Sky Wishes is a baby miniature horse. She is one-day old. And she's wearing a horse sweater while taking her first steps outside.
Take a moment to process that. To say she is cute is like saying it occasionally rains in Chilliwack in the winter. Sky Wishes-named by her rescuer's seven-year-old daughter after a My Little Pony character- isn't cute. Cute is Sky Wishes.
One day she will grow up, as much as miniature horses ever grow up. But she will still be a miniature horse, which, adhering to the rule that the more you shrink a mammal, the cuter it becomes, is still a pretty darn cuddly animal.
But there's a dark side to everything, even, believe it or not, miniature horses. And that dark side, is why Sky Wishes is here in Yarrow, at Pipsqueak Paddocks, likely the only miniature horse rescue facility in all of Canada.
The existence of Pipsqueak Paddocks prompts the question: how many miniature horses can possibly need rescuing?
The answer, unfortunately, is plenty.
Bec Bermudez, Pipsqueak's founder and president, got her first miniature horse in 2004 to accompany the pony she had always wanted to own.
"I had heard about a mini that needed out of where it was," said Bermudez, who had experience working with large rescued horses. "She was in horrible shape. The vet actually cried when she saw her."
The horse, named Glee, had been starved by her former owners and "looked like an alien hamster," when Bermudez first saw her.
"It was three months before she could even lift her head up," she said.
(Years later, and many minis later, Bermudez gave Glee to a woman who has turned the little horse into a provincial champion on the miniature horse driving circuit. The woman now sits on Pipsqueak's board of directors.)
Six months after getting Glee, Bermudez got a second mini for her mother, and again the horse came from a less-than-happy home.
Soon those two rescued horses became three horses became four.
Privately, between 2004 and 2009, Bermudez, with the assistance of her mother Janis Sawatzky, rescued and put up for adoption "a couple dozen" miniature horses.
Three years ago, with more people offering to help, the Bermudez's set up Pipsqueak Paddocks as a registered non-profit organization. That year, 2009, the young group rescued another two dozen horses. They doubled that count the following year.
Since it gained non-profit status, Pipsqueak Paddocks-which now has a board, takes in donations and receives help from around the B.C. horse community-has cared for 110 miniature horses. The horses come from owners who can no longer care for their minis, from those who have been "encouraged" to give up their horses by the SPCA, and, in some cases, after being seized by animal welfare officials.
"We get abused ones, we get neglected ones, we get unwanted ones," Bermudez said.
In many cases, people just don't understand the demands of horse ownership.
"A lot of non-horsey people get the little ones," she said. "A lot of people say it's exactly like having a great big dog. No! I say it's exactly like having a real little horse."
Just because their hoofs are smaller and their manes shorter doesn't mean miniature horses don't require the say type of care as full-scale horses.
"Other people are surprised at the numbers that we deal with. I'm not though. There's lots of minis just kind of tucked away in corners, and now that there's somewhere they can go, they're coming out of the woodwork."
In three years, Pipsqueak Paddocks has acquired a reputation as Canada's only specialized home for miniature horses.
After taking possession of a horse, Pipsqueak Paddocks and a team of horse professionals and volunteers works to turn shy, abused and unhealthy minis into horses ready for new homes. That team includes a veterinarian, a farrier and a massage therapist.
Bermudez doesn't pass j udgement on owners w ho turn over their horses. Many, she says, just didn't know how to properly care for their minis.
Take the testes. The majority of rescued horses are mature males.
"Stallions are crazy and hard to handle. People get this cute little baby boy for their kids, but then it grows into this monster," Bermudez said.
A gelding operation-the equine equivalent of neutering-almost immediately turns the males into polite, fun and less pushy companions. But the procedure is expensive, and many abandon their troubled horses instead of give them the operation they need.
Rather than condemn and rail, Bermudez prefers to keep the experience positive, so as not to deter those who should be handing over their horses. To that end, Pipsqueak Paddocks posts regular updates online so former owners can see their minis thrive in their new homes. Those updates continue after a horse is adopted.
The group also maintains a network of horse foster homes stretches throughout the Lower Mainland and the B.C. Interior. But Bermudez woud like more foster homes in the Chilliwack area.
"We've just got our official SPCA approval, so I'm anticipating minis in who are going to need a longer recovery time," she says. "To get local foster homes would be super."
Sky Wishes sticks close to her mother, Rainbow Dash, who carefully eyes a pair of minis in a nearby pen. Rainbow Dash was one of seven horses taken in by the paddocks this winter. Three were pregnant. At the insistence of Bermudez's daughter, all were given My Little Pony names.
The birth of Sky Wishes was the first overseen by Pipsqueak Paddocks and shown on a webcam on the group's website. While Sky Wishes is the first mini at Pipsqueak Paddocks not to have been "rescued," her birth was not without drama.
"It's nerve-wracking," says Bermudez of the birth. Rainbow Dash "was too young so we've been watching her on the camera. . . . I haven't had a night of unbroken sleep in two months."
The two other pregnant horses will give birth at foster homes elsewhere in the Fraser Valley.
For Bermudez, who works at her father's sign shop, running the non-profit has turned into a second job. But the emotional payoff has been well worth it.
"It's very rewarding," she says. "Some of them, we have to lift into the trailer when we pick them up. And all of them go to a home where they have a purpose and interaction.
"It's more than being stuck in a corner."
- For more on Pipsqueak Paddocks visit www.pipsqueakpaddocks.com.