Written by Lins Rautenbach
“His scars tell where he has been, not where he is going.”
These wise words were said to me soon after I adopted King, a beautiful horse who had been burnt and mistreated before being rescued by Inspector Matome of the NSPCA.
I met King on 30 December 2017, a few weeks after he was rescued in a shocking state, scared, neglected, and with severe burns covering his hind quarters. He was staying at the SPCA Grahamstown branch while he recovered.
It was a chance meeting. I’d followed his story on Facebook after he was rescued; like any other animal lover what happened to him enraged me, and I dearly hoped he’d find a happy home. But, up until I met him, I had no plans of being the person who gave him that home.
That Saturday, I popped in at the Grahamstown SPCA just for a visit. When I overheard someone say there was a horse there, I had to have a look. As soon as I saw him, I realised who it was: King! I fetched some juicy carrots from the office and, instead of focusing on him, I gave him his space and sat throwing pieces of carrot away from me (for him); it wasn’t long and this gentle soul was at the fence. And so I decided to risk it and walk into his pen.
He made the first move
King was very wary of strangers, understandably so. Again, I gave him his space. Still not wanting to push him, I kept dropping chunks of carrot onto the floor around me, hoping he would relax.
And then It happened (and I say “It” because I have yet to be able to describe or work out what happened): King made the first move, coming right up to me and letting me scratch his neck.
Here this burned pony, which had been taken on a round trip to hell and back at the hands of people, was letting me touch him. And, as clichéd as this sounds, we clicked. It only hit me when I got into the car that I wanted King.
But I had to think about this one carefully: adopting a dog and adopting a horse are two totally different things. There are big costs and time involved; he’d need a stable, space to walk around, and special care. He would also need professionals to work with him; I would need to find these people.
I tried to talk myself out of it a few times. It didn’t help; in fact, I think it made the need to have King stronger and I caved. And so began my own mission to bring King home.
A place fit for a king
Finding a stable yard that would take him wasn’t easy: most either didn’t have space, didn’t want to take in a special-needs horse, or their set-up wasn’t going to be ideal for him. I’d almost given up hope when my friend Jacqueline Jansen van Rensburg, who’s also in rescue and who owns horses, offered to let King stay with her.
It was perfect: King would have his own stable, he would live with other horses in a massive field, eat the best food, have a kind groom, and get the kind of care I want for all my own animals.
And, so, on the 8th of January, a little over a week after meeting King, I’d organised what needed to be in place and applied to the NSPCA to adopt him. On the 11th of February all was finalised and it wasn’t long after that he was healthy enough to be gelded (“sterilised”), and could come home. To make it even better, the awesome people at Equine Balance came on board and sponsored King’s supplements, which are a huge part of his healing.
I’ll always be grateful to both Jacqui, who owns Kajula Feeds and Supplies, and Althea Fordyce of Equine Balance for the incredible kindness they have shown to my boy.
King finds a purpose
King is very special: after all he’s been through, he’s incredibly sweet with people. I wasn’t ever going to ride King but felt I’d have to keep his mind busy. When I explained this to my good friend Louise Thompson, an accredited animal behaviourist, she came up with the idea of clicker training* him.
I ran her idea past Morgane James, the NSPCA Training Unit manager who’d worked with King. An idea was born: once trained, King could teach horse owners, not only about kind, gentle training and handling, but also the importance of things like allowing horses to express natural behaviour and be out in a field with other horses during the day, as well as the importance of environmental and mental enrichment.
King now had purpose. What had happened to him suddenly no longer got to me as much as it had. Good could come out of horrible circumstances – he would become the “poster child” for promoting kindness.
*Clicker training is a gentle method of training animals by using a sound (usually a “click” made by a plastic device held in the trainer’s hand) to reinforce good behaviour.
How to be a horse
So far, King’s journey has been focused on him healing physically and mentally. He needed to pick up weight and build up muscle that had atrophied. He needed to settle and find his feet and learn to be a horse again.
With dedication from Jacqui and his awesome groom, Gift, we’ve pieced the “pony back together” and turned him into a proud, majestic horse.
King lives with 13 other horses; his best friend is also a rescue who was hand-raised by Jacqui. Initially, King followed him everywhere but he now has many friends and does “horse things”’, which often gives me a lump in the throat. He races around and bucks and interacts with other horses, like a horse. For me personally, this has been the most rewarding part of his adoption so far.
And he loves his food: at mealtimes he loudly “sings the song of his people”; I’m convinced he has a mini black hole in his belly – food is his life. His favourite treats are carrots – I think if he was asked, he would probably tap dance for them.
Changing the world
There’s not been a day since he came home that I have regretted adopting this beautiful boy. He’s developed a real personality and is a bit of a clown. King makes me laugh; it doesn’t matter how bad my week has been, he always manages to make me smile.
I’m incredibly grateful to the National Council of SPCAs for trusting me with this special boy. King is going to go on to do great things. With the support of everyone who has crossed his path, we’ll teach people and change the world for horses out there, one owner and horse at a time.
The next chapter
King is ready to start the next chapter of his journey. And this is where the real fun and challenge starts for me. This is new territory: clicker training a horse isn’t something that is very well known in South Africa; in fact, it’s not actually something that’s done often in the horse world at all.
But he is smart – too smart, actually! I think he will ace this. We’ll video and photograph his journey and this will be posted by the NSPCA on their page. It makes sense for all of this to be shared by the very people who not only saved him but who are dedicated to preventing cruelty. Please follow the NSPCA page on Facebook to keep up to date with where King is on his mission.
Equines and the NSPCA
Sadly, King’s story is not unique. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) deals with a lot of cart horses and donkeys who are suffering.
Not only does the NSPCA act on this suffering, they are also working at a grass-roots level to educate owners of these animals on how to care for their horses and donkeys. They particularly aim to educate children, thus growing kind, empathetic future horse- and donkey-owners.
But in order to continue this help they need your help. Donations of any tack not being used (new or second-hand), fly spray, dewormer, fly fringes, boots, etc. are always needed. Alternatively, you can make a once-off contribution or monthly contribution to the donkey upliftment project. For more information firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out the NSPCA’s Facebook page for more about King: