Gwen – the Community Star.
Horses that have seen the very worst of human behaviour can, with patience and kindness, learn to trust again and against all odds, form meaningful relationships once more. Gwen is one such horse, and she has been nominated by Mane Chance Sanctuary where she now lives and flourishes.
Working relationships between horses and humans have changed such a lot over the past hundred years or so. Horses have not always come through the changes well and indeed, we are in the middle of an equine crisis in the UK currently. Over 7,000 horses and ponies were abandoned last year and equine charities offering respite and sanctuary to these majestic animals in need are at capacity and struggling to care for them all.
Behind all these negative headlines lie some amazing stories of strength and determination. Gwen arrived at Mane Chance Sanctuary in Surrey in early 2012. She was approximately three years old, pregnant with her second foal and had been found running loose on common land with an industrial lorry strap tied around her neck. Her daughter Phyllis was with her and was also pregnant – and wild.
Some of the abuse Gwen had endured was known to the authorities as a local policewoman had interrupted a man beating her furiously. When asked what he was doing, his reply was- ‘She has to learn who is boss’. Tragically, the beatings had become all too common and Gwen had injuries, both physical and emotionally. Whilst pregnant with Phyllis, she had been tethered to a football goalpost to give birth only then to be cut loose, leaving her with the remains of the thick tether around her neck.
Our charity was asked to take in the ponies once the statutory notice period of abandonment had expired as the local council needed to find them a home. It took a great deal of time and patience to persuade the two very frightened mares into our horse box – we couldn’t dart them with sedatives as they both were with foal – but after a lot of calmness and gentleness, eventually they loaded onto the trailer and made the short journey to Mane Chance.
Both mares gave birth at the Sanctuary to two healthy foals and then started their slow and gentle rehabilitation. It took a number of months to get Gwen to allow our team near enough to her to cut the tether from around her neck. The day she was released from that strap felt like a milestone and she seemed grateful to be rid of the ghastly constriction that had so signified her abuse.
Slowly, very slowly, she began to trust us – to touch her, to give her scratches and treats, eventually to headcollar her – a huge moment in the context of the tethering she had suffered and she was understandably very wary of anything placed near her neck or head. Then she allowed our grooming team to pick her hooves up, groom her and really give her the care that she needed. Small steps in confidence grew into bigger steps of progress and we were witnessing the blossoming of a horse from a damaged and broken animal into a generous and empathetic friend.
At the Sanctuary, we offer our horses a security of tenure and a home for life. It means that we can take in some of the more complicated horses that are rescued, with varying levels of needs. Once rehabilitated, we ask them to work with us in welcoming local members of the community (young and old) that benefit from time spent with our herds. We provide work experience, respite and volunteering sessions for schools that support young people with additional needs, local care homes, charities working with those with disabilities and those who have emotional issues and are struggling to cope with the ups and downs of modern life.
Gwen, who had come to us with the deepest mistrust of humans that we had ever seen, began to change. We saw that she was starting to take an interest when community visitors entered her field rather than staying and observing from a distance. She was shy but curious and seemingly wanted to join in. And then one day she took the step and Gwen the ‘Star in the Community’ was born – there’s no turning back now. She loves meeting new people, working with our visitors and even managed a photoshoot for our new minibus, which was kindly supported by the Purple Poppy Appeal and War Horse Memorial. As you can see she is standing alongside a crowd of people, wheelchairs, a mini Shetland pony she had never met and the minibus itself. And she didn’t bat an eyelid, behaving like a seasoned pro.
We are so proud of her. She has been through so much and has taken huge steps on her own road to recovery. But more than that, she seems to share an understanding of what some of our community visitors are going through in their own lives and wants to support them, knowing how tough life can be. When we tell our visitors of Gwen’s story, many of them relate to her as they also have suffered abuse in their lives – and the feeling is reciprocated. There is a real sense of connection between Gwen and the person involved and she seems to be able to inspire them because of the enormous and brave journey she has made back to trust – willing them to achieve the same and not to give up either.
Sadly, it’s a difficult time for some horses and the battle continues for many every day. But there is hope and a future for others like Gwen and we, alongside other equine charities, will continue to help those who need us. We are delighted to introduce you to Gwen and to share her different story of bravery. We are also thrilled that she stands alongside the other wonderful horses in this list as a modern hero horse – and can enjoy her moment in the spotlight too!
Jenny Seagrove, Founder and Abi Smart, Sanctuary Manager
Mane Chance Sanctuary