Volunteering with GVI Florida: the inside scoop!
Prior to volunteering at the WHRC, I knew nothing about horses – except that they eat grass! But slowly I began to understand these creatures more & the sort of care that they need – not to mention their various personalities too! And the beauty of volunteering overseas is that your trip is so much more than about the lives you’re helping – it’s also about the country & the culture of the region you’re at! Not only did I get to have first hand experiences with various animals, from wild horses & burros, to chickens, ferrets, guinea pigs, dogs, & a not-so-wild pig, I also got to witness & taste Florida’s beauty, eat alligator meat, celebrate Halloween (THREE times!), participate in animal Reiki workshops, & go crazy at Disney World!!!
Unless other activities were scheduled in, the typical morning routine involved showing up at the barn at 9am, then grab a pitchfork & a wheelbarrow & head off to clean the pens. I would say hi to the horses, try to recall their names, & inform them that I was there to do their room service. Some would stare at me as if to say: “Where is my breakfast in bed???”, while some would ignore me, looking away dismissively with the “Like, whatever, dude.” expression. Yet others might follow me around the pen wanting to be petted, or alternatively be so wary of my presence that they would position themselves as far away from me as their pen would allow. Sometimes even the same horse may go through all these phases on different days depending on their mood!
After the pens are cleaned, we would proceed to hay the horses, then feed them grains and made sure that they had enough clean water to drink. The afternoons & evenings mostly varied. Sometimes we would watch Chazzie work his equine techniques – he usually comes to train some of the horses on a weekly basis. Other times we might spend the afternoon grooming some of the horses, test-ride them within the facility, or go out for lovely trail rides & indulge in the breath-taking Florida wetlands, if not just chillax and play with the other animals at the barn.
One day, we were notified that a sanctuary horse called Black Beauty was choking & needed urgent help. No one knew what she ate wrong, but despite being in a bad shape, there were great difficulties rounding her up because she was so petrified of humans. She was eventually put in a trailer & brought to the rescue center. When we saw her, her nose was runny and it was evident that she was suffering. We took her to a kind-looking vet who, after palpating & patiently listening to her breathing with his stethoscope, decided that Black Beauty needed to be sedated for a more invasive examination.
In order to help ascertain and “flush out” what was inside, the vet had to insert a garden hose up her nose & feed it all the way down to her gut. I couldn’t help twitching my own nose as I watched more and more parts of the hose disappear into the poor horse! Next thing I knew, the pump was flipped on & suddenly water came gushing out of her other nostril. I had never seen anything like it. Black Beauty became a water fountain right before my very eyes. It was really quite a sight! But most importantly, it was a great relief to discover that whatever she swallowed wasn’t anything too solid & was readily disintegrated. She went on to recover very promptly under special care at the rescue center.
An enlightening lesson I learnt during this trip though, was that sometimes you don’t get to choose the animals; they choose you. Since blondes generally aren’t my “type”, I naturally gravitated towards the dark-coloured horses. In particular, I greatly admired Dash, who happened to be the only Quarter Horse there. With jet-black coat, a big head, broad face, & strong stocky body, Dash was simply dashing to me. I would enthusiastically greet him every time I walk by his pen. Unfortunately though, Dash could care less about me and would often look past me like I was a flea that just landed on his tail. LWhat’s a newbie volunteer ignorant about horses to do?? (I guess maybe Dash likes blondes & I ain’t one!)
Funnily enough, I ended up attracting a café latté-coloured palomino Mustang. Her name’s Sundance (but I like to call her Cappuccino since her coat reminded me of my morning caffeine boost), and – as life would have it – she sports a long, flowing, seemingly bleach-blonde mane.
The buck didn’t stop there. I was soon alerted that, although very beautiful in appearance, she was supposedly currently the most “difficult” horse to deal with at the center – even touted a “bitch” of a mare! LOL – because she reportedly likes to pick fights with the other horses and refuses to follow human instructions. So I was taken by surprise when this feisty, “bleach blonde & bitchy” horse was nice to me. In fact, sometimes she even seemed rather protective of me. She may flick her mane back and forth at the other horses like a pompous diva, bare her teeth & hiss at any equine neighbours who displeases her sight, & cock her hind leg ready to kick any horsie intruder that dares to cross her path – including annoying the hell out of Diane (the owner of the place) with her temper – somehow, she wasn’t aggressive towards me. Instead, she loved to curiously sniff me all over (which can be pretty ticklish because her muzzle is so soft), & usually enjoyed being petted for minutes on end. So it was very interesting for me to see how differently each horse behaves around different people! And the more I got to know Sundance/Cappuccino, the more she amused me and made me laugh.
So I guess the moral of the story is this:
If your favourite horse doesn’t like you back, don’t despair, because you never know which other special horse is being drawn to yah!
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