Dolçeta, which means Sweetie in English, came to us in 2015. She was a poorly used mare that was known locally, as the skeletal horse in Olzinellas. It was true, there was no fat on this mare; she was 150 kilos under weight. She dragged her crooked hind legs that were plagued with arthritis. For years people saw her and no one intervened. She wobbled when she walked and seemed unsteady but that didn't stop the shepherd from riding her 5 kilometers up to Can Terrades. He was a big man and I didn't bother to chastise him for his ignorance, his lack of compassion, his brutality. It would be wasted energy and at least he was giving her up and not sending her to the slaughterhouse for €150.
I made a small paddock that would enable her to sniff and greet the herd but kept her out of danger. I only had one other mare at the time, a young three year old Arabian and seven geldings of various ages. They had around 25 hectares of fenced land (over 50 acres), where they roamed and looked for the food that I hid in various parts of the reserve. It forced them to walk and eat like horses were designed to eat but it also demanded a certain physical capability that I didn't know if this mare could manage.
Dolçeta came with another name but I have forgotten it. I often change the name, something softer, a fresh start. Her papers said she was born in 1993, making her 22 years old. I had my doubts that her body would support the movements of the herd and the unevenness of the terrain. The herds' curiosity brought them to Dolçeta's corral. Valentine, our dominant gelding acted the part of a stallion, squealing and stomping, huffing and puffing. Dolçeta quickly became the flirt and it gave me a chuckle to see Valentine's grandstanding breathe old life into this hard warn mare.
I normally keep new horses in quarantine for a month and then move them to a space with Chulo, our gentle palomino giant, before introducing them to the herd. Chulo acts as a buffer between the new horse and the herd. He is passive to all horses, although he is the largest. He helps console the new horses and gives them a partner to attach to when they are finally introduced to the herd.
When it came time to introduce her, it went very smoothly. She was smitten with Valentine and loyal to Chulo. She knew how to navigate Valentine's temper and dominance and the three quickly became a trio within the herd. She slowly put on weight but she would only eat if her two companions were in sight. If I tried to separate her, she would throw herself on the ground in defiance. In order to take care of her needs I adapted her care so that she wouldn't be forced to separate. We trimmed her hooves, wormed and fed her within sight of her buddies. We had a hard time keeping them away from her high protein mash, something the gluttons were not in need of. She would have rather starved than be separated from her companions for one second. Her years of isolation from other horses left her severely damaged and dependent.
She improved over the years and stopped dragging her legs. She seemed to manage the reserve with adeptness but we unfortunately lost our water resources on the nature reserve and were forced to move the horses to another municipality. I brought the horses to some land that Blackelk had rented and a couple of hectares that belong to me. The fortunate thing was the abundance of water.
The new reserve was a mixture of abandoned strawberry fields, thousands of meters of residual plastics and overgrown forests. I immediately had trouble with the architect technic. i explained to him how I was forced to leave the previous land reserve because of water shortages. That i had been working on developing a nature reserve that used abandoned horses to conserve the forest and prevent forest fires and how I wanted to bring that project to his municipality. He offered no assistance and instead told me, "no". He went as far as to write a report arguing against the NGO. It was a heavy blow. Up until that moment, I had been met with support both from the scientific community and the government.
I couldn't comprehend a city official working against an organisation that had saved horses in his own community. A community that was at risk of forest fire and biodiversity loss. A community that had people at risk of social exclusion that could benefit from my NGO. I could not comprhend his antipathy towards myself and the NGO. I was terrified that the horses would be separated, poorly kept or euthanised.
I began putting up adds and making calls to see if some of the horses could be placed. All of the recuperation centers in Catalonia were full. There is no affective protocol to guarantee a horses safety in Catalonia and the amount of domesticated horses ending up in the slaughter house is staggering. In truth no one wants an old horse and certainly not two. They are easily sacrificed after a life time of service for 150 euros.
My policy on rehoming has always been that the horses have to be re homed in pairs. All our horses, with the exception of Chulo have problems. They aren't suitable for riding, some have immunological disorders, physical defects or they are old. They were saved from the slaughterhouse and no one wants them.
I was forced by the architect technic to begin rehoming. The first to go was a Halflinger named Blu. He was in his mid twenties and in poor health with his young Arab companion. He had asthma, a poor digestive system and needed constant care. He died 2 weeks after rehoming. I hold myself to blame. The herd provides them a sense of security. I provide devotion because I will sleep out in the bush if it means keeping them alive. I have seen horses recover from deaths door by this bond. For an old horse like Blu, it was too much. I believe, if I hadn't moved him; he would still be with me today. I don't blame the young couple that adopted him, they provided a great home. I blame myself for not fighting for him and his herd.
I had constant pressure to reduce the herd. I rehomed a donkey that we saved from the architect's municipality and three other horses. Dolçeta was also rehomed. It was horrifying and I felt terrible. A local man had lost one of his horses and needed a companion horse. I was still three horses over the legal number. I gave in and she was taken to this man's house. She was returned within the month. He had found a younger more attractive horse. I was thrilled to have her back and she was,too. I decided then and there, I would never separate another horse from its herd.
The month she spent away took a toll on her health. She was more feeble but stayed with her trio. I fed her a mash in the morning, in sight of her boyfriends. She was now 24 and her years and poor care were catching up. I talked to the vet and we arrived to the conclusion that we would have her euthanised. These are my worst days. It is impossible for me not to develop an attachment. It takes so much effort recovering them that when it is no longer working, there is such a sense of defeat. My only solace is knowing that her last two years were spent in peace and happiness.
I planned to have her euthanised in October. Her legs were barely supporting her and she was losing weight. I made a corral for her closer to the water and with extra feed but she was separated from her boys and wouldn't have it. She broke through the fence and I found her the next morning still alive but lying on her side with the two geldings close at hand. I called the vet and we had her euthanised on the spot. There was so much dignity in her death. Her choice to be with her herd regardless of the pain or the obstacle.
I covered her with a tarp and the horses stayed near her. The small pony Rumy, who she never treated well, was the most vigil. He seemed uncharacteristically morose. I called the van to have her body picked up. It couldn't make it up the dirt road, so I had to drag her defeated body with my car for 400 meters, an hour before I picked up my children from school. The only comfort I had was the fact that she was spared this last indignity. Rest in peace, my beautiful Dolçeta, your determination will be our legacy.