I am a list maker and note taker. I love to keep paperwork on just about everything, especially my horses. This year, I made an addition to my file folders. I like to call it my “foster files.” Let me explain.
The last few years have not been kind to me. I’ve been through a series of sad and stressful events. I had recently moved with my horses across the country only to move them back home just six months later when my house failed to sell. My two oldest horses had died in the previous year, and shortly after my return move, my third horse had to be euthanatized. In a short period of time, my backyard herd of four had been reduced to one. Suddenly, I needed to find my remaining horse some new companionship.
I considered adopting a new horse—but with the upheaval of my recent moves and other uncertainties about my immediate future, I wasn’t sure I was ready to make another long-term emotional or financial commitment to a new horse.
Instead, I contacted the Indiana Horse Rescue, where I’d adopted a horse over 10 years ago. This time, I volunteered my services as a foster home. A foster family helps the rescue by providing a horse with a temporary home while he remains listed as “available for adoption.”
In just a few months, I have cared for a wonderful array of horses. There was the aged off-the-track Thoroughbred, the BLM mustang from Nevada, two teenaged greenbroke geldings, a former AQHA show horse and now a 25-year-old Arabian former broodmare named Bitkana, or “Bitsy.”
Many of the horses come to the rescue with limited information about their histories. It’s not always clear what type of training they have had or how often they have been handled. I consider it part of my job as a foster caregiver to work with the horses to address any shortcomings and make them as attractive as possible to potential adopters.
To that end, I try to interact with my foster horses in some capacity almost daily beyond just feeding and watering. If I can help them do even seemingly simple things like being caught easily in the pasture or stand quietly for grooming, it increases their chances of attracting an adopter. While it has been bittersweet to see the horses come and go as they get adopted, I find it satisfying to be a part of the process of finding each one a forever home.
I wish I could tell you that fostering horses has brought about some miraculous occurrence or rebound in my life, but I am continuing to struggle with some real problems. Still, fostering horses has taught me that even during a dark time, I can regroup and recycle a new purpose for myself despite having been knocked off-course emotionally.
I don’t know how long I will continue to foster, but I imagine one day I will be sorting old paperwork and stumble across my foster files. When that happens, I hope my memories will focus more on the joys and rewards I found in working with each foster horse rather than on the failures, disappointments and tears that otherwise marked this time for me. Watching the foster horses move on to their new homes with excited families gives me hope that I will eventually find my own way back to a brighter future.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #467, August 2016.