By Christin Rzasa
To say that the prospects for Tiny’s future have changed over the past 18 months would be an understatement, yet the essential purpose of this draft horse’s life has remained the same. A giant of a Belgian, Tiny was bred to haul and deliver goods for his human handlers, but these days, what he delivers is a thousand times lighter and infinitely more important. Thanks to the kindness and determination of one Bitterroot Valley resident and the charitable organization she created, Tiny now delivers smiles—and a whole lot more.
On a recent afternoon, Tiny and his handler, Jasmin Shinn (of 1 Horse At A Time Draft Horse Rescue, a 501(c)3 charitable organization), stopped in to visit with the staff and residents of Discovery Care Centre in Hamilton. Despite a chilly wind sweeping out of Blodgett Canyon and low clouds threatening rain, the less-than-desirable weather failed to dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm. At 18.2 hands tall (a little over 6 feet at his shoulder), Tiny towered over the residents and even Shinn. Several people remarked on the enormous size of his hooves—“I wonder what size shoes he wears…”—and his calm demeanor—“He’s so QUIET!”
For nearly an hour, the gentle giant’s presence under the portico at the Centre’s entrance was magnetic. Staff members and residents alike came and went in a steady stream. Aside from being occasionally distracted by the verdant lawn surrounding the patio area, Tiny patiently greeted each admirer, cautiously investigating the faces and laps of the crowd, many of whom were wheelchair-bound and wrapped in blankets against the cold. He carefully nuzzled the “cookies” they offered and tolerated endless pats and strokes to his face and muzzle.
The chatter was non-stop, and conversations ranged from horses the staff members now own to those that residents had known in past lives. Discovery resident Tim Burks raised Quarter Horses when he lived in California. He commented knowledgeably on Tiny’s physical attributes, reminisced about the pleasures—and pains—of horse breeding, and joked with his friend, Jerry Anderson, about the logistics of getting up on Tiny’s back (“…a slingshot and a two-by-four…”). Anderson himself team-roped in rodeos around the Northwest for about fifteen years in his younger days. One woman talked about raising Arabian horses and another spoke fondly of feeding treats to a neighbor’s Tennessee Walking Horses.
During the visit, Shinn answered a hundred questions about Tiny, mainly regarding his upkeep and his past. It was arthritis in his back legs that brought an end to the nineteen-year-old’s career as a carriage horse in Wisconsin, according to Shinn. “He was having problems with his hind legs—he was in pain—so he couldn’t…do his job any more, for as much as they were asking of him.” Tiny was then sold to a guest ranch in Montana, but he is what’s known as a “hard keeper,” and his new handlers found it difficult to keep weight on him. Shinn explains, “They had so many horses…they usually don’t do pain management,” and the pain exacerbated by his labor kept him from eating as much as he needed.
The ranchers sent Tiny to the auction in Billings, which is where Shinn found him. She bid actively against a “kill-buyer” (an agent who buys horses for the meat market) and ended up paying “…a lot of money for a rescue horse. They [the kill-buyers] take these big draft horses and they fly them to Japan—the Japanese pay a lot of money for them—for the meat.” Since the mission of 1 Horse At A Time is to “save…draft horses from going to slaughter,” Tiny was a perfect candidate.
When he arrived at the Rescue, Tiny was in very poor condition. He was considerably underweight and suffering from arthritis in his stifles and osteoporosis in his spine. “The first couple of weeks he was with us,” Shinn says, “he was just lying down all the time because he was in pain…” As they do with all the horses that pass through their facility, the Rescue group first took Tiny to be evaluated by a veterinarian to identify his physical issues and determine whether they could be addressed using both conventional and alternative medicine. Employing the help of an equine cranial sacral therapist, an equine chiropractor and an acupuncturist—and plenty of pasture rest and good feed—Shinn and her group were able to improve the big Belgian’s quality of life dramatically.
Tiny has since become the “face” of the Rescue and its ambassador to the Bitterroot Valley. In working with the draft horses over the past two years, Shinn recognized the positive effect their presence had on her own well-being, despite the tremendous amount of work running a rescue represents. “There’s a lot behind the scenes that people don’t see when they [look at] the pictures on Facebook,” Shinn says. “It’s a lot of work but I enjoy doing it. I do it for [the horses], and sometimes it can be a little overwhelming, but at the end of the day—or at the beginning of the day—I go out there and say, ‘Hello, my treasures!’ It just immediately puts a smile on my face…and that’s why I do it…”
Shinn and the Rescue group thought that bringing joy to others would be a perfect new ‘career’ for Tiny.
“Because I have all these draft horses…I know they have a therapeutic benefit,” Shinn explains. “Just from the ground—seeing them and touching them and being around them—I thought would be great. If I can come out to a senior home [like Discovery Care]…and put some smiles on some faces and make some people happy…That’s what I want to see.”
Tiny appeared to enjoy the outing almost as much as the humans he visited. The Rescue’s goal is to find “safe, loving homes” for the draft horses they acquire, and since its inception, the rescue has re-homed over twenty draft horses (with a couple more “in the works”). But Tiny is a permanent resident at the Popham Lane facility, and Shinn hopes to keep him busy in his new vocation for as long as it works for him. He greeted shoppers at Murdoch’s in Hamilton last winter and visitors to the Daly Mansion during Daly Days in July. Shinn is hoping to coordinate more visits with therapeutic organizations around the valley and is currently planning an open house at the Rescue—“Beer and Brats at the Barn”—at the end of October. Interested parties can contact her organization through their website, www.1horseatatime.com, or on their Facebook page, 1 Horse At A Time Draft Horse Rescue. Besides monetary donations, Shinn said the Rescue also welcomes volunteers, not only to help with the physical work of caring for the horses, but even to spend time petting and grooming them. “Come brush them and get to know them!” Shinn urges.
If you happen to see a giant draft horse around town, it’s likely just Tiny, delivering another payload of smiles.