Grey pony Leo walks along a tree-lined track with his Blue Cross handler

Feral pony looks forward to future

Anxious and terrified of people, Leo was just a foal when he arrived at Blue Cross as part of a group of rescue ponies.

The little grey pony was just ten months old and described as ‘feral’ when he came into the care of our team.

Kicking out and trying to escape, poor Leo was completely terrified.

Grey pony Leo looks into the camera while he is held by his Blue Cross handler
Little Leo had never been handled until he came to Blue Cross

Along with three other pony pals, Leo had come to the Blue Cross rehoming centre in Rolleston, Staffordshire as part of a herd rescue by the RSPCA charity.

All four ponies were unhandled, making it a challenge to give them initial vet care, including blood testing for any infectious diseases.

But over the next 300 days, our dedicated team worked slowly and gently with Leo to build his confidence and allow him to gain trust in humans.

Alison Bennetts-Brown, Horse Welfare Assistant at Blue Cross Rolleston, explains: “The ponies were all incredibly nervous when they arrived.

"Leo was completely feral and hadn’t had anything to do with humans before. He hadn’t been handled at all and used to run away from us.”

Grey pony Leo walks along a tree-lined track with his Blue Cross handler
Pony Leo needed careful training to overcome his fear of being touched by humans

For 11HH Leo to have any future he would need to get over his fear of being handled.

It was important that Leo could receive routine vet treatment such as vaccinations and worming, as well as visits from the farrier to keep his feet trimmed and healthy.

He also needed to be castrated by the vet, so careful planning was needed to prepare Leo for his op.

During the coming months, our team gradually helped Leo overcome his anxiety.

“We have managed to use food to train him but in a very controlled way,” says Alison, who began by putting down buckets containing some balancer supplement. 

Grey pony Leo is groomed by his handler
Blue Cross handlers used positive reinforcement techniques to build Leo's confidence

“At the beginning, the ponies wouldn’t come to the buckets until we left but they gradually started to come over.

“We then switched to handheld scoops and I then moved to a bum bag.

“He was very good at taking a snack from my hand and would be very gentle.”

The team used clicker training – a form of positive reinforcement training – to help Leo and the other ponies learn.

Now he’s 22 months old and completely transformed from the terrified little foal that first came to Blue Cross more than a year ago.

Grey pony Leo is groomed by his handler
Leo can now have his legs brushed and visits from the farrier

“Leo learned the rules of clicker training quite quickly so we got to the point where he understood not to try to take anything from me,” continues Alison.

“He was a very quick learner and having those boundaries really helped him.

“I got him to touch my hand and, once he could do that, I got him swap to touching the headcollar.

“He has become really good at putting on his headcollar now.

“Leo even had his legs brushed for the first time recently and has now had his feet trimmed for the first time.”

From being completely ‘feral’ Leo can now be caught with a headcollar, groomed and cared for by the vet and farrier – meaning he has a bright future outside Blue Cross when the right home comes along. 

Can you offer a Blue Cross horse or pony a loving new home? 

— Page last updated 15/05/2024