We had caught a glimpse into the lives these little ponies had lived out on base. Some might think that they would become desensitised to it, they grew up with such noise, never knew anything different, why would they be scared. This is not the case. This is a fully active Army base. It conducts all sorts of training, with all manner of weapons, and these are not blanks that they use, these are live rounds that would kill anything they came into contact with. While the Defence Force is well aware of the Horses and under no circumstances would they deliberately hurt any of them, the truth is, that if the horses don't move when the Army is using the bombing range, they could get killed. But the horses always move. They run as fast as the can away from whatever is making that noise, the run as far away as they can from what ever it is that causes that noise, and the survive. Fear, intelligence, stamina and speed, combined with a hyper sensitive to any human activity has enabled these horses to survive on base for generations. But these qualities do very little for a Brumby trying to adjust to a domestic life.
The day after Jasmine arrived, we decided we had to get Pearl and Ghost out into the paddock and use to fences so that we could then move them out of the electrified yard paddock and let Storm, Amy and Jasmine out. Storm still wasn't drinking properly and we were getting really worried, but Jasmine really needed a few more days in the yards before she could be let out. Ghost and Pearl were a little nervous but still quite sensible coming out of the yards for the first time, and while they did trot off to the far end of the paddock, they were respectful of the fences and soon started to graze. A couple of days later we moved Pearl and Ghost next door and let Storm, Amy and Jasmine out of the yards. Poor Jasmine really should have had a few more days in the yards, but Storm and Amy needed to come out, and Jasmine was so terrified that we couldn't separate her from her family. Storm really relaxed after being let out of the yards. He started to eat and drink properly, and over the next week he became the first to call out for his dinner. Storm seemed to have decided that this new life was actually pretty good, and he was gaining confidence around us every day. The others were taking longer, but they were all eating and drinking well and we decided it would just take time.
On the 30th of July 2015, the Hunter Valley Brumby Association received the call that four Singleton Brumbies had been trapped and were ready to be picked up and taken to our Sanctuary. We arrived to find four tiny, beautiful and extremely frightened ponies. They had no interest in loading into our trailer and were so tiny and nimble that they could turn around inside the loading race and in their fear would push straight past us to try and escape. It was here that we saw our first glimpse of the Singleton Brumbies temperament. We couldn't blame them for being scared though, it was very stressful for them, and after making a few adjustments to the yards we managed to load two of the ponies into the trailer. After all the stress of the day we decided to just settle for two and come back for the others the next day. So we took Pearl and Ghost home, unloaded them, gave them some nice fresh hay and water and left them alone to settle.
While Isobel and Phantom progressed wonderfully in their training and went on to be adopted out to amazing families, to spend their days being showered in love. The other Singleton Brumbies were placed together and just allowed to live relatively untouched in one of our paddocks. We thought that this would probably be the end of the story for the Singleton Brumbies, with the likelihood of finding a suitable home for these poor damaged little Brumbies extremely unlikely.
During May of 2016, the HVBA was approached by a wonderful family looking for some Brumbies to graze down the paddocks on their property and keep their other horses company. They didn't want to ride, and didn't feel the need to constantly interact with their horses, they were just happy to be able to give some Brumbies a home, and felt that anything else they got from it would be a bonus. We introduced this family to our singleton Brumbies and it was decided that it would be the perfect outcome for everyone! The Singleton Brumbies would be able to live without any fear, free to roam the hills of their new home without ever again worrying about gun fire, and their new owners would have some beautiful horses to watch grazing their hills. It was more than we ever could have hoped for and later that month the Singleton Brumbies were transported to their new home where they have been living happily ever since. They come down to see their owners and have dinner near the house every day, and we have received many wonderful updates telling us about the wonderful life they now have. It is a wonderfully happy ending to what started as a very sad story, but the singleton Brumbies are finally free!
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On the 19th of August during the pouring rain, only three weeks after she had arrived at the Sanctuary, Pearl gave birth to a tiny foal who we named Raine. Raine was born next to the fence of his paddock and unfortunately rolled under it into a paddock of geldings when he was trying to stand up. Luckily these boys just formed a protective circle around the little baby and waited for Kath to come and save him. Kath was forced to carry the little foal back into the paddock with his mother, getting your smell all over a baby that hasn't had a chance to bond with its mother yet is not ideal, but there was no other choice, and Pearl came running over to see if her foal was ok. Her and Raine appeared to be doing well throughout the day, Raine was seen drinking, and although we could tell how inexperienced Pearl was, she seemed to be getting the hang of it. But, unknown to us, not all of Pearls placenta had passed, and over the next 24hrs she went downhill fast.
Not long after Raine's death, as Pearl slowly recovered and the Singleton Brumbies very slowly started to settle into a routine, we were struck by another tragedy. During a routine gelding procedure, Strom, the oldest of the Singleton Brumbies at close to 16 years of age, had a massive reaction to the intravenous sedative. After being given a textbook muscular sedation, to which he responded extremely well, the vet was unable to find a vein on his near side to administer to intravenous sedation required to put him under completely. A vein was found on the off-side however within 5 seconds of the drug being applied, Storm appeared to explode inside the crush, rearing up suddenly and falling over backwards. He was immediately release from the crush, and due to the effects of the intramuscular sedation, was able to be restrained and given a different drug to knock him out. His vital signs all appeared normal for the remainder of the gelding procedure, with Strom discovered to be 11.2hh, a serving stallion and to have recently been enduring an extremely difficult life due to the state of his teeth and feet. Due to the amount of sedative he had been given, it was assumed it would take Storm at least an hour before he began to wake up, his breathing remained stable throughout this time and he began to wake 1hr and 5mins after the procedure. As soon as he began to wake it became clear that Storm had been permanently damaged by the reaction he had suffered early that day. Storm was unable to control his neck and although he could lift himself upright, he could not remain standing because he had no balance or control over his head and neck. You expect some loss of function for a short period of time after anaesthetic but Storms normal function did not return and the heatbreaking decision had to be made to put him to sleep. The loss of Storm so soon after loosing Raine was devastating and the entire HVBA team suffered from these losses.
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On the 15th December, the HVBA received a call from the Army base to say that a young foal had been found without its mother and if they couldn't find anyone to hand raise him, he wouldn't survive. Of course we said we would take him, and after making the late trip out to pick him up and transport him straight to the Vet, where he received a checkup and fluids before being released, Phantom joined the HVBA Singleton Brumby family. Phantom had been born with bent legs that would have made it impossible for him to keep up with his mother. In an environment like the army base, his mother would not want to be held up by a weak foal and left him behind. Phantom was extremely weak when he arrived, but he thrived on formula and it wasn't long before he was strong enough to start going outside for short periods to nibble at the grass and play in the sun.
Meanwhile, Isobel was introduced to our Kozi foal Gemma and her family on the 19th of December, she was the more confident of the two foals, running circles around poor confused Gemma who prefered to stay right by mum's side. Isobel introduced herself to Pindari, who was more than happy to play with her, and both families settled in nicely together. Soon Phantom was strong enough to be introduced into the family for short periods during the day so all foals could play together, and we were finally starting to feel like the Singleton Brumbies were settling into their new domestic life.
Training began for Amy, Pearl and Ghost during January of 2015, and while they were scared, they tried hard and did begin to allow us to catch them in a work yard and lead them around in the round yard, they still were no better with us out in the paddock, and were terrified any time we tried to touch them. The training session were kept short and positive, but after nearly a month, they still hadn't progressed any further and we decided to give them some time off to think about their training.
After some time off, we saw no improvement in the Singleton Brumbies behaviour, in fact they seemed to have only gone backwards. This would be a pattern that would continue over the next 2 years. Small steps forward in a training session would be forgotten by the next session. Months of work would see little improvement and more importantly the Singleton Brumbies all hated to be touched. This frustrated our committee and volunteers who could see how affectionate little Isobel and Phantom were, having grown up in an environment where they did not feel fear everyday. After talking with out vet it was decided that the Singleton Brumbies were suffering a form of PTSD and may never be able to trust people.
Kath had to go alone to pick up Jasmine because the rest of the committee was busy, but it was just one little mare, and the new yard set-up had worked so well she figured she would be fine. What Kath didn't reaslise was that training drills were being carried out on base that day, and these drills stop for no man, woman or horse. Jasmine was loaded onto our trailer while a drill that involved live fire was carried out somewhere close by. The noise was deafening, the poor mare was terrified, and Kath couldn't wait to get the hell out of there! Jasmine stood frozen and confused in the trailer the whole way back to the Sanctuary, and the look of relief on her face when we opened the trailer door and she saw Storm and Amy waiting for her was obvious. Beautiful Jasmine was also pregnant, although not as far along as Pearl, and when Kath told us what had happened that day out on base, what these poor horses have to endure day after day, we again felt overjoyed that another foal would never know a life like that.
Jasmine gave birth to a beautiful, healthy little filly named Isobel on the 23rd of November 2014, a 40+ degree day and new step-dad Pallano did an excellent job of protecting both mum and bub from the inquisitive neighbours over the fence. Everyone was extremely excited to see a healthy little baby in the paddocks after the rocky start to the Singleton Brumbies domestic life, so we were all extremely concerned when isobel injured her eye one night when she was about 2 weeks old, and needed immediate veterinary treatment. Although she received the best care, Isobel never regained sight in the eye she injured, but that has never stopped her!
The next day we returned for Storm and Amy. The new adjustments that had been made to the yards meant they loaded easily, and travelled really well. When we got home we decided to keep the two stallions seperated because they had been fighting the day before in the trap yards, so Pearl and Ghost were placed in one yard with Amy and Storm next door. With all the Brumbies home we were able to take the time to watch them. We realised that Pearl was much more Pregnant than we had initially thought. We wondered how far away her baby would be, and spoke about how lovely it would be for it to grow up away from the craziness of the Army base.
A week went by and the Singleton Brumbies were not settling in as well as normal. Storm was refusing to drink and had lost so much weight. You could tell just by looking at him how dehydrated he was, and although we had tried everything, fresh rainwater from the tank in a bucket, then in a puddle on the ground, dirty damn water in a bucket, both dirty and clean water in a trough, running water from the hose, you name it, we had tried it, but we were finding out the truth behind the phase "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink". Luckily he was loving his hard feed so we were wetting it right down to get as much moisture into him as we could, but it was still a major stress. If we had needed to put a drip in him, he could have died from the stress. This is one of the hardest aspects of working with wild animals, administering vetrinary treatment can be very tricky and really must only be done if all else fails. We couldn't decide if we should keep him in the yards to monitor his fluid intake closely, or just let him out and hope he would find the water on his own once we was feeling less pressured.
The biggest problem with this second idea was that we like to give our Brumbies time to settle down before letting them out into a bigger paddock where they could potentially get a run up and clear, or worse get tangled in the fences. This usually takes some where between one and two weeks, but these Brumbies were just not Settling. By this late stage other Brumbies would be waiting at the fence for their hay each morning, some would even be calling out to us by now, and others would be starting to come over for a sniff. The Singleton Brumbies were still flying to the back of the yards as soon as they could see us. We were petrified what would happen if we let them out. Would they just run flat out at the fences, would they know to stop, would they injure themselves, what if they escaped, there would be no getting them back... We decided to give him a few more days, then that night, we got a phone call. The last mare from this sector had been trapped, could we come and get her the next day.
After Storm's death, Jasmine and Amy were introduced to Pallano, one of our calm, kozi geldings, to try and help the adjust better to domestic life. Pearl and Ghost were still together and although starting to settle down, would still run to the other end of the paddock as soon as we walked into it. Amy had her first introduction to training in November but she was extremely frightened and training session needed to be short and gentle. Jasmine was looking very pregnant at this stage and so Amy was moved back in with Pearl and Ghost as she had shown a little too much interest in baby Raine and we didn't want her to hurt Jasmine's baby when it was born. Mack was introduced to Pearl, Amy and Ghost to try and help them adjust to domestic life, and Jasmine remained with Pallano, who she had begun to trust.
Pearl had to be brought into the yards, separated from her tiny baby and placed in the crush for emergency medical treatment. While she was sedated in the crush, we also let Raine have a drink from Pearl to make sure he at least got some milk. The must have been so stressful for the completely unhandled Pearl. Worst of all, this was not the end. Pearl needed repeated treatments of the coming days, and she started to become aggressive with her foal, not letting him drink unless we stood with her while she was in the crush. A foal needs milk every TWO hours in the early days, so this meant constant effort by Kath to get up all throughout the night, put Pearl into the Crush and then wait will Raine drank. We really wanted him to be able to stay with his mother because that would have been the best outcome for him, but, with the benefit of hindsight, we would never do this again, bottle feeding would have been better for both mum and baby. After a few days of crush feeding, Pearl learnt to stand in the yard and let Raine feed, and after a couple of days of this they were released back into the paddock with a very lonely Ghost who was recovering well from his gelding procedure.
Pearl never showed Raine any affection at all, but despite this the little colt seemed to be doing well, and Pearl was letting him feed whenever he pleased, so we thought things were looking up. Unfortunately, Raine was found lying in the mud close to death early in the morning of the 6th of September, 18 days after he was born. He was rushed to the vets, and responded well to treatment including the insertion of a catheter to empty his bladder which he could not empty easily himself, prior to insertion of the catheter we had all believed that Raine had been a filly, it was only on closer inspection that we discovered this little foal was actually a colt, who like other male singleton brumbies, strangely had nipples on his sheath. After 24hrs of round the clock care Raine was given the all clear to return home. His mother then completely rejected her baby, behaving extremely aggressively towards him whenever he tried to go near her and it was decided that for his own safety, sadly he must be removed from her care permanently. Raine remained on antibiotics for several days and appeared to be gaining strength every day, however at 3:30am on the 15th of September little Raine is found dead in his bed. Despite our best efforts we now believe that Raine was born quite prematurely which would have compromised his chances of survival, we all fell in love with this little man during his short life and were incredibly sad to loose him.