It’s hard to put into words the power an animal can have over the soul of a person. Perhaps it affects some humans more than others. It’s not often, but sometimes through family, or old friends, I meet ‘city people’ who don’t have much interest or desire to learn or connect with animals like I do. For me, they are not just part of my life, but a reason for it. I’d like to tell you a story of a horse I met recently that I grew very close to in a very short period of time.
The owner of this horse did not want her name, or the horses name to be public, so we’ll just call her T. None of the photos used in this article are of T.
I had been on the yard working with a variety of horses with different needs. I had just finished working with a mare and foal. They were travelling to a show a few weeks later, and needed to load onto a horse box. Outside the American barn we’re two mare and foal boxes. Parked outside those were the horse boxes. While loading the mare and foal, there was a pretty mare watching the whole thing with that wonderful curiosity look that horses have. We got finished up with mum and baby and the manager of the yard went off to find my next client.
Without thinking, I wandered over to the curious mare. She was a very pretty horse, about 15.2hh, bay with a splash of white down her face. She carried that same curious look that she had had the entire time while I was walking over. When I got within about 4ft, everything changed in an instant. She pinned her ears and lunged at me, mouth wide open and teeth bared. She wasn’t playing, she was going for the kill. The whole stable wall shook violently as she hit the door with her chest. Fortunately for me, I meet lots of horses that can turn quickly, and I managed to step back in time.
Then her owner arrived to tell her story.
T was bought as a broodmare and imported from abroad. She has phenomenal breeding but had developed some behavioural problems that the owner had decided weren’t worth fixing, and she would make her money back by selling her as a broodmare.
Apparently, she was sent to a trainer in her home country for starting, where the whole process was a success, however after being sold, there were several months unaccounted for in which all these behavioural problems were created.
She returned to the original trainer, who said that T was unrecognisable as the same horse. She had become aggressive, and not just in a ‘don’t come near me’ kind of way, but in a ‘I’m going to make you dig your grave before I put you in it’ kind of way. It was commented that she was actively trying to hurt you without provocation. This was something I discovered as I walked over to her stable.
T was developing a reputation for being nasty. Aggressive, and difficult to handle, it was becoming difficult for her owner to give her her basic needs, let alone enjoy her. So she decided to get help.
Another trainer worked with her over here in the UK, and although he didn’t get injured, it wasn’t for T’s lack of trying. Her owner told me the story but she felt the groundwork was a little too… forceful I guess would be the word. Although T seemingly ‘submitted’, she was far from happy about the situation and the following day was back to square one.
So for me, the first thing was catching her. If she was going to make the whole stable wall rock trying to get me outside, what was she going to do when I was locked in with her?
I started out by asking her to go to the back of the stable with my lead rope. Then twirling it with a rhythm that would make her move. Her ears were pinned, and immediately she was turning her back end towards me and heading back to try and kick. Quickly lengthening the lead rope I made a huge commotion, hitting the mats in the stable making her jump forward again, but for a brief moment, her ears flickered forwards. That was all I was looking for for the next few minutes. Twirl the lead rope followed by a positive change in expression in exchange for relief. Before long she was standing with a more neutral, less murdery expression. I had to use a similar method when approaching her. I would lift my hand to touch her and back went the ears. A few minutes went by if me waving my arms in place of the lead rope until I was rubbing her neck with nice forward, curious ears.
I managed to lead her to the arena without any dramas and started working on her feet handling. This was where the problem became a real problem, as it was affecting T’s care because she had tried to end the farrier every time they met.
After using the same idea of rewarding the mindset rather than the movement T was starting to look quite different. I was picking her feet without any issues, and not only that, I had started working on softening her head and neck, which released so much tension in her whole body. It was lovely to see! Her whole posture changed, the tightness was gone and then came the licking, chewing and yawning.
By this time, T was exhausted, and rested her head in my arms and closed her eyes. It was a truly touching moment knowing that this horse had gone such a long time without ever truly connecting with a human, if indeed she ever had.
It made me think how truly incredible it is, that these giant, magnificent creatures not only allow us to touch them, but actually climb on their backs and ride them around. T was a great example of how, if they say no, we really have no way of ‘making’ it happen, no matter what the hardcore trainers say! They are bigger than us and stronger than us - it’s only because of their innocence and innate goodness that they permit us to do the things we do. We are very lucky!