Bright futures for once fearful horses

From being terrified of human touch to potentials for future rehoming, over 30 unhandled rescued horses have had their lives turned around thanks to the painstaking efforts of behaviour specialists at Redwings.

We've offered a home to 32 horses from a group of more than 130, who were removed in a multi-agency operation over several weeks from a site near the M25.

In all, we've taken in almost 180 horses and donkeys in 2020 - one of our highest totals in recent years - despite challenges and additional pressures on resources as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The group’s owners were no longer able to cope with their care and signed over the horses into the ownership of a number of welfare charities and organisations who stepped forward to make sure every animal was given a safe, new home.

Many of the horses taken into our care were underweight and required veterinary help for worms and lameness. However, the biggest challenge was their behaviour – many had seemingly never been handled by humans before.

After a stay at our specialist quarantine facility in Norfolk where they received immediate veterinary attention, they were transported to our nearby Behaviour centre.

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Cent was very fearful when she first arrived at the Sanctuary.

Sarah Hallsworth, Equine Behaviour Manager, said: “All of them were very fearful when they first arrived and wouldn’t tolerate human touch. However, to provide even just basic care involves a number of interactions with a horse throughout a year, so it was really important that we worked on building their trust so they could feel comfortable in their new surroundings and we could care for them safely.”

The horses arrived at the centre in two groups and, in true Redwings style, were named after distinctive themes – famous artists (Picasso, Raphael and Banksy) and money or foreign currency (Florin, Stirling and Dime). Naming them in such a way makes it simple for Redwings’ vets and equine carers to follow the groups’ progress at the Sanctuary in the coming months and years.

Through clicker training, positive reinforcement and a lot of patience, many of the horses are now happy to be approached in their fields, wear headcollars and be led, and are about to embark on leg handling training – essential for veterinary interventions, such as routine vaccinations, and farrier visits.

It is hoped that some may end up becoming suitable candidates for our rehoming programme in the future. Even those with existing health issues, who will likely spend the rest of their lives at the Sanctuary, have come on in leaps and bounds.

Sarah said: “There are some, like Silver, who were quite terrified to begin with but have transformed immeasurably. Since starting her training, Silver now really enjoys human attention, which is exactly what we want for all of them. While she will remain a permanent resident at the Sanctuary, it’s very rewarding to know that she will spend the rest of her life free of fear and enjoy all the fuss and love we desperately want to give her and her friends.”

However, their progress has not been without complication! Many of the rescued mares were in foal when they entered the Sanctuary and over the course of this year seven foals have been born, providing an extra challenge for the Behaviour team.

Sarah added: “While our training schedule suddenly got that much busier, foals present a really lovely challenge. Because they have not experienced what their mothers have gone through, they do not have the same fears and we have an opportunity to start their handling at a very young age so we can give them the best chance possible of finding loving new Guardian homes outside the Sanctuary in the future.

“Many, like Lira, are really enjoying their training sessions and are already wearing little headcollars but, just like their mothers, some are more wary than others and are only at the stage of wanting to eat from our hands, like Rupee. We treat every horse at Redwings as an individual and will only progress their training at their own pace. Whether they go on to find new homes or end up better suiting a life here at the Sanctuary, we’ll make sure they remain safe and happy for the rest of their days.”

The work of our Behaviour team is 100% funded by donations from the public.

To support the ongoing care of unhandled horses at the Sanctuary, please click here.