How a horse from P.E.I. found a new home with a boy with autism

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How a horse from P.E.I. found a new home with a boy with autism

A boy from Cape Breton, N.S. will soon have his own horse, thanks to the generosity of a donor from Ontario and a harness racing farm on P.E.I.

The story begins last summer when the Dodington family was on P.E.I. to watch one of their horses racing. They happened to drop by Ronnie Gass's farm to see a friend's mare and foal when one of the young horses left the herd and headed straight for their son, seven-year-old Jared.

"This foal just came out of the blue, came over to Jared," said Brian Andrew, owner of Meridian Farms in Milton, P.E.I., who raised the horse.

"The mother was nowhere to be seen and he made up to the foal and the foal made up to him."

The family came back a second and third time and the reaction was always the same.

"They developed a pretty strong relationship, to the fact that he was hugging it, kissing it," said Andrew.

'Pretty unusual'

Andrew, an experienced harness racing trainer and driver, described the foal's relationship as not the norm for such a young horse.

"Usually they will come up to you but when you go into a field and one leaves the mother and comes up, I think that's pretty unusual," he said.

The way that Jared responded was also unexpected, according to his family. Jared has autism and though the family is involved in harness racing and has horses, he never reacted to them the way he did to the foal on P.E.I.

"The father and mother were certainly taken aback by it," said Andrew.

"Jared normally doesn't have a strong relationship with horses."

The Dodingtons were also surprised when Jared announced that the horse had a name. 

"They asked him about the foal, they didn't know his name and he mentioned the name, he'd like to call him Courage," said Andrew. The horse is now named Jared's Courage.

Before they left, the family mentioned the possibility of purchasing the horse for Jared, when the foal came up for sale as a yearling in the fall of 2017.

An unexpected phone call

A reporter from Trot magazine heard about Jared and the P.E.I. colt and wrote a story that appeared on the Standardbred Canada website.

Two days later, Andrew got an unexpected phone call, from a horse owner Georg Leber in Ontario, who offered to purchase the horse for the family.

"He said I read the story and I was touched by the story," recalled Andrew.

"I said to myself, we'll make that happen." 

Leber sent Meridian Farms a cheque for the equivalent of what the horse would have fetched at the yearling sale. 

No regrets

For Andrew, who said Jared's Courage is a great looking horse, it means he won't get a chance to train or race the colt.

"I have no regrets for the simple reason that this story is more important than anything else," said Andrew.

"I was in education all my life and I love kids and if a kid, particularly Jared can fall in love with this horse, then all the best, no regrets."

Since the phone call, preparations have started to get Jared's Courage ready for his young owner.

"He's actually really remarkable, he's very calm for his age, he's very trusting," said Madonna Morrison. She's been working at Meridian for seven years, graduating this month from the Atlantic Veterinary College.  

"I've been putting the blanket on him, in case they want him to wear one, I've been putting bandages on him, just so that he's used to everything so whatever Jared wants to do, he's going to be able to do."

Morrison has been in contact with the Dodington family, making arrangements for them to come pick up the colt.

Upcoming reunion

She's looking forward to seeing Jared reunited with this very special horse.

"He's very interested in people. I don't have to chase him to catch him out in the field, he just comes running up to me and so he's very people-oriented which is strange but nice," said Morrison.

Andrew is also excited to see Jared and Jared's Courage reconnected.

"When something like this happens, it's just a wonderful thing," said Andrew.

"The relationship between a horse and a child or individual is just so special and this, I think, will be special."

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