Where we left the Great Paint Project last (yes, I am aware some of you have been waiting since April!) Maeve had just put down the new shoes she was buying and returned to the barn with her rescue money...
We made a plan to meet Billie Jean, the owner, for lunch to talk and sign the sale documents. Over soup & salad she explained to us that she'd been going through a rough time emotionally and that her husband thought that having a horse might get her out more and perhaps her mood would improve. They bought Sugar who turned out to be "Spooks Sugar Bar None", a APHA Registered Paint mare who happened to be in foal & brought her directly to KCJ Stables.
It turned out that the barn did not have the appeal that her family had hoped for her and the longer the time between her visits grew, the more she felt even worse than before. It got so bad that even when we agreed to meet, she specified that it couldn't be at the barn because she could not face the horses. I assured her that the horses would be fine and all would be forgiven if she showed up with a cookie...but she insisted that we meet outside and after talking to her, I think I understand how much it all reminded her of how difficult this situation was for her. I got the sense that she did want what was best for the horses and was glad that she could get some peace of mind knowing that people like Maeve and I would do everything we could for them. She did understand that they could have gone into really bad situations and admitted that the people her husband had lined up to come pick them up were contacts of friends who were not even horse people and she honestly had no idea what their outcome would have been.
We signed a Bill of Sale on each horse and out of randomness, Maeve signed for Sugar and I signed for the colt. Billie Jean did tell us why she had meant to name him "Spirit" and it was because she felt like her mother's spirit was guiding her. At the time I had thought something with "Joker" or "Fool" in it was fun because of his April Fools Birthday (shared with my husband, by the way!). We left with a bit of sympathy for this owner who was in over her head emotionally and her guilt over abandoning them at the barn was, perhaps, coming to some closure that I feel she desperately needed. Clearly the rest of her life needed her attention...and these horses did too...and now they had NEW Mommies....and we had new projects.
Now that we had the actual written right to do so, we rushed back to the barn to tell the horses the good news...and yes, I do believe they sense things. Sugar clearly was starting to open up to us. I think some treats and grooming helped that. The wild colt, however, was going to need some expert handling so we brought in Chrissy to help us halter train him. This was needed if we were going to have any hope of taking him out of the pasture he'd spent all but the first 17 days of his life in. That was a bit daunting but ... it had to be done soon!
We decided that the colt needed to be gelded ASAP! Sugar needed her teeth done so we made an appointment with Dr. Tooman to do both on the same day. We had about two weeks to get the colt lead-able so that we could do his daily exercising for the two weeks following his procedure. Chrisy came out and started working with him to get him to move in directions and some basic ground manners. I believe it was down to the wire in terms of feeling "safe" with him before his appointment day, but I guess there's nothing like having to do something to make you just do it and come gelding day, we just got through it. That's all we could do, no choices. Gelding was the sanest thing I could think of to give this colt a chance at finding a forever home. Despite how cute and how pretty his coloring was, the last thing this world needed was another nearly homeless stud. So we made a decision to make it the first priority.
In the two weeks before the gelding/teeth appointment we were able to track down his previous owners to Billie Jean. The breeder who owned his sire had once owned Sugar as well. She informed me that this pair made such good looking & gentle spirited horses that they bred them a total of SIX times in as many years. She also told me that the owner she got Sugar from had paid for 30 days of professional training for Sugar but had been afraid to ride her because Sugar refused to take a bit & would toss her head violently. She thought it had been because someone in her past (not the breeder, from my impression) had tried to float her without sedation. It was thought, however, that the trainer who gave her 30 days came back and rode her fine, even on trails. She did confirm a story that Billie Jean had told us: that Sugar could be ridden in a halter or hackamore but would never take a bit.
So Sugar had been bred five times with the breeder I talked to and then sold to her daughter who bred her to the same stud, Macho Dee Bar (who has since been gelded when the horse economy forced them to shut down their breeding operation). Sugar was sold, infoal, to Billie Jean. They had no idea that the horses had ended up in the situation they were in, which I think speaks to the method in which SAFE rehomes it's horses using reference and site checks. I wonder how many straight sales go through any kind of appropriate match up of horse and human... my guess is that once the money passes hands it's no longer an issue to the most sellers. I do hear, with some regularity, that breeders often stand up for the get they produce and will sometimes take it back or help to rehome it when things go awry. That was my initial hope when I got in contact with the breeder.
I was told, however, that every single baby that Sugar produced got her easy going disposition and were easy to train. She went as far as to say that one person actually had two of the babies, liking one so much they purchased a second one. It was Cathy Atkinson, not the breeder, who informed me that their (former) stud, Macho Dee Bar, was the son of Barlink Macho Man, a multi-titled halter horse and Supreme Champion Sire. This colt was a grandson of this champion horse and was fortunate enough to get some of pattern genes ;-)
Interestingly enough, the breeder didn't seem to play up that breeding to any of the buyers who ended up with Sugars other babies. I've seen a few, perhaps three, on craigslist or Dream Horse and none have mentioned the amazing bloodlines their horses' have.
By the time the day came to start the horses on their way to recovery (and life as a gelding) the colt was showing his 'naughty' nature and Maeve started calling him Basil because his personality (or perhaps "horsenality") reminded her of her mischievous brother Basil (sounds like Razzle...not the herb). The idea of calling him anything with "Joker" or "Fool" in it now seemed inappropriate given the circumstances he came to us under.
When stories about free or abandoned horses circulate the crazies come out of the wood works. Early on in the process some 'friend of a friend' came out to see Basil and wanted to put him on an empty piece of property he owned in Gold Bar....but I had to wonder who would care for any horse(s) left there since this guy lived in Burien....and another former KCJ Boarder (who shall remain nameless) saw his photo and immediately wanted to take him to breed him to her mare. The overprotective mother in me thought "Good lord! he's not even a yearling yet!" and made me confirm his gelding appointment.
There was also a referral, a friend of the original breeder who was interested in taking the colt but when I informed them that I would want to do a site check, I never heard from them again. Even a fellow boarder was interested in him at one point but their other horse had some medical issues I wanted to see handled faster than I was seeing and I turned down that offer as well.
Maeve & I decided to test the waters, so to speak, with Sugar and see what she may/may not know. Maeve agreed to be the Crash Test Dummy but thankfully was neither! Sugar got saddled up and sat on with no indication of an issue. In fact, she was pretty agreeable!
So Basil's gelding/Sugar's teeth floating day came and Dr. Tooman breezed through the first half great! Basil left the stud world without a care but Sugar fought her floating and had to be given a (Tooman Equine) record FOUR doses of sedative to get her relaxed enough to complete the task.
It turned out that Sugar had probably NEVER had her teeth floated in her six year career as a broodmare and the story about the attempt at floating her teeth was probably more accurately a floating attempt with insufficient sedation. Two days later Chrissy came out to give us a hand with Basil's recovery exercise and to check Sugar out. When we told her that the last three owners all seemed to think that Sugar would never take a bit, Chrissy simply said "We'll see about that!" and with a minimal amount of fuss, got Sugar to take a snaffle bit. (have I mentioned that I think Chrissy's a horse-whisperer?) The following day Sugar took the bit with no issue at all and has never refused it since. I guess it's all in what you believe...the other owners believed she never would. Chrissy believed the opposite and my experience has always been to always trust Chrissy.
So I'm going to make this a stopping point with the hope that it won't be another 3 months before I pick it up again. I will, however, leave with a few photos we've collected of one of Sugar's Other babies....and Basil's Full-Sibling....