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Thread: Benji - a horse my heart will never forget

  1. #1

    Benji - a horse my heart will never forget

    A Born Star, A true fighter!

    Benji came to me almost without hope, but this is his story as seen through the eyes of those who spent time nurturing his beauty, and helping him reclaim his life. For what he has endured in his life, words are simply not enough.

    To: Benji, you are a born star and a beautiful horse, thank you.

    Since Benji came into my life 6 years ago I have discovered some truely awful things about his past owners and environment. He came to me damaged, broken and half dead. His naturally bay coat was virtually none existent and the extent of the physical abuse hit me the moment I saw him but it was the distrust and his volatile behaviour that made him almost unreachable at first. As with all the horses I've had, I take them as they are untill I learn more.

    Benji had spent the first years of his life separated from his mother and all other horses and locked into a box not much bigger than him. The man who owned him didn't understand stable management or horse welfare. He had had the mare shot shortly after Benji's birth as he believe that was the "kindest way" kindest way too what? It's one of the many questions I have about Benji's past. When Benji reached breaking age he was forced to be handled in a violent manner and not understanding what was going on he lashed out which in turn was met with sharp cracks of the whip against his fragile skin that was neglected from the his already harrowing life.

    During his early years Benji was not allowed contact with humans, or horses other than his ‘owner’. Shortly after Benji reached breaking age, he was rudely awakened to the harsh realities of what this meant for him, the whip which was constantly across his face, the kicks in the stomach when he couldn’t stand up due to lack of food, and the force he was handled with, it got too much.

    Unfortunately that is all I was ever able to find out about this beautiful animals past, but his recovery and strength that saw him through it all is outstanding.

    First sight.

    When the box pulled into the yard I knew something was wrong, it didn’t even look like it could have made it half a mile down the road let alone the 27 miles it had just driven. I was shocked, if that was the box looked like, what on earth was inside it.

    I was right to have been worried, he could hardly stand up on his own feet, his eyes now glossy were faded and dead, his coat almost didn’t exist, and his bones were highly visible. There with 2 other of the girls, I cried. The first thought that came into my head, and I know Sophia was thinking the same ‘Shall we put him to sleep now’. At that point I wasn’t even sure he’d make it through the night but I had promised my friend I would try for her, but this was no longer about her, this was now about him.
    Trying to get him out of the box was a near impossible task, not because of his physical health but because of his fear. In the end it took me and Sophia 4 hours to get him out of there and into his stable. I left him rest, there was nothing more that I could do for him until the vet had been to see him later in the day.

    The vet came and saw Benji that afternoon, right there on that bleak and miserable winters day in the rain, and told me he would give me a week to try and work with him otherwise he would have to be put to sleep. I knew he was serious, a very dear friend of mine, and one whose opinion I have the up most respect for. That night I didn’t go home, I didn’t leave his side.

    Benji was to be given medication/fluids every 4 hours for the next week in an attempt to build his strength up. I didn’t sleep, I sat near the door in his stable on a bail of straw, he looked dead but his eyes kept me full of hope, I was not going to let this horse go without a fight!

    By the next morning I was ready to start working on him, the vet had given me special feeding instructions that I followed to the absolute letter. I walked into his stable and slowly worked towards his face to attempt to tend to his wounds which needed cleaning daily. That was a fight I knew I had to win if there was any hope of getting him to trust me. I knew it would hurt him, but to leave them open and dirty would have been more negligent than his old ‘owners’ actions.

    I sat with him all day that day, talking to him, stroking his neck and untangling his mane, 12 hours in that stable and I only left once. Sophia brought me cups of tea every so often but even her presence seemed to unsettle him. I could hear the normal every day noise that is generated on a stable yard, but I paid no mind to it.

    48 hours later, and he was different, physically he was still very ill but the glint was slowly but surely returning to his eyes, and I was delighted. The look in his eyes had gone from death to hope in only 2 days. Excited I rang the vet and explained the situation, and the vet agreed to come and review the situation and possibly give him some more treatment.

    When the vet arrived I was curled up next to him on the stable floor, tears were in everybody’s eyes, and we knew there and then that we had a survivor in our wake. The vet knew he’d made the right decision letting me give him a chance, I knew the sleepless 48 hours had been worth it, Benji knew he was safe, and everyone else was over the moon.

    The vet had a quick look at his wounds, and advised me to keep cleaning them and keep them covered to avoid infection, he administered an anti-inflammatory drug and some fluids, then left with a smile on his face and a hug for me. Later on I discovered he’d also left me a pot noodle in the tack room, I hadn’t even noticed that I hadn’t eaten for two days.

    “You proved him wrong boy” I said to Benji later on that day. Now that he was making progress and looking a little more alive, I knew without a shadow of doubt I had done the right thing keeping him alive, which I would do again for any animal in a heartbeat.

    I managed to pick his sore feet out of dirt and lay some fresh straw down which with Benji barely moving was not an easy task.

    He didn’t move a muscle during the early days, he was still very weak and seeing him in such a state was truly horrendous. The vet was having to administer fluids into him via an IV, which I hated watching but it was the only way to get him better.

    First steps

    I’d been sleeping on the yard for 16 days when Benji first stood up properly, I was exhausted but he was rested and ready to stand, it was like watching a new born foal find his feet, but he did it. I sobbed so hard watching him fight to keep his balance, but I sobbed with relief when he finally managed it.

    He stood for well over an hour before needing to rest, and I wish I’d had a camera with me to show the vet but I didn’t, I did however photo graph those images in my head.

    He was defying the odds against him and beating his past, at the same time having to fight with all his strength for his present, and his future.

    I'll never forget the day I woke up to find up stood of his own accord in his stable with his head over the door, I had him at the yard 23 days and he had gone from strength to strength. What was once a half dead horse, was now alive again.

    For the first time I saw the old wounds, and the ones that were still healing close up, and I was shocked. I guess in my naivety I had blanked out how serious it was, but now I saw, and I very quickly realised just how close he had come to death.

    23 days after his arrival and I got to brush his mane out properly, I didn't touch his body simply because it was still too sore. Even with all of the scars, he was a beautiful looking animal, in every respect...

    At 30 days on the yard with me, he was able to drink and eat without having any extra via an IV and his eyes were glossy and full of hope, finally I was able to see a true glimpse of what a beautiful horse he had once been, and what the future would hold for him given time and care.

    Although he was still flinching when I cleaned his wounds, they were much less open now, and he wouldn’t immediately try and turn away the second I touched him, I felt he was beginning to trust me. His coat was starting to come back and although thin, it was a step in the right direction.

    I was spending hours sat in his stable, talking to him, occasionally touching him and offering him small handfuls of feed, which he was slowly starting to accept as well as feed from his bucket. I spent most of his early days with me in floods of tears but these were mostly tears of relief at this point, he was making progress, nobody could deny that.

    A few girls laughed at me and told me on numerous occasions that he was a ‘lost cause’ and ‘worthless’. I was disgusted with them. He was worth more to me than any of their well schooled, fabulous show horses.

    I was pleasantly surprised to learn that mostly his condition was superficial and we hoped that there would be no long term effects. The vet was pleased with his progressed and said that there was a good chance he’d have a good future ahead of him as long as he kept improving.

    I can remember the day I first let him get his first taste of freedom in the field, he looked more than a little lost but he soon got the hang of it, I stood with him for a few moments then turned away, and in typical Benji style he tried to follow me but I climbed back over the fence and walked calmly away, knowing he’d soon settle and stop looking lost.

    In the field next to him was a very cute little Shetland named Bobbins, who was a right character and known for causing mayhem but he was soon calling out to Benji, and in his own round about way, Benji slowly approached him, although he did look rather confused as if to say ‘is that really a pony?’. Seeing him in the field that day brought home to me just how far we’d come in a few short months, it was worth it.

    He was very slowly introduced to the other horses he’d eventually be sharing a field with, but his heart belonged to Sophia’s horse, Kayleigh, they would call to each other as soon as they saw each other and became firm friends.

    Benji was still distrusting of humans, and would let very few of us near him in those early days. His big sad eyes told a story of fear and hurt, and looking into them caused me distress but together we were bonding, the short walk to the paddock and in the stable, he let me guide him. With time he stopped making a fuss over me stroking his face.

    I would spend hours softly talking to him, stroking him and letting him take things at his own pace. When the vet came out after I’d had him for 8 months he told me it might be a good idea to start building his muscles up, firstly by some short leading exercises and build up to long reining then lunging. I was worried about this but I knew eventually we’d get there.

    We started walking to the back field and back which was about 10 minutes each way, it was a slow process and the first day I didn’t think we’d get past the paddocks at the first but with a little encouragement we did it, those first steps again gave me hope, although I was well aware of the other girls making nasty remarks out of ear shot.

    Day by day, week by week the progress was obvious, not only was his coating coming through but he was developing some muscle as well. It had now got to the point where he would let me pick his feet out without shying away or refusing. He was turning into a superstar, and others at the yard, noticed.

    A few actually had the cheek to ask if they could ride him when he was better, I was firm with my decision ‘you didn’t want to know him when he was half dead, why should you ride him when he’s fit’, needless to say that didn’t make me many friends, but I had Sophia supporting me (mainly making me smile and bringing me cups of tea!). One day it all came to a head when I came down to the yard to a girl attempting to put a head collar on him, luckily she was getting no where near him! I was livid!

    It was ridiculous not once did they make a nice comment, offer to help, or as others had, offer to let me ride their horse whilst Benji was so poorly, and I grew to hate that yard, needless to say I made a pretty sharp decision to relocate, and found us a beautiful yard with only 9 other horses and huge fields, it was perfect. During this time I was battling with my own demons but my focus was on Benji and I knew that he’d listen to anything I had to say.

    Jackie, the new yard owner was instantly taken in by Benjis story and his looks, by this point he’d already shown a fair bit of character to the point where if I asked if he wanted his feed he’d ‘nod’ his head, much to our amusement. Jackie had a daughter at the time, aged 9, who couldn’t understand why anyone would have hurt him, it took her a long time to get her head round the fact that not all humans are nice.

    Benji was put in a field with a cob called Charlie, who was a very handsome piebald, and also a complete nutcase but they would stand with their noses touching, looking very cute indeed. I started long reining him for 10 minutes a day in order to get some muscle on him, it was a slow process as Benji had obviously never done this before, he planted his feet the first time we tried but after 2 weeks of taking no more than 10 strides we got right the way round the farm and he came back to the yard with his ears pricked forwards looking very pleased with him self. My horsey life was going from strength to strength but away from the yard it was an entirely different story.

    Benji in many respects saved my life, and I do believe if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have had the happy ending I did. He very quickly became my best friend and my only confidant. We both met at a time in our lives when we had huge issues, but we bonded as a partnership and I loved him. He was making huge amounts of progress both physically and psychologically and I was over the moon with it all, my vet once said ‘I’m glad he’s found the heart of a little girl, he deserves it’. He was a right character and poo picking the field became a different game altogether, never mind put the poo in the barrow, it was more like ‘lets head butt mammy while she does it, then tip the barrow over’ but it was a huge turning point, not only was he letting me interact with him, he was asking me too as well. He was becoming more and more open about his affections and would whinny and whicker to me as I walked by him, it was a very warming feeling that kept me going through the turmoil of my private life.

    His muscles were developing well and I was slowly upping the long lining in order to keep in line with that, and whilst he wasn’t particularly willing to work with other people, I felt him relax when we were given time and space to be a partnership. In my eyes as long as he was happy and healthy, his social skills could be worked on at a later date as I felt he needed the stability of one to one work rather than being over faced with too many people.

    What he lacked in relationships with people, he made up with his equine friends in abundance. He wanted to touch every horse or pony he met, and developed and maintained many positive relationships, his playful side appealed greatly to the youngsters he encountered and his calmness appealed to the veterans. He was a placid, contented horse.

    12 weeks of long lining paid off and I was told I could start lunging, initially for 10 minutes a day as well as 30 minutes long lining and other than the first few sessions were he wanted to be near me, he soon learnt how to behave on the lunge.

    We worked slowly and made steady progress, I found that working him in the morning produced the most positive results, possibly because there wasn’t anyone else around to distract him. He became good at working off my vocal aids, and the tension which had arisen in the early sessions disappeared, seeing him like that made me unbelievably happy. I always tried to end the sessions when I felt he had done well and was relaxed.

    His wounds were by now fully healed, and although he had been left with some rather ‘ugly’ scars even they were beginning to settle and look less angry. I gradually began to introduce other people into the mix, the first person was Sophia who had been there from the start, we started with her hand feeding him hay, which although it took a few attempts, was successful, and over the coming weeks we progressed on to stroking his neck, holding him in a lead rope, and grooming. Some days he would physically panic and break out in a sweat, but those days were becoming much less frequent.

    After a further 12 weeks of lunging, it was time for him to be 'backed'. I'd spoken to my 'team' who'd been with me from the start, i.e my vet, farrier, yard owner, Sophia. I'd been pretty adament from the start it would be me doing all the work with him, and after being assessed with him on the ground, it was agreed that would be the best way to proceed. I knew him well enough to know he might react sharply but I also knew he'd not do anything to deliberately harm me, as i him.

    I started the morning as I always did, I hayed and watered him, fed him then mucked out, took him out and groomed him for a little while, he stood there being his usual good boy self, I knew then that he'd accept me 'laying' across his back, so I did. I walked to the tack room, asked Sophia to hold him for me and came back to him with my hat on.

    Sophia gave me a mini leg up, and that was it. He stood there, didn't panic, didn't pull back, his ears forwards, happy as larry. Probably wondering what the hell i was doing on his back.

    I was over the moon, he'd come right for me, and although we hadn't started ridden work, I was blessed to have such an amazing horse in my life...

    With Benji being a prone to panicing as he was it was decided I would carry on 'laying' on him for a week, then I'd have the 'sit' on without tack at first just to see how he'd react initially.

    The week flew past, and before I knew it I had under the watchful eyes of Sophia, my YO, the wonderful vet and a few others were watching. He'd become a bit of a star to those who'd met him. I lead him into the school and asked Sophia to hold him and my YO to give me a leg up, again, he shocked us by standing there and taking too it all like a duck takes too water. I had expected some sort of startled reaction from him, to the point where I'd worn a Body Protector (something I rarely did back then) but he didn't even flinch. I asked if they thought I should ask him to walk on, and they all agreed, waiting to see if he'd react, gently I squeezed his sides, and he responded, well if a little unsure of what I'd asked for, but as soon as he walked forward i told him what a good boy he'd been, he relaxed.

    He's the only horse I'd ever felt 'at one with', and i've yet to meet another like him

    I should have been getting up to typical yeenage girls things but instead I was fighting for this beautiful horses right to happiness - some still said i was mad for keeping him - and my own demons of self harm and anorexia.

    I remember the day I got on him with a saddle like it was yesterday, he stood with his ears pricked whilst I tacked him up as if to say 'what are we doing today mammy' as usual I mounted in the school, this time I used the mounting block and after a couple of seconds of 'what the freak is that' he walked up to it like a lamb and stood there, I mounted carefully, and lowered myself slowly into the saddle, he moved sideways slightly whilst I found my other stirrup but he accepted me on his back. No nastiness in this horse. I asked him to walk forwards and turned him towards the central line - might aswell start as i mean to go on and all of that - then asked him to stop. I reached down and checked his girth, he fidgetted a little but nothing else. I walked him out onto the track and let him relax a little before collecting my reins and starting to bring in some change of rein exercises.

    My vet called 'Fancy a little attempt at trotting', I shocked myself by instantly agreeing, it just felt right. I squeezed gently with my legs and he went forwards, a little jolt like a first but I was too soon discover how lovely a trot he had, I patted his soft neck and spoke to him softly. Two of the girls who'd slagged us off at the start stood there open mouthed as they watched us form, what was to go on to be the best partnership in my riding career, before there very eyes

    My vet said to me shortly after 'Millie, I don't know how you do this with these horses but keep going, your working miracles'. I later learnt that no-one expected me, a 14 year old girl with little experience in such situations, to be able to reach this 'broken' horse. Hell, my wonderful trustworthy vet thought the horse to be basically hopeless.

    I was speaking to a girl at the yard who was having problems bonding with hers and she asked me how i'd done it and i simply asked 'do you love him?', she welled up when she realised that yes, she did infact love him but she was scared of him.

    There was too be an in hand tack and turn out show at the yard next door and I had entered myself and Benji as a treat, I knew he'd enjoy being groomed, pampered and generally spoilt.

    I spent hours bathing him, grooming him and making him look amazing, and he looked beautiful, his eyes sparkled as we entered the ring, he was a little on edge but he behaved perfectly. As the judges came round - having heard his story - they said 'you've done a great job, be proud'.

    We didn't win but we're invited to go up and collect a special rossette for 'the best bond between horse and handler'. I was over the moon, and I cried as the judge pinned the rossette onto benjis bridle - months earlier he would have paniced at this but he stood there whilst the judge stroked his neck.

    It was around my anorexia really took hold of me and I was sent to a psychotherapist, much to my disgust, I was told that if I didn't start eating I'd have to give up riding. That was my turning point, I knew that without me benji could easily end up in the wrong hands, that night at the yard as I sat in his stable and sobbed, I promised him I'd eat again, I loved him too much to risk him suffering.

    Over the weeks that followed we started building a relationship during ridden work as well as on the ground, he was proving to be a right little character and would occasionally get a glint in his eyes just before I mounted that told me that session was about to become entertaining. He never did anything really naughty but loved to bunny hop down the long side.

    After 4 weeks of ridden work the vet came out to see him, and bless the dear vet they sobbed when they saw just how far Benji, the half dead horse, had come. I was thanked for my kindness by the vet who said 'in the nicest possible way, i hope i never see you again' ...

    I had found the horse of my dreams, or rather he'd found me. That summer I spent hours sat in the field with him, reading a book or just talking softly too him. With time I barely needed a headcollar to catch him for he would just follow me to the gate as if to say 'ok, i know i've got to follow you now'.

    We were still contending with the girls bitching about us but now they were bitching about us for an entirely different reason, they were jealous as hell. Them with their perfectly schooled, gleaming coated warmbloods ect, they may of had beautiful looking horses but there bonds were not a patch on what Benji and I had. One girl described me as the 'girl who whispers horses', and it wasn't said in a nice tone either.

    I ignored them, as long as I had benji in my life, nothing else matter. He was my world, when things went right he was by my side celebrating the truimphs with me, when things went wrong, his mane was the only thing that felt my tears. He was never 'just a horse' to me, he was my family, best friend, soul mate, saviour all rolled into one, and I adored him.

    Unlike any other horses I've owned, Benji, loved to play with balls so I got him one of those 'kick-for-a-treat' things, and he would spend hours kicking it across his stable, almost like he was 'dribbling' it and I would get the most disgruntled look ever if I dared to remove it. I used to spend time sat in the corner of his stable on an upturned water bucket just watching him, he paid my presence no mind thankfully, and would often kick it towards me and come for a fuss. That was just one of his many slightly quirky behaviours, the other girls continued to laugh at us.

    He'd gone from a broken, ill handled, half dead horse to a beautiful, sensitive, kind alive horse, you'd think that would have been enough to make others shut up, but no, the more alive he became, the worse they got - jealously isn't attractive!

    My vet paid us one of his regular visits whilst I was 'schooling' him - I say schooling as it wasn't really we we're just enjoying ourselves to much - and it was commented on that he had a 'very nice behind for jumping', I didn't think much of this as I was just happy he was alive but one morning as I groomed him, I thought 'freaking heck, they've got a point' and rang my vet to see if he thought he'd be up for some loose jumping, he said 'well give it ago' so I set up a tiny little cross pole and off we went, I lead him up too it and he sniffed it then looked at me as if too say 'what on earth are we doing now' but once he was okay with the jump and I asked him to go over it, he flew over it, although he stumbled on landing but recovered quickly. I watched in awe.

    His ears were pricked, his feet were prancing and he looked happy. I sobbed as I watched him take to the air, my much trusted friend said 'Bloody nora, you've got your self a star there'. I just couldn't believe it. And as I stood with his head on my shoulder I really took stock of just how much of an amazing horse I had in my wake.

    Benjis favourite thing in the world was hacking, and he loved every second of it, although he could be incredibly spookey, once I'd put a reassuring hand on his neck, he would go forwards and ignore whatever was trying to eat him that day. As someone who was previously terrified of hacking, we bonded on those short hacks up the country lanes, me trusting him to get me home safe, and him trusting me not to lead him to danger. I fell in love all over again

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Benji - a horse my heart will never forget

    That is lovely . So sad that he started life that way, but what a joy that he found you

  3. #3

    Re: Benji - a horse my heart will never forget

    He really was my horse of a life time.

  4. #4

    Re: Benji - a horse my heart will never forget

    What a stunning post, I have a lump in my throat! He sounds like a little star.

  5. #5

    Re: Benji - a horse my heart will never forget

    Wow, what an amazing story

  6. #6

    Re: Benji - a horse my heart will never forget

    Amazing story

  7. #7

    Re: Benji - a horse my heart will never forget


    Explains where i get my love of 'special' horses from

  8. #8

    Re: Benji - a horse my heart will never forget

    I've said it before and i'll say it again he was such a lucky horse to have found his way to you. I'm so glad you were able to help eachother through the tough times.
    RIP Benji. Run free xx

  9. #9

    Re: Benji - a horse my heart will never forget

    Thanks LW

    I should write some more of it

  10. #10

    Re: Benji - a horse my heart will never forget

    Just re-read it and i have tears rolling down my face again


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