Nobody was looking for Barkinspider the day the shockingly thin colt was collected from a Louisiana roadside like a heap of discarded trash.
Just another unwanted ex-racehorse of no particular value, the petite white animal’s coat had fallen out in patches where the rain rot had gotten to it, and his eyes had dulled with a look of defeat.
When horse-rescue personnel from the Lafayette Parish Animal Control led him onto a trailer to drive him to safety, he offered neither protest nor fight. It was as if the energy to hope for a better life had been drained away by that time, recalls Anne Marie P. Muller, an attorney and avid equestrian.
“What struck me more than anything was how defeated he seemed,” Muller says. “After I saw his picture on Facebook, I drove an hour to go see him in person, and while I stood with him in his pasture, he allowed me to hold his head in my hands.
“I remember thinking, ‘How do you walk away from that?’ If it wasn’t going to be me, who else would it be? I had to take him.”
Muller decided quickly to take him. Not knowing what lay beneath the wreckage of an animal found wandering a highway—had he escaped from somewhere terrible, had a careless owner just dumped him? — Muller knew that this was the horse she wanted to help.
Race name: Barkinspider
New name: Regarding Henry
Barn name: Henry
Sire: Mom’s Little Guy
Dam: Star of Maurice
Foal date: April 17, 2009
“I’d been thinking about rescuing a horse for some time,” she says. Having ridden “made” horses herself, and having witnessed many excellent riders doing the same on highly trained animals, Muller felt in her bones that to be a truly great horseman, she would have to bring a horse along from the bottom up. “Anybody can ride a made horse if they’re a decent rider, but to be an excellent rider, a more complete rider, you have to train a horse from scratch,” she reasons.
And it so happened that on a late September day last year, as Muller was deciding to rescue the little animal from his lonely pasture, the Animal Control center that had scooped him up was about to grapple with an abuse and neglect case involving 75 horses. The all-too-common scenario was “overwhelming” Animal Control at the time, and Muller made haste to get the little guy she would rename Henry to a new home; her home.
“I drove back a week later with my trailer” on Sept. 21 “and I remember that after I opened the trailer, he walked right in, and he whinnied all the way back to the barn,” she says. “He seemed brighter immediately.”
The road to a new life wasn’t without its setbacks, but looking back on the past year, it’s remarkable to Muller how “easy” the little colt’s transition has been.
He regained weight eating good hay with a gradual addition of grain and other feed to his meal plan, and Muller was able to put him into light work a few months after he arrived.
Starting with light ground work, followed by light rides; her plan to gradually build up muscle as he put on weight rewarded her with a nicely rounded, not fat, horse with a mind ready to work.
“He was putting on weight so fast that I didn’t want him to get fat. Instead I wanted to slowly develop his muscle at the same time,” she explains. “But being as frail as he was, I didn’t want to push him either.”
Another consideration in his training was that he was still a colt. “As his energy returned, I wanted him to have the brain to deal with it. I thought it was important to get him into a routine early,” she adds.
When she thinks of all the things that could have gone wrong, of the horror stories she’s heard about rescue horses, Henry seemed ridiculously easy to bring along. Aside from rain rot, which cleared up with medical treatment, and poorly shaped feet, which are slowly being reconfigured to allow his frog more comfort, Henry’s recovery from starvation and neglect was a very smooth ride.
“There are so many stories I hear about with rescues, with abscesses, and bucking,” she says. “He didn’t have any of those issues, and the first time I rode him, he was easy.”
In no time, Henry started competing in local shows with 8-year-old rider Emma Munroe. At a recent show, the pair was First Reserve Champions in a walk-trot equitation class, Muller says with pride. And in a pre-green 2-foot-six course, he has shown a great aptitude for jumping. He jumps so big with his balanced, well-muscled body that Muller fully believes her little throw-away horse will never go unvalued again.
“A horse needs to have some kind of value. It’s very important for them to have some kind of marketability,” she says. “There are so many Thoroughbreds in Louisiana that need training and need futures that there are not enough horse people to take them all.
“Henry has value to me, and he’ll have a home for the rest of his life now.”
With a job, a purpose, and an abundance of love, Henry has blossomed to the point that he is often admired by other show attendees as he steps into a show ring. Now gelded, he has grown to 15 hands, and conducts himself as well as any of the made horses he competes against.
Rather than hang his head in defeat, he carries it high, ears forward.
“It’s amazing what these horses can do, regardless of the condition you get them in,” Muller says.
Author’s note—This story was originally published on Aug. 22, 2013.