Last year my good friend and student had what we Brits might describe as a ‘less than ideal’ year. She is almost the other side of the final rounds of treatments. A long year of Chemo, radiotherapy, operations and in the middle of it all the death of her rock of a horse, Geoffrey. The horse she had ‘gone at life’ with for almost 2 decades; whom she trusted, knew and was immensely proud of. In the same way that I borrow a bit of Des when I need a morale boost, Geoffrey lent her his strength.
In the wake of all of this, and several moves of yard which were very unsettling in themselves, was left a woman she didn’t recognise with a new pony that she didn’t know. She didn’t trust her body or her mind, and she didn’t really trust her pony. In fact, she found herself very afraid of him on occassion. In part this was down to his own anxious experience of many moves, a loss of a horse companion and a human who seemed to be struggling to pick his halter up. A very tough time all round.
Yesterday I saw them together for the first time in a long time. They have finally alighed at a yard which is good for them both. His eruption of gastric ulcers have been treated, and his anxiety is decreasing immensely. And this is what my friend has done. She has taken great care of the things she can, which for a while have been the really small things. As ever, for the horse, these are the really big things.
She has committed to many elements she might have brushed over in the past. She is teaching him to lead in a way that makes her feel really safe. By this I mean, she is asking him to pay attention to each step she takes and each step he takes. She is showing him how to recognise when she means for him to move and when she means for him to stand still. She does not have the physical strength to do any man handling with him on the ground, so she is explaining how to lead with a feather and give her enough space that she does not need to worry.
And, because she knows she cannot miss anything, she is paying a huge amount of attention to his emotional wellbeing. She is noticing the smallest tightness of breath or change of focus or speed. And she is responding to him each time that happens and showing him that she can see that in him, and that she can bring him back to her.
When I arrived she said rather shamefacedly, ‘This is all we’ve been working on’. If this was ‘all’ any of us worked on many horses would be a lot happier, and we would change the baseline of expectations for what is possible. Horses do not need to drag people about or knock them over, or need duallys or chifneys. They also do not need to be dragged around; having their heads and bodies pulled on, dulling their minds right down too. They could maintain all their sensitivity and that be a huge positive in their relations with people.
They just need to shown, quietly and thoughtfully, how to be around a person. And a person needs to show them that they notice and care about how they feel; will explain to them what a headcollar ‘means’ and how they can be lead on a cotton thread if need be. After all the lead rope is just a conduit for your intention and connection with them.
I would not wish what my friend has been through on anyone. However, she is happy for me to share what this has brought about in relation to this new level of attention to detail with her horse. He is benefiting, maybe someone else’s horse could too.