for food on every nature channel, all life and death struggles in nature for all to watch. What has become of the human race that such “Entertainment” floats their boat?
With the death of beautiful, gentle, Steve Irwin, who treated all creation with reverence, love and respect, these horrible documentaries have become rampant.
Much of the human race has lost their empathy. With the dawning of computerized animation where “anything goes”, and the horrible is excepted because it isn't “real”, the creation is suffering. Are humans no longer able to separate animation from reality? Blood lust has overflowed from video games, “cartoons” and movies making these horrible reality shows and documentaries acceptable because people often can no even see the difference.
Let me tell you now, Jehovah, creators of the universe and all living things, the owner of us all is watching. We will be held accountable. He gave us permission to eat animals, but not to kill, maim or torture them for sport or fashion. Not even a sparrow fall from the sky without his knowing. Think about that! MT 10:29 Jesus himself said this!
I know I sound preachy, but you know, this must be told. So very soon there will be an accounting – and no power in the universe will stop it. God's kingdom is coming. We are living in the last days. Each night while watching the news, can count on my fingers the Bible prophecies being fulfilled right now! Soon wars will cease to the extremities of the earth – wars between humans and between animals. These is so much more involved than can be written here in this article and all have the right to make their own choices, but time is running out. Justice is on horizon – the storm is coming.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Rest in Peace, Dear Fancy

Eye of the Storm lost Fancy on December 5, 2013. She was 26 years old and likely had cancer. She was a lovely girl and will be missed. Below are some photos of her in the snow taken back in 2011.

Please see the donation button on the left to help support the friends Fancy left behind. Thank you!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why We Use Positive Horse Training

While I've been working at EOTS for years – I also have my own 3 horses. Mine are rescues too, the littlest is a pony who is one of EOTS's rescues, then I have a small black draft mare, Tank, and a large Belgian draft, Revel. Tank was my first horse. While I've learned more than I can say by volunteering at EOTS owning and living with my own horse really ended up being a crash course in horse care, nutrition and especially training!
Before Tank I was a dreamer. I read every book on natural horse training, communicating clearly with your horse, speaking their language. Wow it was different with a real horse! While Tank progressed slow and steady with the basics she had some glaringly obvious issues we needed to work on. The most obvious was her fear. She was afraid of the world – and wouldn't leave whatever spot she decided was her safe spot, her stall and paddock. Another big issue was that when she was overwhelmed, frightened or confused she would run away to her safe place – and there was nothing you could do to stop her.
When this began my heart was broken. I had always dreamed of training and riding my own horse, of having that magical relationship you hear of with everyone else. Why couldn't we make this work?! I was so frustrated – then I realized, so was she.

I needed to find a way to communicate with her that was clear and left no room for confusion or questioning. I needed to find a way to work with her that was based on her wanting to do what I ask, because there is no amount of force I can use to make her do what I want, if she doesn't also want to. I can't out muscle her, I need to outsmart her, I needed to make her think that doing what I asked was the best thing ever.
With nothing left to loose I experimented with a training style I had heard of on the internet. I found a few good videos on how to gets started – and I tried it. And it worked. It worked fast! The training style is based on Positive Reinforcement (reward based training). I started by teaching her just to stand still and face forward – setting the president that if she wants her reward she must always be contained and politely respecting my space. At the same time I taught her a bridge signal. This signal can be the click of the clicker or a smoochy sound I make myself, or any unique sound that won't happen by accident. This bridge signal “bridges” the gap between the action the horse performs and the reward that will follow. The “bridge” signal buys me time to get her reward and enables me to mark behaviors that I can't be rewarding while they're in progress (jumping or lunging for example).
Once I taught her how to be respectful of my space for her reward and what the bridge signal means – I taught her to target. I held out a crop and when she touched it with her nose she got her bridge+reward. I used the target to teach pretty much everything else from here on out! She's learned to lunge at liberty (in a full paddock, forming an even circle around me – not a round pen), to lead at liberty over and around obstacles, to give to pressure and some other simple tricks. I also spent a great deal of time “counter conditioning” her to objects that frighten her. I started with simple things, plastic bags, plastic bottles with noisy things inside – I would make these objects come alive and reward when she showed signs of calmness or curiosity. Soon she began to realize all these silly objects Mom came with wonderful things. She soon loved whatever I could throw at her – she reaches to touch objects she's never seen before.
I like to explain to people that when I got my Tank she was a “shoot first, ask questions later” type of girl – she'd spook and explode at anything that could, maybe, be a threat. But now she's gained so much confidence, she's beginning to “ask questions” first, she's beginning to let curiosity win out over fear. I have continued to learn more and more about the training style, learning more about the science and the art of how to train using Positive Reinforcement.

I handle her almost completely at liberty (without tack) now. The only times she wears tack is in “minimal choice” situations, like for the vet or farrier. She knows in these situations she must comply – but because I've spent so long reinforcing these behaviors at liberty – it takes the stress away from when she has no choice over the situation. Because I work with her mostly without tack, I am forced to listen to her, understand how she's feeling and working around her feelings that day – I'm forced to train her at her speed. It leaves me without a choice but to work as a leader and partner – rather than a boss.
I have never felt such a partnership with a horse before as when my horse has complete choice whether or not to work for me, and knowing that as a fair leader I'm rewarding her and making the experience something she enjoys as much as I do.
I have found my partner in Tank.

Since I've found how wonderful this is, how easy to understand and how happy and eager horses become with this training style I've begun to try it with the horses at the rescue. The young volunteers have practiced it with their horses and have learned how to trust their favorite horses. They've learned they don't need to use tools, force or pain to control their animal – but instead how to work in partnership with their friend. They have each picked their favorites to work with – I love watching their relationships grow and their goals change and expand as they get better and better. If you follow our facebook you'll be sure to see lots of pictures and videos of the girls working with their favorite horses.