A guest blog post by: Tarah French

This is how I found my way back to me…and how one very malnourished and disregarded horse helped me get there.

I believe that nearly everyone loses themselves in a new relationship. Not on purpose or for lack of trying to maintain who they were before the relationship even began but simply in the newness and fun of that relationship. They put themselves on the back burner. That was me. My back burner lasted nearly 8 years with a year and a half of that being my marriage. Without getting into the nitty gritty, I ultimately decided that enough was enough and I was no longer going to live my life in a place of uncertainty. I was going to stand strong, independent, and forward facing. My mom always told me I was meant for greatness, not mediocrity (thanks, Mom, for the reminder).

I had lost my independence, my strength, my ability to choose what made me happiest. I no longer was able to see a future I was happy with. I wanted so much more for my life yet I was buried so deep in maintaining, managing and encouraging someone else that I could no longer see my own worth.

I’ve been volunteering with All About Equine (AAE) since July of 2013 – these are my people. They’re comforting when you hurt; they’re excited when you’re thriving. They’re family. So, when I told Wendy (AAE’s Founder and Executive Director) what was going on in my life she had the perfect distraction. She knew I needed something or someone to focus on other than myself. Enter Sparkie, a 20+ year old senior mare who, according to her paperwork, was an ex-rodeo horse with a specialty in barrel racing and was also a cattle wrangler. This sweet, senior girl stands roughly 14.1 hands high and upon rescue painfully weighed in nearly 350 lbs. underweight.

Thanks to caring neighbors who encouraged her owner to either provide better care or relinquish her, Sparkie was already on the road to recovery. When Wendy was made aware of Sparkie she knew exactly what to do. Elisa, Wendy, and I hopped in the truck on July 3rd and drove to the outskirts of Elk Grove to rescue our soon to be newest family member. When we arrived at the location, the neighbors came out to greet us. They had patched together a temporary paddock and shelter to ensure that Sparkie had a way to get out of the sun. They had also provided the basic care (feed and water) in hopes of getting her to gain some weight. After discussing the next steps with the neighbors and leading her from her temporary paddock, Sparkie quickly hopped into the trailer. There was no turning back. Her future was in a new direction and she never hesitated.

We arrived back at the rescue and all breathed a sigh of relief when our sweet senior mare unloaded from the trailer. We (and she) knew she would never be neglected or unloved again. Due to her weight, she was promptly put on a gradual refeeding program consistent with the UC Davis guidelines for refeeding malnourished horses. This meant small frequent alfalfa-based feedings.  She had only a few teeth, so rather than hay, we soaked nutrient rich pellets in water, which would allow her to regain her hydration as well as weight. She was eating every couple hours and couldn’t have been happier about it.  Once stabilized, her neglected teeth got the attention she needed, and it was smooth sailing from there.

Shortly after Sparkie came to AAE, I separated from my husband. Granted, this was something that was a while in the making, however something that should have happened much sooner. There were things I should have said even prior to marriage that I didn’t, and ultimately it led to the end.  It wasn’t a lack of love because I’ll always have love for him but we just aren’t our best when we are together. While I did make the decision to separate, it wasn’t an easy decision to make. When I married him I was serious. I took my vows seriously and I meant them. I don’t like to give up on things. I was raised that if you start something, you finish it. You have people counting on you. I was unprepared for the emotions that my separation would bring. I went up and down and all around; from bursting into tears at my desk while at work, to telling people how excited I was for my future. The guilt was immeasurable and knowing that I caused someone pain was nearly unbearable. Sparkie’s arrival was the very thing that reminded me that the reason I’m here on earth is to be the best me possible and to help those who cannot speak for themselves.

I’ve always been the “strong” one. My whole life I have interpreted that to mean never showing weakness, the ability to overcome any obstacle without cracking, the unending strength to never hurt. These of course, simply aren’t true. Sometimes it is the strongest ones who hurt the most. They often hold their pain inside, unable to express to people just how deeply they’re hurting. Maybe they process emotions differently or more slowly. Maybe the smile they plaster on their face is just that, plastered. However, someone told me that I wasn’t strong but, rather, resilient. I was able to feel my emotions, process them, and recover quickly from difficult and often painful situations. That word was it. It was true. I’m not strong, I’m resilient. I’m able to feel things, process them, and recover. I was never one to wallow in pity. There’s too much life to live. So, as I processed the emotions of separating from my husband, I found solace and wholeness in Sparkie and her recovery.

While I could not get to the rescue every day to spoil and love on “my” sweet mare, I knew she was getting extra love and attention. On my tough days, I would text Wendy and ask if I could visit after shift. The answer was always yes. Knowing what I was going through, she knew all I needed was to get my hands on this girl. I’d rush home after work, throw on my shorts and boots in true country style, and drive up to the barn. It was there in the scent of the dirt and the warmth of the sun that Sparkie and I bonded.

Her energy is like none I’ve ever known. Even in her weakest and most vulnerable state, she would stand and let you take her in. She was resilient in her own right, never wavering and never unsure. Always trusting and always willing to please. She would reassure you that the two of you could do it together. You could conquer that day – together. She was my reminder that, while this is one of the most difficult times of your life, you will come out the other side with your heart refilled and your strength fortified.

While I waited for her to finish her supper I would grab the new halter and lead I had bought specifically for her. After finishing her meal she would look at me and turn to walk away (she loved to play hard to get) but she would ALWAYS turn around and come right back to me. She’d lower her head as she got closer and I’d drop the lead over her neck. I slipped on her new, bright and festive halter and gave her a squeeze. I was always whispering to tell her what a good girl she was, or how strong she was, or that she’d never be hurt or hungry again. She needed to know she could trust humans again. She needed to know that not all of us are like her previous owners. We would always make sure she had a full belly and a happy heart.

I cannot tell you how many tears I cried while grooming her boney and balding body. I’d call Wendy over to make sure she looked ok. Why was she losing so much hair? Why wasn’t she gaining weight faster? Was that mark supposed to be there? Why isn’t anyone cleaning her eyes? Like any mother/owner/guardian I worried over the littlest of things. Due to the lack of nutrition previously, she was going to lose patches of hair but they’d grow back shiny and new again. She was gaining weight as she should – so much so that she gained enough to warrant the concern of a pregnancy! There was a stallion where she lived before.  YIKES! (Luckily, it came back negative…breathe sigh of relief here…)

I always believed horses to be therapeutic. Actually, I believe all animals can be therapeutic. However, with a horse, people just tend to see the size versus their ability. Horses connect just as deeply as dogs and other traditional therapy animals. In fact, horses have long memories for both the humans they’ve bonded with in a positive way and the ones who have damaged or abused them in the past. Sparkie was my therapist. I was able to reconnect with myself on a deeper level while working with Sparkie. A horse’s main form of communication is body language. They are incredibly in tune with what is around them. They feel the anxiety of their handler; they know when they’re afraid or when they’re angry. A horse doesn’t judge what you’ve been through. They don’t mind if you curse or cry. They don’t even mind if you just sit and watch them move. All they want is to please you.

On October 1st my sweet girl was adopted by a lovely couple looking for a sweet senior horse to be a companion to their aging mare that recently lost her older friend. The horse that helped me through the hardest chapter in my book of life was quickly getting the final chapter she so rightfully deserved. On the drive to her new forever home, tears welled up in my eyes. I knew this was the best thing for her and although it was painfully obvious I wasn’t ready to let go of her, she desperately needed me to let go. In order to let go of her, I had to let go of my separation and all the weight associated with it. Luckily, I had the love and support of my people and I was able to hand the lead to Sparkie’s new person. Let’s be honest, there were some serious tears that streamed down my face, but what a full circle moment; a release of so many emotions in the most positive way possible.

So, here’s to Sparkie and her future and my future as well. She’ll never know just how much she meant to me but she was the perfect horse for the perfect time in my life.