Somewhere around Week 2 of waiting for Cairo’s stone bruise to heal, I got a message from Darla Clark at Strawberry Mountain Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, a horse rescue I had fostered for a couple of years ago. Darla had a new rescue who she thought had potential as a sport horse and did I want to foster again?
Probably like a lot of horsewomen, I tend to overcommit when it comes to the equines in my life. Cairo needed her hoof wrapped, and I was down about her being injured, and Flash needed training rides before his lease came to town.
So, of course, I wanted to take on a rescue horse of unknown skills and history.
It helped that Scout is adorable.
And I’m glad I did it because not long after recovering from her stone bruise, Cairo showed up with another limp and swelling below her knee. After a vet visit with a diagnosis of a possible check ligament strain, I put her on stall rest, and I was filled with worry and anxiety.
I tend to have a philosophy that if I’m down about my own problems, I will feel better by helping someone else with theirs. Or in this case, helping a cute bay gelding on his way to a better life.
When I tell people I’m taking a foster, equine or canine, inevitably someone either tells me that clearly I will be keeping the animal or tells me how they could never foster because they themselves couldn’t give an animal up. I feel like however well-intended, it really discourages people from fostering and helping needy animals find homes.
So I ignore them! Fostering is amazing. I’ve also been told you can claim some expenses for fostering on your taxes, but I suck at taxes, so don’t quote me on that.
I get to play with wonderful animals before ushering them off into amazing new homes knowing the rescue will make sure the pup or pony will never fall into a bad situation again. Fostering gives animals a chance to be in a home situation, which is amazing no matter how fabulous the rescue they are coming from—and Strawberry Mountain is fabulous.
I fostered seven dogs before I “foster-failed” on Biggie, my pittie. And my last foster horse Sunny was a sweetheart and I loved knowing she went to a good home. So I told Darla to bring Scout on over.
Scout is a 4-year-old 15.2-hand dark bay with big eyes and a curly forelock. He nickers when he sees me and, despite clearly having been neglected, is a nonstop affection seeker.
The first thing Scout did upon arrival was nothing. Literally nothing. He wouldn’t get out of the trailer. He just stood there. Perplexed. Thirty minutes or so later, Darla and I got him out and in a stall. I promptly played “horse Barbies” and trimmed his mane and groomed him.
And that was pretty much the extent of what Scout knew what to do. You could lead him, tie him, groom him and feed him. Beyond that everything was new. The first time I got him to the wash rack, he acted like water on his hooves was burning lava trying to kill him. I mean, he was a good boy and just danced around, but you could tell he’d never been hosed before. I held the hose out to his nose, and you could see that moment he went, “OMG this is WATER. I love water!”
Darla sent his hair to Texas A&M, and according to his DNA results, he’s a Thoroughbred/Trakhener/Selle Français. I’m calling him a Thoroughbred/warmblood cross and pointing out his floaty trot to potential adopters.
From what we know, Scout was sold as a yearling at auction, probably because he was cryptorchid and the breeder didn’t want to pay for the surgery to geld. He was purchased by a rescue in Southern California and then apparently basically ignored. He was never gelded and judging from the size of the worms in his poop when he got to Darla’s, he was not wormed nor had his pen cleaned. He’s got some scars but is sound and, like many rescues, forgiving of the human frailties that hurt him in the past. He probably didn’t want to get out of the trailer because in the past he got out of the trailer and something bad would happen.
He was definitely given treats by someone though because if there is one thing Scout knows, it’s snacks!
Darla took Scout up to Oregon State University where, when they laid him down for his cryptorchid surgery; his testicle popped out, and he was gelded normally.
So I set out to discover what did Scout know. The original rescue had a photo of Scout wearing a saddle and bridle, after all.
The water/hosing and not getting out of the trailer thing were my first clues. Nothing. He didn’t back up, didn’t longe, didn’t pick up his feet to be picked. He knew nothing.
But, like I said, he nickers when he sees you and has a cute curly forelock. And I think he had to be drugged for his saddle photo op because he looked stunned and horrified when I put a light saddle pad over his back, and the bit confused him.
So we started at Square 1, introducing Scout to all the different things horses do in a barn. I’ve started horses before, but I am grateful for my friends’ assistance, from helping with vet bills to donating for his feed. My friend Becky who breeds and raises sport horses helped me get Scout used to the hose and clippers. Agustin, our barn manager, who can basically do anything with a horse, helped by teaching him to have his feet handled. And I’m the longe-maven and groomer.
And supplier of treats. Did I mention Scout’s love of snacks? I thought Cairo liked peppermints, but the first time Scout got a leftover Christmas candy cane I thought he was going to fall over in a seizure of sheer bliss.
About a month into our foster, despite delays due to a freak snowstorm (we don’t get snowstorms in western Oregon), Scout is amazing me. He is wearing a bit, longing at the walk, trot and canter and picking up his feet. He backs up, gets hosed, and is generally more well-mannered than a lot of 4-year-olds who have been handled far more. He’s learned what snow is—California boy was stunned the first time he saw the white stuff—and how to walk through puddles, a more typical Oregon problem.
I go to the barn every morning to hand-walk Cairo before work. She looks at me with her big eyes, and Scout nickers and tosses his surfer boy forelock. Each evening when I come to walk Cairo again, she frisks me for treats, and Scout watches carefully until I come and give him his fair share and fuss over him.
“You are falling in love,” my barn friends tell me. “You’ll keep him.”
But I know I won’t.
The trick with a foster like Scout is to love him and then set him up to find the love of his life.
Cairo is my heart horse; Flash is my sweet guy, and Scout needs to be someone’s best friend and main squeeze. I’m just in it to help him fulfill his destiny and know that one sweet brown hard-luck horse is going to find the right person to ride him and feed him peppermints to his heart’s content.
Camilla Mortensen is an amateur eventer from Eugene, Oregon, who started blogging for the Chronicle when she made the trek to compete in the novice three-day at Rebecca Farm in Montana. Camilla works as a newspaper reporter by day and fits training and competing Cairo around her job.