Mr. P (Peanut’s Story)

My unicorn brings home an award with a unicorn on it!

The inspirational Rescue Horse! We are celebrating them as our April Breed of the Month on YourDressage!

Dressage riders who choose Rescue Horses as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the International Rescue Horse Registry is a participating organization.

Here, an adult amateur speaks about her journey of finding her “unicorn”, a Haflinger rescued from the slaughter pipeline, and their experience in navigating the world of dressage!

By Roxanne Ellingsworth

I have had horses for about 40 years now, and I started in the Hunter/Jumper world and loved to jump. My mom worked two jobs, so she would drop me off at the barn on Saturdays. I would have my lesson and then stay the entire day, helping with whatever they needed just to be around horses. I lived for my weekly lessons. Then, a boarding barn down the road from our apartment had horses and I would ride my bike down there everyday to visit and watch them ride.

 One day the lady asked me if I would like to ride her small horse for her. I love big horses– the bigger the better. I said absolutely. So I was allowed to ride him every day, and even got to take him to a show at the barn I spent my Saturdays at. One day they were having an eventing show. I had no idea what eventing was but my trusty school horse, Nimrod, was going to take me through it. It came time for the dressage part and I was like “what is this?” I really enjoyed it and thought it was neat. But, I was young and the excitement of jumping won for the next couple years. My parents found me an OTTB, because that’s all we could afford.

He was your typical crazy hot head, but I loved him. We went to a show one day and he came off the trailer lame. He trailered horribly, always kicking and rocking the trailer. I had to keep him wrapped head to toe.  Well, the vet looked at him and concluded that he broke his splint bone. Surgery was the only option but we were in no financial way to afford it. I took a job cleaning 42 stalls before school and mom worked 2 jobs and we got him his surgery. After a year of stall rest and in hand therapy, I decided he would not jump again. What could I do with him?

Then I remembered that thing called dressage, and we started him in his new discipline. I fell in love with it and have been doing it ever since. I am just an Adult Amateur taking lessons and attending clinics when I can. 

My current show horse is another OTTB– I know, I love a challenge! He is a complete diva in the ring, and when I adopted him, he had knee chips removed so flat work only. (There is that dressage thing again.) He loves it and thrives when asked for collection and to move all “big and fancy”. He started giving me trouble at the canter and no one could figure it out. So, I did my own research and he had every symptom of kissing spine disease. Unfortunately, the x-rays confirmed it. Knowing he was going to be down for some time after surgery, my hunt for something to save, ride, train, and show began.

Strutting his stuff

I began looking at all the kill pens, rescues, and anything listed as in danger of shipping. Of course I looked at all the OTTB’s, glutton for punishment that I am. I looked for almost two months and found nothing. I wanted big and pretty, which is hard to find in those places. I had kind of given up, and told my husband that there was nothing out there that we could afford; everything was so expensive. It was a Saturday morning and I said “let me look on Facebook Marketplace”, not even knowing if they have horses on there. I found a couple, then I saw an ad from a guy on the border! I thought to myself oh no close to the slaughter pipeline. He had two horses listed and one was a Haflinger! I pondered to my husband how they had gotten a Haflinger so far South. They had pictures of them standing on him, ropes, tarps, and bags all over him; it looked like a circus! I had to help him. I messaged the guy and said I wanted him sight unseen, just from the pictures. I knew he needed out of there before he got into the kill buyers’ hands.

And he has a sense of humor, to boot!

The guy flat out told me he was a horse trader and had interest in the Haflinger. I knew what he meant. Because of his stout thickness, he would bring a lot for meat. I asked when I could come get him and he said Wednesday. I hooked up the trailer and drove 7 hours one way to meet him. When Peanut got off the trailer, I thought, “Oh my heavens that’s a pony! I’ll never fit on a pony.”

Then I saw the glue in his tail from the kill pen stickers they put on their hip and saidl, “Just get him on the trailer.” The guy said he had only had him a couple days, and he’s jumpy with new things. After what they were doing to him, I understood why. I gave him some water – he was so thirsty – and hay, and he munched on the hay immediately. He trailered 7 hours back home like a dream.

He was definitely jumpy, and he flinched when you touched him. He had no idea about picking up his feet, and was terrified of fly spray. He was really hard to catch once you turned him out, and didn’t like his ears messed with. It took me cutting his tail to get the glue out from the kill pen stickers. Despite this, he was not mean; you could tell he had been abused and didn’t trust people. I took it very slow with him, reassuring him with every touch. We worked on the basics to get the trust between us, and every day it gets better.

The first time I tacked him up, he was terrified, flinching, with eyes bugging out of his head. It was very sad. Then he would not stand to mount him, just circled. Once mounted, he would go in reverse and throw his head. He had no idea how to steer, and if you put your leg on he would jump and try to bolt. He had major trust issues. I took it slow, just gently teaching him to steer while lightly using my leg. He is very smart and willing, so that made my job easier.

Being a dressage rider, all the dressage basics came into play in getting his trust and relaxation. We have worked the past couple months on lots of bending, using leg pressure, and getting on the bit, and it works! He has taken to dressage like a duck to water – it’s just unbelievable.

I decided to do some online shows to see what the judges say to work on and see how he does. He has done fantastic, earning scores as high as 75% and great comments. So, we decided to go in person to his first show, and he acted like a seasoned pro with good scores. He totally trusts me now. We still have a little fussiness when you first get on, but that is definitely something from his past that we are working on.

Showing off some of his awards

He is getting fit, and learning to come from behind and swing that big Haflinger booty. We entered the National Dressage Pony Cup (online) because I’ve never had a pony and thought, let’s try it! He rocked it and got an amazing score, and won High Point Champion! The judge absolutely loved him and said that he has a great future in dressage. We recently did our first musical freestyle to Disney music which, of course, fits him perfectly. He got a 71% and High Point Champion. This pony is truly a unicorn, and he is so sweet and willing. I am going to take Peanut as far as he is willing to go in dressage. I’ve never had such a mellow, chill partner that truly seems to love learning. He is the absolute barn favorite and is such a clown, and it took him 3 months, but he found his whinny (finally)! It’s so cute, and he loves his applesauce after his rides – he just slurps it up! He gets along with all the BIG guys– his size doesn’t hold him back. He is a blessing for this lady that thought dressage horses all had to be big and fancy. With love, time, and training, any horse can be a dressage superstar, I believe.

All of my horses are rescues, and what they give me in return is more love, trust, and dedication than a person can ask for. I would recommend rescuing a horse to anyone. They truly know you have saved them, and show it in return. I thought Peanut was a scam and he has turned out to be the best horse/pony I could ever ask for. It was a fluke how I found him, but thank goodness I did. A true UNICORN…

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