Cover Story: Ladner's Little Ponies
Ask any four-year-old what they want for their birthday and chances are they'll say "a pony."
Sometimes those wishes come true, and the parents go out and get their little girl a living, breathing gift. And sometimes it all works out, and the pony becomes a lifelong friend and companion.
But it doesn't always work out that way.
The brown pony living at Tiny Tales Pony Rescue in Ladner is beginning a new life after suffering abuse at the hands of his previous owners.
"He was beaten on several occasions until he was unconscious," says Tara Pay, the 29-year-old who runs the pony rescue on her parent's boarding barn for horses.
The previous owners admitted they beat the pony to try and discipline him of his wild and unpredictable behaviour. That admission frustrates Tara.
"When people work around horses they try and intimidate the horse and make them act on fear whereas it should be more about trust and respect," she says.
Oliver—named by Emma, a 14-year-old Ladner girl who suggested the name on Tara's website—was sent by Pip Squeaks Paddocks Miniature Horse Haven Society in Chilliwack. He's between 12 and 15 years old and arrived as a stallion. The first thing Tara did was geld him to make him calm and sociable.
Horses look to people to be a leader, she explains. There's no need to physically abuse horses, and when it happens it's usually because of ignorance or a lack of training knowledge.
Tiny Tales' first pony rescue, named Blossom, also came from Pip Squeaks.
Tara Pay with Oliver, a rescue pony named by a Ladner teenager. Rob Newell photo.
"When we brought her here she couldn't stand comfortably for any length of time," says Tara.
A follow-up veterinary inspection showed she had been walking on a broken foot for a long time and the owner had either never noticed or never bothered to have it mended.
Because horses and ponies require a lot of physical exercise. Tara knew Blossom's quality of life was going to be poor, and made the difficult decision to euthanize her.
Tara and her parents run Four Season Equestrian Facility on their East Ladner ranch, a property they bought six years ago.
"When we took over the barn we always expected we would start a rescue," explains Tara, culminating in the non-profit pony rescue she began in June.
Tara grew up in Ladner and has always lived around horses and ponies. When she was a little girl, she had plenty of both.
"I always wanted bigger, the bigger the better," she says.
Her first pony's name was Snuffleupagus, a Shetland pony named after the woolly mammoth friend of Big Bird on Sesame Street. He was fluffy and red and, she thought, huge. But when she looks at old photos of her pony now he looks small.
Outgrowing a childhood pony is another reason the rescue exists. It's no uncommon for people to buy a pony for their child but later realize they're not able to commit to the kind of care and love required for an animal that has a life expectancy between 35 and 40 years.
But Tara enjoys working with horses, as difficult as the job can be.
Tara has rescued two mini-horses named Rhapsody and Simon. Tara says Rhapsody is a caregiver for Simon. Rob Newell Photo.
"It's a labour of love. It's not a profitable industry. The best part is being able to look out of your window in the morning and see your horses."
Tara gets up at 6:30 a.m. to feed the horses, and let them out into the field. Then she cleans their stalls, and lays out fresh food. Horses feed about four times a day; morning, lunch, and then later afternoon, which at this time of year is when it gets dark. They have one more meal before they go to bed.
The barn has an indoor riding ring so the horses can be ridden, regardless of the bleak weather.
"I think they have a good therapeutic aspect to them," says Tara. "After a long, hard day you can come down and ride them and all the stress just oozes out of you.
"They definitely need an outlet for their energy. They're like people, the more active they are, they happier they are."
Tara underwent an apprenticeship in natural horsemanship four years ago. She worked with a mentor nearly every day for a year, learning everything there is to possibly know about horses.
Natural horsemanship is a practice of working with the animal's natural instincts, reading its body language, and deriving intent and emotion from it. There's a popular culture term for it which spawned a Hollywood blockbuster with Robert Redford.
"I don't like to call it horse whispering because it's kind of cheesy," she says, laughing.
But the concept of horse whispering is the idea here.
Tara says horses have personalities, just like people. Some are cheeky and mischievous, some are dominant, and some are reserved.
Her mini-horses, Simon and Rhapsody, were also adopted from Pipsqueak Paddocks.
Using natural horsemanship, Tara helped bring "Rhap" out of his introverted shell. The tiny horse is usually nervous around people, but there's more to his character than meets the eye.
When he was rescued he was acting as the seeing-eye horse for a blind mini horse. Now, he takes care of Simon, a mini who was born with an oxygen deficiency, leading to his nickname "Simple Simon."
"So, I guess he's kind of a natural caregiver," Tara says.
Personality-wise, Rhap and Simon are polar opposites. Rhap avoids contact with everybody while Simon wants to practically sit in your lap, probably due to early handling by people.
But running a boarding barn and rescue isn't cheap. Tara says gelding Oliver cost $600 and euthanizing Blossom cost $400.
She needs bedding for the horses, volunteers to help with cleaning or brushing, and wood chips or gravel for the paddocks.
Tara says Emma wants to come and take care of Oliver, the horse she named. She also thinks the boarding barn would be a great learning opportunity for Delta school children to learn about the responsibility of being on a farm and taking care of animals.
"If you can start teaching kids when they're young about taking care of horses you can potentially eliminate some of the people who will neglect them due to ignorance."
To donate or learn more about Tiny Tales Pony Rescue, visit ponyrescue.org.