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Situated in a picturesque South Somerset valley, Buck Mill Farm is a 30-acre small-holding which my husband Steve and I bought in 2003 to enable us to give a home and a life worth living to horses with physical, mental and emotional problems who would otherwise have been destroyed.
Years later, the irrepressible holistic vet without whose help I would have despaired was to compliment me by calling it "a complete miracle" that I got Owen sound at all. It had taken 7 months of walking him in-hand before he was strong enough to do more. However, his physical rehabilitation was easy compared with the effort and commitment it took to even begin to restore his sanity and faith in people.
He had not had a good start in life. He was showing symptoms of early, abrupt weaning, physical and psychological bullying and a lack of socialisation with other equines. I suspect he was hit around the face in the past as he was initially so head-shy that he would not only bang his own head on a daily basis but also accidentally injure me as a result of his uncontrollable tics. In fact, for a time the bruises on my face caused a stubborn (and completely untrue!) rumour that my husband was battering me!
Owen had been gelded late and, while still entire, been used as a teaser. So the behaviour and expectations he had developed as a stallion were deeply ingrained. He also was exceptionally aloof and had ceased to offer any normal behaviour or exuberance he had previously and repeatedly been punished for.
Slowly I convinced him that he was permitted to express himself. Initially, all he could volunteer was anger and irritation and an explosive mixture of insecurity and dominance. At the yard where he was at livery he acquired a reputation for being "mad, bad and dangerous to know". Due to his aggressive behaviour toward other horses he ended up turned out alone - again.
My own uncertainty as a first-time owner prompted me to listen to anyone who convinced me that they knew better (never in short supply at your run-of-the-mill DIY livery yard!). The advice was to "stop being a soft touch" and "quit making excuses for him". It got us nowhere. In fact, it was not until I began to truly listen to my horse and promised never to hit, kick, shout at or try to force him in any way that we finally went forward.
What began as a personal ambition has evolved into a last-resort rehabilitation facility. The entire development was lovingly hand-built from scratch by ourselves, involving much hard work and financial sacrifice.
As most of the damaged horses that come to us have difficulty coping in "traditional" management systems we use predominantly holistic methods. It follows that, should they be placed back into the same circumstances following their rehabilitation, they are likely to revert.
In order for any healing and improvement to be maintained once they return home (or go to a new one) it is therefore imperative that horse and owner progress together. So we launched Heaven for Horses with the aim of hosting workshops, clinics and Horse-and-Rider Retreats focusing on helping people experience and learn about being with their horses in a completely different and mutually more rewarding way.
All my life, I have had a special affinity with animals. My earliest memories are of encounters with them, and I was reading books on Natural History and animal behaviour from the age of 10. I was a horse-mad little girl, a passion I had inherited from my late father who trained as a competitive show jumper while in the army, until WWII put an end to his ambitions.
During adulthood, my life took a different turn, and I eventually found myself based in London as a professional musician and songwriter. Then, at the age of 41, my musical career ended abruptly when I severely damaged my left arm in a cycling accident. Eventually, as I regrouped after what felt like the loss of my identity, and in a profoundly emotional process, I remembered my true vocation.
I enrolled at an agricultural college as a mature student and, some 3 years later, left with two National Certificates and a National Diploma in Animal Care, all with Distinction. I also married Steve, who subsequently developed a keen interest in Heavy Horses.
In 1998, I rescued Owen's Pride, a then 16-year-old TB, from impending euthanasia. He had sustained various injuries during his 11-year racing career and then endured 3 years of being passed on from person to person on the downward spiral so typical of many ex-racehorses. He was emaciated, lame, covered in rain scald, sullen, depressed and self-mutilating.
It took 2 years for Owen to open up emotionally. I learned that he needed the security of a reliable routine and, above all, for the first time in his life, a stable pair bond. So we found a Shire mare who refused to be pushed around but was otherwise only too happy to accept his "stallion" ways. We also rescued 2 more geldings and, with the proceeds from the sale of a much-loved Dorset cottage we had refurbished, bought Buck Mill Farm for everyone to live on.
In August 2012 Owen passed away aged 30 1/2 years, having revealed his true character as being gentle, cheeky, laid-back and affectionate to a fault. He was so trusting that it brought tears to my eyes. He had learned to be playful with people as well as other horses and had found peace in his herd.
I am indebted to him for all he has taught me and for changing my life beyond all recognition. Rehabilitating Owen has been the single most rewarding thing I have ever done. It is my burning ambition not to let the wealth of knowledge and experience I have acquired in the process go to waste but to use it to help other damaged horses.
In Loving Memory of Owen's Pride
(26 April 1982 - 30 August 2012).
Remembering Owen, one year on
click here to see the video.