Shortly after my competition horse injured himself during turn out and I decided he’d be better suited to a light riding/trail horse career, I started looking for a new horse that I could train up and compete on in the future. My main focus was finding something that would be ready to start training or retraining relatively quickly; so I started looking at OTTBs and young prospects ready to be broke. Eventually, I came across the ad for a “Chestnut Thoroughbred cross” named Bandit listed for adoption at the SPCA, his ad claimed he was a yearling. Despite him being much, much younger than what I was looking for, his ad spoke to me and I knew I had to go look, so I sent them an email. Now, the BCSPCA doesn’t list their horses’ exact location, it simply says “Provincial rescue” and they could be anywhere in the province. Despite this, I was already begging my mom to prepare for a road trip if he was not local. Luck was with me and he was being fostered out a mere twenty minutes from where I lived.
My mom and I went to go see him shortly after I’d emailed to book an appointment. We were supposed to see him at the same time as another potential adopter, but luck was with us. They didn’t show. The chestnut gelding was skittish, still quite skinny and very stunted in growth compared to what he probably should’ve been, standing a mere 14.2 or 14.3 hands. But, despite his poor start, he was incredibly curious of people and had an interest in learning and meeting us. After seeing how beautiful his natural movement was, along with his natural curiosity of things, even if he was nervous of them, we were sold. We filled out an adoption application and were accepted after the SPCA performed a home check. Prior to bringing him home, we had the vet out to vaccinate him and do a basic sales exam on him. We found out that he was, in fact, not a yearling. He was two! We brought him home on July 21st, 2014 for an adoption fee of $400
We change his name pretty much immediately, I did not think Bandit suited him and didn’t particularly like the fact that the name had come with him from his previous, neglectful home. We called him Milo. Milo was a small package but full of personality… And stubbornness, attitude, fight and many other unpleasant qualities. He was hard to catch, hard to lead, impossible to hose, impossible to blanket, impossible to fly spray… The list went on. He was nervous and afraid of a lot of things and outright stubborn about others. He’d be fine with something one day and then would rear straight up or lash out the next. He was incredibly difficult and soon I grew very frustrated with him and even considered giving him up. I took a few days’ break from the barn and my mom worked with him. When I came back with a refreshed outlook and a horse who was slightly more desensitized than the last time I saw him, we got to work and boy it was work. By the beginning of fall, he tolerated hosing (though he made sure we knew he did not like it), barely tolerated being fly sprayed, would lead and lunge, was easy to catch and would blanket; but still, Milo was always sure to remind us that he had a mind of his own. Milo was also a lot different than other horses I’d worked with in that his fight reflex was a lot stronger than most. If he ever felt cornered or threatened in anyway, he would strike out or threaten to charge. He was a lot more cautious this way of strangers and still is.
Not too long after adopting this stunning gelding, I sought out more information about his previous life in an attempt to better understand him, so let's rewind in the life of this crazy chestnut horse just a couple years. From information I was able to gather from both the SPCA and an alleged neighbour of the people who'd previously owned him (the neighbour reached out to me after recognizing Milo from a social media post), Milo's story became all the more sad. The SPCA had first come out to check out the property after numerous calls from neighbours and passersby, their first visit was prior to Milo's birth but while his dam was heavily pregnant. The owners were issued a warning but legally, the SPCA could not perform a seizure just yet. They wouldn't be able to for almost another two years, shortly before Milo turned two. According to the neighbour of these people, the stud was just left to run loose with several mares. Most of the horses, including Milo, were not halter broke until they'd been seized and handled by the SPCA. Milo likely was essentially feral due to the immense lack of handling at this place. There was another colt that was about a year older than Milo and then a standardbred gelding, a couple mares and a stud. The neighbour had inquired about the amount of horses being seized and to their knowledge, there were a few that were unaccounted for, this led me to wondering where they may have gone, the thought terrifies me. I was never able to find out.
Anyways, onto this sad story regarding Milo's previous owners. Nearby neighbours offered up free grain and showed Milo's previous owners how to make beet pulp and offered to help them with basic nutrition, however, despite their help and free grain, there were no noticeable differences in the horses. One neighbour apparently even offered up their hay field for these people to hay, which they did, then allegedly went onto sell the hay for their own personal gain. Nothing was done for these poor horses until the SPCA seized them in absolutely deplorable condition, the one mare that they seized who was heavily pregnant (again) was in the worst condition. Luckily, her foal who was born shortly after the seizure was healthy. Milo was in terrible condition as well, so stunted when they first seized him that he was aged originally at 10 months old at the time of his seizure in April 2014. It was later on, when we had him aged again after adoption that we found out his real age, which was further confirmed by the rate of his tooth loss.
The cooling of the weather for winter brought even more difficulties. Milo could not contain himself as he began feeling healthier and friskier. He’d be leading normally and would suddenly fly up into the air and launch into a massive buck or rear straight up. He managed to kick me twice (luckily he was barefoot) and my mom once. Working with him became extremely frustrating, again, and also dangerous. We gave Milo the benefit of the doubt due to the fact that he’d never felt this good and therefore had never been taught to contain this type of energy. We managed to survive winter without too much difficulty.
With spring came the better version of Milo. He was growing easy to handle. He could be hand walked out on roads and on trails with ease. He was growing into himself and steadily gaining weight and looking more his age. He was now over 15 hands. He was a gentleman… Most of the time. We started preparing him more and more to be started under saddle as his third birthday neared. He took it all with ease, which surprised us given his stubborn nature in the past. As his third birthday came and went, I started him under saddle myself. It was the most uneventful, easygoing thing ever. He was awesome! Milo came along with ridden work beautifully, so long as we were certain he got enough exercise throughout the week. May it have been from pasture turnout, lunging or actual riding. Other than the occasional stubborn moment where he’d stop and refuse to go forward, he did not often do anything bad. Even with time off, it was just a few bucks here and there. Soon we were doing walk/trot steadily with some canter. We did our first walk/trot show in summer 2015 and placed 3rd. I started introducing him to bridleless riding shortly after starting him under saddle and he was perfect. Milo was always certain to take care of me.
With winter, came the bad version of Milo. I now refer to him as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, because that is exactly what he is. When cold weather comes, his relatively calm and collected nature goes out the window and he cannot contain the added energy that comes with less work through the winter. Milo proved could quite literally be a saddle bronc, if I ever decided not to continue to use him as a riding horse. He could be doing a beautiful, quiet trot and then would hear a noise or a gust of wind would ruffle his tail and he would be doing airs above the ground and launching himself up and down .3 seconds later. Luckily, he refined my seat and created a stickier butt and we, again, survived the winter.
With spring 2016 came a mature, well-muscled 4y/o who had hit 16 hands despite out vet’s original reservations about him finishing under 15.2 and possibly being too small for me to ride and show and remain “aesthetically pleasing”. We started more bridleless riding, he was absolutely perfect at it. Never set a foot wrong, always respected not having a bridle on and remained his usual self, just like he would be with a bridle. We lightly started over small cross rails and he loved it. Milo proved he had finesse and beautiful style like that of a much more expensive horse. As he learned to carry himself better, his already stunning movement became even more beautiful. He turned heads whenever he went to shows, even if it was sometimes due to nerves-induced bucking. Needless to say, people were shocked to hear that he was an SPCA rescue. We trail rode lots through the summer, showed in a cross rail jumper derby series and ended up Champion at the end of the series. We also refined our partnership through bridleless riding and bonding exercises. Milo had become a lovely horse, he was respectful to ride, brave and flashy. He still had his moments of silliness or stubbornness, but that is just who he is as an individual and it makes him more fun.
As we entered the fall and winter months once again, I wondered if Milo’s version of Mr. Hyde will return or if Mr. Hyde is gone for good. Due to an unexpectedly cold and snowy winter, we hardly got any riding in due to the absence of an indoor at our barn, however, we were able to ride on and off and in comparison to the previous years, Milo was awesome. Come January 2017, we were able to ridea bit more when there was a break in the snow and we went to Thunderbird's New Year's Welcome show to get him out and about at a slightly busier schooling show. Milo was his typical dragon-esque self off property and due to the lack of consistency throughout the winter, we had lots of bucking fits and several refusals. As he landed a particularly large buck, my hand got caught under the rein and slammed down into his neck knuckles first. I heard a faint crack and felt some sharp pain, but thought nothing of it and assumed it was just my knuckles cracking. We finished our ride and even got most of the way around a schooling round in the jumper ring at 2' - 2'3", which was great for him considering how apprehensive he could be off property. After I got off, I noticed my hand was very swollen and thick. I couldn't move it without sharp pain, so, after dealing with Milo and ensuring he was comfortable and settled in at the show, I headed to the hospital. X-Rays showed that I'd fractured my hand in two places. I was in a splint for 4-6 weeks. At this point, I'd already paid for the show, so in my mind, I was committed to getting around the show and giving my horse a decent schooling experienced. Due to the broken hand and how silly Milo was being, we only showed the cross rails but he jumped everything and though we got around the hunter course in a very jumper style manner, we made it through. No ribbons at this show but it was a valuable training experience.
Flash forward a few months, our training program becomes more consistent as the ground thaws and we can ride again without worrying about another impending snowfall. We attend the March Gateway show at Thunderbird and this time, we make our big debut in the Thunderbird jumper ring in both 2'3" and 2'6". Milo was fantastic and jumped everything, no refusals in the show ring which is uncommon for him to go an entire show without. I was ecstatic.
As the weather got warmer, our schedule got more consistent and I was getting him out 4-5x times a week on average. We got the okay to show bridleless at a local schooling show venue, so we went and showed crossrails to 2'3" without a bridle and Milo was absolutely incredible.
We then started prepping for our first A-rated show at Thunderbird where we would show in the 2'6" ring. Milo developed an aversion to trailering, where he'd rear straight up and panic and not want to load. This slightly dampened my mood around show time, but we got him loaded and we arrived at the show. He settled in very well and was fairly calm (for Milo standards) for warm up. Warm up day, we went into the jumper ring and had one refusal at the first fence but then he jumped everything and was great. I was really looking forward to our classes.
Our first day at the show, we had two awesome classes and went double-clear in both. We were fairly slow, however, so secured a 6th and an 8th place out of 19 horses in each class. I was thrilled with him and excited for the rest of our classes. The next day did not go so well, he refused out of both classes and I ended up scratching him the rest of the week after seeing sand had gotten under his boots and severely irritated his white leg. We had two light work days where he was just lunged and handwalked and then his legs were absolutely slathered with diaper rash cream. The rash started to become less red and angry and we finished the last day of the show with a lesson. I was in slightly better spirits, though still disappointed with not being able to do better for my horse and prevent the skin dermatitis before it happened. My spirits didn't stay high for long, because walking back to the barn, my phone fell out of my pocket and Milo stepped on it, absolutely shattering it. Needless to say, our first rated show together was a very memorable experience.
Throughout the rest of the summer, I only did one more jumper show and then we went back to a flatwork only schedule near the end of August after finding out that Milo's locking stifle, a problem he'd had as an early 3 year old, had started becoming a problem again. This was presumably due to a recent growth spurt and subsequent loss of muscle. It locked up once and has not since in over a month since we first called the vet. The flatwork based program we've been working has done wonders for him. He's packed on muscle and is more confident and a far more consistent partner to ride. I'm so excited to see what is to come for him. He is now 16.1 and has surpassed everyone's expectations in terms of how well he's grown up and how talented he is.
I love sharing his story because he truly is proof of how great rescue animals can turn out with time and patience, and BOY did he ever take a lot of patience (for real though, he’s been a brat his entire life, some of his previous foster parents have admitted that he was a major jerk!) but in the end it has been totally worth it and I love looking back on our crazy adventures, frustrations and accomplishments. I know there are more to come and I am so excited for the journey with my beautiful, redheaded angel.
Watch the full in-depth video below: