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Home » Healing Hearts: The Journey of Calan Horse Sanctuary and Its Founder

Healing Hearts: The Journey of Calan Horse Sanctuary and Its Founder

This update comes from Carol Gent. Carol prepared the following for a speech she gave recently to a community group in Donnybrook. Go Fund Me has a character limit so the full speech will be posted over two updates.

Through Their Eyes

After 42 years of marriage, my husband and I parted. No, this is not a ‘Woe’ is me story, it is in fact a story of ‘Healing’.

During the mid-90’s while we were still together, we purchased a 100 acre property 27km South of Narrogin; it was to be our Tree Change. As there were only 8 trees on the land, we set forth each weekend and planted 22 thousand various species of Gum Tree and Paper-Bark. Despite the loss of many, the property now boasts almost a mini forest. In Summer we would trek down from our home in Mandurah to water them all in. We had a large storage shed erected in which we occasionally slept in – that was until we spotted a six-foot dugite slither in. At this stage there was no water or power connected so, a shovel was used not just for planting trees.

Being a retired builder, my husband slowly built a timber framed house, connected it to power, and installed water tanks. It was during a visit from one of our granddaughters who expressed a longing to have a horse and learn to ride. That was to be the beginning of an amazing journey for my husband.

The owner of the property next to ours had trotters so, my husband asked him if he had a horse he no longer raced. Yes, he did and for a nominal fee we purchased Rebel. Well, he wasn’t the prettiest of horse I’ve ever seen, dark purple with a pale colour around his nose giving him the look of a donkey. But his looks were deceiving, because behind those beautiful big brown eyes stood a very intelligent animal, one who would over time, teach my husband the language of horses.

Somehow, this one horse led to another, either by request for short term agistment to taking care of homeless horses. In the past, my husband never had trouble saying No, but when it came to a request on behalf of a troubled horse, he found Yes to be the only answer, so circumstances conspired to draw abandoned, abused, and homeless horses to the property. This led to it becoming an intentional horse sanctuary under the name ‘Calan Horse Sanctuary’, with its motto, ‘Through Their Eyes’, for instead of inflicting what mankind considered the right way to handle these beautiful creatures, many who have been traumatized, Alan endeavoured to look through their eyes for the correct way to gently cox fear out of them and learn how to trust. It was during these encounters that the amazing Rebel stood by and guided this ability.

Over the next 20 or so years, 35 horses have found their way into Alan’s care and each new arrival was given his own stable – built by my amazing husband – where each morning they would be fed an amazing concoction of food mixed to suit each individual’s health needs. After breakfast, they then free range on the 100 acres. All this was financed by Alan himself, but slowly as more people became aware of what he was doing, donations of feed, second-hand rugs, halters, bridles and money came to the sanctuary thus lightening the burden and making it possible to accept other desperate cases. Alan also taught himself to be the sanctuaries Farrier and slowly he developed a unique technique which he has been able to pass on to different volunteers and other horse lovers.

Apart from the horses on the property, there are two Alpacas named Carlos and Ricardo, a couple of rescued cats and Yundi the Sheep who was rescued as a two-day old lamb by my Son who worked at the local abattoir, and a beautiful dog named Kaylee, who sadly died recently. Each of the residents at the sanctuary have their own amazing stories, which I would like to share with you.

This first one is kind of special to me. His name is Irish. He came from a couple who had randomly bought a horse for their grandchildren to ride when they visited them. They had no experience with horses nor how to properly care for one. He proved to be unrideable, so they put him out to pasture where his condition deteriorated and he became a bag of bones; his hooves grew and he developed a condition known as “Mycotonkin Staggers’, which affects the nervous system to the limbs, causing the poor animal to continually fall over. His teeth were terrible, and he had what they call ‘fish hooks’ on both sides of his jaw making it very painful to eat, hence his skeletal appearance.

When we first approached the fence to the paddock he was in, to assess his condition, he bared his teeth and rushed at us – a very scary sight. I begged my husband not to consider taking him; euthanasia would have been the kindest option. But, in spite of some considerable danger, he chose to try and help this tormented creature. It was obvious Irish hated humans, perhaps with good reason. In the first week he doubled barrelled Alan when he turned his back to him; cornered him in the stable and attacked him several times. But, undeterred, Alan searched online for ways to help Irish and read an article by a Frenchman who showed how to gain the confidence of a troubled horse, to which Irish qualified big time. He said to turn your body at a 45 degree angle to the horse and roll your shoulders over, making yourself look small and non-threatening and think like a six-year-old for as long as you can. All very well to say, but to actually do so was another thing.

Nevertheless, Alan did and slowly Irish calmed down realising this man was no threat and because of his considerable diligence with a lot of patient care, Alan finally won over what is now a magnificent horse who stands tall and proud and each morning gives Alan a special greeting expressing his joy to be alive. I honestly feel I have witnessed a miracle between this man and animal.

Another horse I would like to tell you about is an ex-race horse called Vinnie. A lady in Geraldton had bought him for her daughter and placed him at a nearby agistment centre. Unfortunately, he was put into a paddock with five Polish draft horses known as Percheron, these animals are bigger than the English draft horse and having just been gelded they were very unsettled and angry. When they saw poor Vinnie, a much smaller horse, approaching the hay they were feeding on one attacked him, ripping a large strip of flesh from his neck down to his shoulder.

When a desperate plea for help went out, Alan responded. It was a very sad horse that arrived at the Sanctuary, but with the usual care provided, Alan daily bathed the raw wound with Betadine and slowly it healed, but that was not his only health issue. As with so many race horses, he suffered with stomach ulcers due to the stress experienced in racing. It wasn’t until Alan found him on the ground grinding his teeth in pain, that this came to light after a conversation with the vet who suggested a natural kind of treatment for his problem, which he did. So, each day Vinnie is given 7ml of Aloe Vera gel via a syringe and when Vinnie sees Alan coming each morning with his soothing medication, he hurriedly comes to greet him. It is due to his constant care that his overall treatment has been successful and now this beautiful horse enjoys a wonderful quality of life.

There are also two delightful mini ponies, Gypsi and Tonto who were bought by two loving grandparents for their grandchildren, grandchildren who happened to grow-up leaving two elderly grandparents unable to cope. Earlier on there had been a pony called Brodie, who had graced the herd with his cheeky presence. He had been a curious pony and had acquired some novel tricks – an escape artist who found no locked country gate a problem at all. A new locking system was installed.

The Collie Vet has requested a few times if the Sanctuary would consider a couple of sad cases they had. One in particular had been dumped in the bush near a water hole and who had a terrible abscess in her right hoof. The treatment Alan applied was by placing the mare’s leg in a bucket of warm water laced with Epsom Salts, holding it there for up to 20 minutes each day. This was an incredible ask of any horse to tolerate, but she must have known what Alan was doing and trusted him. This horse had no known name and no known owner, so our son looked on the internet to find a suitable name for her and discovered an American Sioux Indian tribe called, Lakota who were known to camp around water holes, to the unnamed horse became, Lakota. I must mention that the Collie Vets fixed her teeth in appreciation for taking her in.

A few years ago, a journalist from the ABC channel 2, Rebecca Chadwick, heard about the Sanctuary and made contact asking to allow them to put together a program about what was happening down there in the remote corner of the South-West of WA. After the program went to air it opened the flood gates to hundreds of requests to bring in abandoned horses from all over the country, 448 in-fact even as far away as from Queensland. Some of the stories were heart wrenching but, where do you draw the line?

Alan is now in his 80’s and not as strong or robust as he once was in his building days and at the behest of his family, he has agreed to not take on any more horses, He is now down to 15 from the original 35.

From being a person who had no previous experience with horses, he has grown to love, respect and bond with these beautiful creatures who have taught him so much. Many who came to him were broken, but with his tender nurturing and acquired skills, drawn them back to be able to enjoy their final years in ‘their-for-ever home’, in a herd environment as God meant them to be and with a loving guardian; not quite an angel, but a man humbled by something much bigger! It has been an inspiring journey.

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