TAILS FROM THE TRAILS
I first met Diane Cohoon about 15 years ago at her Caloosa farm. As I was leaving, I backed up slightly crookedly and ended up getting stuck in her driveway. Somewhat sheepishly, I walked back to the barn and explained my predicament.
No problem, she informed me breezily; it happens all the time. Whereupon she grabbed a thick rope she’d made by weaving together about a million old hay ropes, had some of her volunteers throw a harness on a horse, then we marched back to my disabled vehicle. The rope got tied to the undercarriage, the horse got hitched up, my car was pulled back to safety, and I was once more on my way.
That’s pretty much how Cohoon handles a lot of unexpected quasi-emergencies in her life, by remaining unflustered and finding a way forward. And that way often involves rescued horses, frequently Standardbreds.
Cohoon started her Sanctuary Farm in the early 1970s. The exact year?
“Oh, God knows when,” she laughed. “I was working at a farm in Lake Worth, and a woman I’d met, a groom at the track, called with a problem, a nice horse who was done racing and now would be sold for dog food. He was a big red Standardbred stallion, a trotter, 7 or 8 years old, and she loved him dearly but couldn’t afford to keep him.”
But where to put him?
“This was before I bought my farm, and I told her I couldn’t keep a stallion at the farm where I was working, so she had him gelded, and a few weeks later, here he came,” Cohoon recalled. “Foxborough Lane had never been ridden, only driven, but he took to under saddle work, and in no time at all, one of my daughters was showing him over fences.”
That, however, did not turn out to be the horse’s true calling. “One night, the neighbor’s cows broke out of their pasture and headed down the road. The neighbor came over, frantic, needing a horse so he could herd the cows back home. Foxborough happened to be standing there, so we threw a saddle on him, and the neighbor hopped up. He herded the cows back home, and Foxborough found his true calling. That horse just loved moving cattle. He thought pushing cows around was the best thing ever, and soon after that, he got adopted out as a cow pony.”
That’s how it started. Soon, Cohoon was getting calls from other people at the track needing good homes for nice Standardbreds who were done with their racing careers.
“There’s a misconception that Standardbreds are uncomfortable to ride, but that’s not true at all,” she said. “Because they’re taught to be front-end pullers, many have flat or inverted backs. They don’t know how to carry weight or use their hind ends. I use a lot of basic in-hand work which changes how they move. That, and a lot of turn-out time to unwind. Then I drive them over hill and dale, and teach them to use their quarters for impulsion. Standardbreds are lovely horses, able to excel in a variety of disciplines. They pretty much ride like Warmbloods and have quiet minds.”
Of course, Cohoon doesn’t limit her operation to Standardbreds. Another of her charges is Cochise, a 15-year-old pony, who came to her three years ago. He’d been abused and lost all trust in people. His usual reaction was trying to hurt anyone who came near him, biting or striking out. For a year, Cohoon petted his neck every day and spoke kindly to him. Finally, he let her hug him.
“Starvation and physical problems are easier to cure than emotional ones,” she said. “My passion is reestablishing trust with horses and teaching people how to ride in a way which won’t mess up a horse. When people ride crookedly, the horse gets crooked. Centering the human can fix a lot of lameness issues. I love fixing bodies.”
Cohoon tries to limit her horse population to between 10 and 20 horses at any one time. Sometimes, however, that doesn’t work, like the time some years back when a woman from Palm Beach brought a semi-trailer of nine horses she’d just saved from going to slaughter. “Of course we took them, but it was a little hectic for a while,” she laughed.
Cohoon has 16 horses, some permanent residents and some looking for new homes. She can always use volunteers, but she won’t take just anyone. “Rescues often have a lot of issues. These horses need knowledgeable handlers who won’t make their problems worse,” she explained. “I want people who either know a lot about working with horses, or are willing to learn, not someone who wants to come out, jump on a horse and cowboy around. In exchange, my volunteers get a real education and learn a great deal about horse management.”
And financial help is also needed. “We can also use sponsors who pay for all or part of a horse’s needs, either feed, medical or both. It’s totally up to each sponsor what they choose to pay,” Cohoon said. “One woman sponsored a horse 22 years ago who was diagnosed with EPM. He’s rideable, but he’s got nerve damage on his left side and his back end’s not too strong, so he’s stayed with us forever. She comes out and rides Military Trail, or MT, once a week.”
Cohoon would like to start a program to teach prospective adopters about working with rescued horses.
“I want them to know what they’re getting into,” she said, “how to handle problems they’re likely to see, what sort of special vet care or nutritional needs might be involved, how to asses a horse’s personality or temperament to ensure a good match.”
She would also like to work with other rescue groups in the area. “Maybe hold a series of classes or lectures,” Cohoon said. “Horses and people both suffer when they end up with the wrong partner. Someone can very quickly become overwhelmed. I’d like to create a support system. The more people know before adopting a rescue horse, the better chance it’ll work out well.”
For more information, call Diane Cohoon at (561) 622-6237.