Xenophon, the famous Athenian horseman dating back to 431 B.C. once said, “A horse is a thing of beauty. None will tire of looking at him as long as he displays himself in splendor.” Once in a horseman’s lifetime, there’s one special horse that captures your heart and stands out in beautiful splendor. For me, that special horse encompasses a splendid little Arabian with a sad past. This 15 hand gray is named Dooley.
It was in the spring of 2018 that I began volunteering my time at CrackerBox Palace Farm, a non-profit animal haven, located in Alton, N.Y. There are nearly 40 horses who reside at the rescue and were rehabilitated from cruelty cases. Along with the 40 spoiled horses, Cracker Box also have pigs, cows, chickens, peacocks, goats, cats, rabbits, and small rodents that they rescue and find good homes. I had come to help out and get more breaking and training experience first hand. Like children coming from foster care, they all had unique stories of how they got there, and Dooley’s story was no exception.
Dooley came from a neglect case with three other horses, in which he rarely was let out of his stall, with little food and human contact. When he came to the farm in Dooley was handled to lead in and out of the stall, but that was about as much human desensitizing and training he had ever received. He and another Arabian were studs, whose “turnout” was walking in the aisle way of the upstairs of the barn, but they were never turned out outside. There were seven other horses that the county seized from this case, and were all brought to CrackerBox a few years back. Although Dooley was 11 by the time he had been gelded and relocated to CrackerBox, although he had the mindset of a yearling, not having been handled or worked with in more depth than simple halter breaking. However, he never showed any malicious behavior, and always had an open mind to what we were asking of him. It took four people just to pick up a hoof for the farrier. A lot of people had given up on him and had judged him from his background and skittish nature that he simply could not be taught, without even giving him the proper chance. However, Dooley had excellent Eqyption sport horse bloodlines. He has Chell-Win bloodlines, coming from an avid ambassador and breeder of Egyption arabian horses, located in Lyons, N.Y. Lyons was the next town over from CrackerBox, in Alton. Chell-Win Arabians were well known around New York State for excelling in halter and performance Egyptian Arabian classes in the show ring. Sara, in her infinite wisdom, knew that Dooley was smart enough and with the right training, could have a rider on his back one day.
The first step was ground work, ground work, ground work. After experiencing firsthand the results of building a foundation of trust from the ground up, this was the most crucial step in the whole process. Dooley was extremely timid and did not trust anyone in the beginning. He wouldn’t even let a person catch him in the field. Once trust was established, we hit some major milestones pretty quickly. Within our first few days, we had managed to pick up all four feet, effectively round pen with proper commands, and carry around a saddle pad on his back. Dooley was the type of horse that would tell you exactly what he is thinking in his expressions, indicative of what would happen next, and was as smart as a whip, as most spirited Arabians are. Xenophon once said, “Only you must beware of a horse that is naturally of a nervous temperament. An over-timorous animal will not only prevent the rider from using the vantage-ground of its back to strike an enemy, but is as likely as not to bring him to earth himself and plunge him into the worst of straits.” (Xenophon, 530 B.C.). In this excerpt, Xenophon explains the fight or flight mentality of horses, regardless if they are wild or domesticated. Naturally, horses are prey, so they avoid fighting in a threatening situation at all costs. Rather, horses flee from situations that make them uncomfortable. Xenophon’s philosophy on horsemanship and training are the fundamentals that the majority of the horse industry still uses today.
The last few training sessions I had with him were the most memorable; the final test- seeing how he would respond to a rider on his back. All our hard work done with him, leading up to this step would be indicative of how well our foundational training was prior to this step. And after all those long days of prepping for the final test, Dooley had proven his weight in gold, and remained calm and gentle whilst I went onto his back for the first time. It was a feeling I will never forget. Shortly after first sitting on his back, I began riding him as much as I could, and he learned leg cues and weight shifts very quickly, to the point where I could ride him bareback in a stall and he would know exactly what I was asking of him. Soon after, we started trotting, and just an added bonus was that he had the smoothest gaits. Dooley had proven to all of us that he was far more than just a pasture ornament; that he is truly a special little Arab that could become so much more.
Dooley and his friends are currently adoptable at CrackerBox Palace. For inquiries, please contact Crackerbpalace@netzero.net or call at 315-483-2493.