Deli is a nearly blind pinto filly who travelled all the way to HartSong with her best buddy Macho from lower Baja Mexico.
She was rescued by a kind-hearted gentleman who runs a dog rescue operation in Loreto. He thought she deserved a chance at restoring her sight, so he contacted us to see if we would consider adopting her and her companion Macho.
Deli’s (short for “Delicata” or “delicate” in spanish) heart-wrenching circumstance was discovered by Dr. Liz Bracken, a retired U.S. vet living in Loreto (Southern Baja) Mexico while on a visit to a local rancher who had requested medical attention for a sick gelding on his property. While there, Dr. Bracken noticed an emaciated mare with a two-month old blind foal. The foal was starving, had a belly full of worms, curled hoofs and was short tied to a fence post. Her mother was unable to provide any milk due to her emaciated state.
Dr. Bracken, alarmed and concerned with the condition of the starving foal, called Patrick McGorky, a retired attorney from San Diego now living in Loreto, to see if he could offer assistance. Patrick, a man with a huge, compassionate heart, is known to the locals as the “Dog Man of Loreto” – having rescued, rehabilitated and found homes for over 200 of the local dogs he discovered starving, injured or maimed and wandering alone on the streets.
Patrick’s heart instantly went out to this little filly’s plight and he was determined to remove her from a potential life of suffering. He approached the rancher and offered him 2,000 pesos to purchase Deli but this was refused – the rancher’s intent was to breed the filly within the year because he found her to be “pretty”. Patrick, aware that breeding a filly that young is a death sentence for both mother and foal, and that the blindness could be a genetic condition and would be passed on to her offspring, attempted to convince the rancher of this fact over four long, agonizing months of negotiations. Reluctantly, the farmer finally agreed to sell her and a purchase price of 2,500 pesos (a little over $200) was reached. Deli was now six months old.
Deli Begins her Training
Once safe in Patrick’s sanctuary, Deli had the double-good fortune to meet Maryanne Austin, a sanctuary volunteer who just happened to be an expert horse trainer!! The following is our interview of Maryanne about her relationship with Deli before arriving at Hartsong…
What was Deli’s initial state upon arrival at Segunda Chansa?
Initially at Segunda Chansa, Deli was a mess physically and very scared. It took months to get her halter broke, used to being touched, and comfortable in her surroundings where she wouldn’t run into things.
Did you have experience in training a blind horse?
No, but most of my ideas come from my history as a trainer. My focus during most of my career as a horse trainer was helping “problem” horses and retraining. I connected with a blind horse group online when I first started working with Deli to get kind of an idea of what people with blind horses talk about. I’ve always taught my students “how to think like a horse”, so that’s what directed me in training Deli. Once, I closed my eyes and had my husband lead me around for awhile to get the idea…
How did the training begin?
I used lots of sugar cubes (and weekly bran mashes with a lot of Caro!) as a treat when first training. You can’t get sugar cubes in Baja, so I have a slew of “gringos” bringing me sugar cubes when they visit.
Deli is an incredible student – so intelligent and willing – an absolute gem to work with. At first, I had to lasso her in her paddock to get to her – she was in an all out panic, bolting and petrified when being haltered. I would scratch her on the tail and work my way up to her head. Now she starts whinnying as soon as she smells me and is extremely happy and eager to stand quietly for grooming without being tied!
It took about three months to get to the point where Deli would walk up to me. Now she rests her head on my lap and falls asleep while I clean her face and ears… She has blown me away with her desire to learn. With any other horse it would have been two steps forward and one step back, but with Deli there was no step back! Just baby steps forward.
One day I just put a neck strap on her and took her for a walk. She listens to me and trusts me one hundred percent. Once on a walk she got really scared at dogs barking, she lunged forward but then immediately stopped and waited for me.
She learned “step” very quickly – every time there was a curb, I would say “Deli step” and her little front foot would reach forward and she would just step up it.
Once Deli learned not to be afraid of people, it’s like she just went to college! If you have a good mind, the sky’s the limit!.
What is her personality and recent progress?
During this past year we witnessed Deli getting halter broke, becoming used to the farrier, tolerating shots & wormers, learning to be handled, going for walks, and playing in the round pen safely… After many hours of grooming and handling, Deli not only became accustomed to people but started to whinny when she heard my car approach for her spa treatment of mash, grooming, round pen playing and a hand walk. With patient work, she settled into shelter life with minimal stress. She’s a good student, quite intelligent and an absolute pleasure to handle now.
At the end of the year 2012, we started her trailer training. The first time getting in the trailer, she stumbled and was scared… eventually I only had to say “step” and she hopped up the ′step up′ (it’s not a ramp – that’s why it was that much harder to get her to load and unload). I groomed, fed and in general, pampered her for months so that after a while she would run right in once I said “ok”.
Every time I would put on her travel harness with the fleece, Deli would want to run right in the trailer to get her “spa day”! I also trained her with the idea that other people would be handling her. So I would always have her stop (“ho”) before going in the trailer. With the word “step”, she knows something’s coming! Since then, the long process of getting her comfortable loading & unloading in the trailer continued. Months of being groomed and fed in the trailer paid off, with Deli now practically running from her paddock to the trailer to get in.
How do Deli and Macho get along?
The two equines became instant best friends. When one or the other was removed from their stall for a training session, they neighed and brayed to each other the whole time.
How have you prepared her for the big journey north?
I got together mash bags, labeled for each day, electrolyte tubes for each morning before the drive. Patrick is bringing local water – often times horses won’t drink foreign water and Deli is even picky about her feed containers. I am placing one of my worn tee shirts with my smell in the trailer next to Deli to add some comfort.
Patrick has started trailering practice with Deli. She was very patient with him – didn’t step on him, just kind of nudged him aside. We don’t back her out of the trailer – we turn her around and then lead her forward down the ramp.
We are feeding them as much as we can, because they will probably lose weight on the trip. But they will have food and water in the truck. A couple of weeks before the trip, Patrick put Deli and Macho in the same corral to get them used to being together. He also began feeding them together to make sure Macho will share the food.
Deli’s Incredible Journey
Patrick hired a young high school student named Alfredo to help care for the equines and ride with him for the three days up to the quarantine corral at San Luis Rio Colorado, just across the border from Arizona, near Yuma. There is no border crossing for equines from Baja to California, so this is the closest one.
They left early Friday May 31st and their first stop in the evening was Guerrero Negro in between Baja Sur & Baja Norte, along the 28th parallel. There’s a big corral there called “SAGARPA” which is the Mexican equivalent of the USDA where the animals spent the night. There are several Sagarpa stops along the way where all persons transporting equines need to stop and get them checked. The passed the second night just south of Ensenada at another Sagarpa office with a corral and a hotel a quarter mile down the road. On the third day, they drove to Ensenada, then to Tecate, then to Mexicali along Hwy #2, and then to San Luis Rio Colorado, arriving late afternoon on Sunday June 2nd.
To Patrick’s surprise, the quarantine facility was spotless and everything had been made ready for their arrival — the animals even had shade!
In order to provide more insurance that the equines will be cared for while in quarantine, Patrick hired a import/export agency to coordinate the quarantine with the vet and make sure the quarantine manager was taking good care of the animals.
A long wait!
While the animals passed their time at the quarantine corral, HartSong friends could barely stand the wait! You see, if the animals for whatever reason did not pass their blood tests, Mexico law states that they are to be euthanized immediately! Patrick had the animals tested and retested before leaving, but we were all nervous nonetheless!
Finally, on June 11th, after 10 days in quarantine, the animals were cleared for travel! Whew! The import/export company took them to San Diego, whereupon they rendezvoused with Patrick. Patrick then transported them north through California to Bakersfield, then to HartSong Ranch and they arrived on June 13th.