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Horses and Hope: Sunny’s Story

November 14, 2012

Part 5 in my Horses and Hope series, an uplifting look at how the equine community helps local horses in need.

Horses and Hope: Sunny's Story

No two horse rescue stories are the same. The story of Sunny is a story of matchmaking, and a story of how one of my favorite horses arrived at one of my favorite rescues, and was adopted by one of my favorite people.

Lisa Post of Helping Hearts Equine Rescue (HHER) remembers how Sunny, an American Mustang mare from the Twin Peaks herd in northern California, arrived at her New Jersey rescue:

“I first met Sunny as a fresh-from-the-BLM youngster. Her owner was a client who would trailer her over on occasion to get her out to see the world. When Sunny turned 3, she came to me to be started under saddle and thereafter for several years trailered in for weekly sessions with her owner and her friends. During the first year Helping Hearts was in existence, her owner contacted me asking for help placing Sunny. She’d been trying without success and was considering putting her down rather than sending her into questionable circumstances. There was no way I would let that happen. Sunny had always been a favorite ‘student’ of mine. Sunny was relinquished to Helping Hearts.”

Horses and Hope: Sunny's Story

I first learned about Sunny when she was added to Lisa’s list of HHER’s adoptable horses. Although Sunny was not the perfect match for her previous owners, she sounded like the ideal horse for my friend Kris. Kris and I have been friends since college, and she was looking for her first horse. For a few years, she took riding lessons and leased a mare, and was ready to look for a horse of her own. The stout Mustang mare with the cat-shaped star on her forehead turned out to be just what she was looking for.

Horses and Hope: Sunny's Story

The intelligence of the Mustang is celebrated by horsemen, and Sunny had a clever plan for sealing the adoption deal when Kris met her at the horse rescue:

“When I read Sunny’s adoption posting, I thought she was a good age, a good size, and had some good experience. I was intrigued by the fact that she was a Mustang, not a very common breed here in New Jersey. I tried not to be too excited, because this was the first horse I was going to see in my search for a horse of my own. My trainer and I went to meet Sunny, and we were both impressed, she had a beautiful trot and was generally pleasant to handle. As I stood next to Sunny discussing the adoption, she sealed the deal by putting her chin on my shoulder and licking my face. Clearly, this mare was coming home with me!”

Trainer Carole Davison (also the trainer of TDN Blog star Thewifedoesntknow) accompanied Kris when she evaluated Sunny and rode her for the first time. Although Carole’s clients usually ride Thoroughbreds and warmbloods, Carole liked Sunny right away:

“When Kris asked me to take a look at a Mustang that she was interested in adopting as her first horse, I was a bit hesitant. However, the first thing I noted was her kind eye. Although she wasn’t sure what was expected of her, she remained calm throughout the entire ride. Sunny is a very sweet mare, with a calm, confident demeanor. She is a comfortable ride with steady consistent gaits. Her canter has improved significantly. When Kris first brought her home she had a difficult time getting into as well as staying in the canter. She now steps into the canter easily, well balanced, and maintains a nice forward pace.”

Two times a week, every week, Kris and Sunny train with Carole. Through the lessons primarily focus on dressage, they also school for judged trail rides, and are beginning a little work with cavaletti and small jumps.

Horses and Hope: Sunny's Story

Their dedication and commitment was rewarded handsomely in 2012, when Kris and Sunny competed in their first two dressage shows, and scored in the high 60s (for those who are unfamiliar with dressage, those are great scores!). Sunny shows under the name Sunshine Daydream, as a nod to her California roots.

Congratulations to Kris Milby and her mare, Sunny, a BLM Mustang and Helping Hearts Equine Rescue grad. They rode two wonderful tests at the dressage show yesterday.

Kris is a true student of the horse, and always works hard to improve her communication with Sunny:

“Over the next year, I discovered that Sunny was all that I had hoped she would be – patient, smart, willing, and calm. She is tolerant of my rookie mistakes in the saddle and my occasional bouts of fear, gamely trying her best to decipher my sometimes murky aids. Sunny is helping me to become a more confident rider, and already we have tried our hand at intro-level dressage and a judged trail ride.”

A judged trail ride is a very different type of competition from a dressage show. A dressage show requires a horse to be intensely focused during a dressage test, which lasts less than ten minutes. A judged trail ride is a test of a horse’s willingness, bravery, and patience.

Judged Trail Ride ar the Horse Park of New Jersey

These rides can last over an hour, and horses are introduced to obstacles that they have never seen before, like the life-sized model horse pictured below. Sunny, in true Sunny fashion, tried to make friends with the “horse”.

Sunny, we're done with this obstacle. You don't need to make friends with the pony. Um, Sunny? Hellooo....

Don’t let Sunny’s primitive wild bay coloring fool you- she is built to MOVE. Her lovely conformation enables her to collect like a dressage horse, and also run and corner like a barrel racer. Genetic markers in the Twin Peaks herd have been linked to Spanish ancestry, and perhaps this is why she can move with such agility and grace.

Horses and Hope: Sunny's Story

Horses and Hope: Sunny's Story

Descendants of US Army Cavalry and historic ranch stock are also part of the herd’s genetic makeup, which might explain Sunny’s amenable disposition.

This spring, Sunny was diagnosed with Equine Cushing’s Disease, but with careful management and excellent veterinary care, it does not slow Sunny down at all. Kris and I board our horses at the same barn, and we’ve spent many, many hours enjoying trail rides together. I think Kris and Sunny are great riding buddies, and my horse Wizard agrees- he’s quite fond of Sunny.

Wizard, me, Kris, and Sunny

To know Sunny is to love her. Lisa Post worked hard to find the perfect home for her, and she couldn’t be happier with Sunny’s partnership with Kris, “I always considered Sunny a great example of what Mustangs have to offer. Now, partnered with Kris, she has become a great success story- a wonderful representative of both rescue horses and the American Mustang.”

Kris is excited about a bright future with her lovely mare:

“Sunny is an excellent ambassador for her breed; she is eminently practical with a steady and even temperament. It amazes me every day that a horse born in the wild could be so accepting of all the things we ask of our domesticated horses. We are daily becoming a better team, and I can’t wait to find out what we will accomplish together over the years. I am eternally grateful to Lisa Post at Helping Hearts Equine Rescue for allowing me the chance to become Sunny’s rider and caretaker, and to Sarah Andrew for pointing out the adoption posting (and countless hours of advice giving, commiserating, and encouraging!).”

Kris Milby and her mare, Sunny, a BLM Mustang and Helping Hearts Equine Rescue grad, at a dressage show this weekend.

I’m sure Sunny agrees, Kris!

Click here to read Horses and Hope: Tristan’s Story

Click here to read Horses and Hope: Rosebud’s Story

Click here to read Horses and Hope: Georgia’s Story

Click here to read Horses and Hope: Mimi’s Story


Horses and Hope 2013 Calendar

With the help of Gina Keesling of HoofPrints, my 2012 debut calendar contained over 100 photos of auction horses. Thanks to the support of horse lovers all over, it raised nearly $40,000 for One Horse At A Time, helping hundreds of horses in need directly, and untold others indirectly through increased public awareness. Now that we have one calendar’s worth of experience to draw upon, the 2013 version promises to be even more exciting, even more creative, and as always, inspirational and positive.

Please click here to order calendars- they make GREAT gifts!

Electronic press kit for Horses and Hope: Faces of Rescue

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2012 9:05 pm

    What a lovely horse and a great happy ending to her story 🙂

  2. Eve permalink
    November 20, 2012 7:23 am

    Hello Sarah!
    I’m sure you’re being asked this all the time, but what kind of equipment do you use? I think I’ve read somewhere that you’re a Nikon-ian just like me, but I can not find where. Could you also recommend a good lens for equine photography? I’m thinking of taking the plunge and get a 70-200mm, do you think it’ll be worth it?


    • November 20, 2012 2:51 pm

      Thank you, Eve. Yes, I shoot Nikon, but Canon also has great options. For lenses, you can’t go wrong with the 70-200. Take the plunge! Best Wishes, Sarah

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