As I have told you before, I am a horse addict. What I haven’t told you is that I am a retired special educator, with a significant percentage of my career focused on emotional disabilities. Many of the students I worked with were abused and neglected and suffered from being able to take advantage of educational opportunities. After reading about abused women and abused horses in the Tao of Equus (Linda Kohanov), I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up, post 50! I found a new path which eventually led me to find Connected Hearts Equine Healing with my new husband. We provided very unique programming for foster kids coping with eating disorders and other self-harming behaviors using horses. Including rescued horses in our herd allowed our kids to heal along with them. Velvet was our first rescue, a very undernourished, neglected Missouri Foxtrotter Mare. This is just one many stories about her I will share with you.
When we rescued Velvet, she was almost 300 lbs. underweight, had a variety of skin problems and was drugged the first time we saw her and the first time I rode her. She seemed quiet, responsive and willing. She bonded immediately with Sunny (who you have met in previous posts). In the beginning, we asked very little of her, although she was handled regularly and groomed daily. As her weight improved, she developed a rather pushy attitude. The quiet, responsive and willing aspects of her personality dissipated as we asked more of her. She was disrespectful, pushy and nervous. We decided to start from ground zero. My husband worked with her daily developing ground manners for nearly six months until you could safely go into her stall, halter her and lead her to the arena. However, she was a long way from being counted on to remain calm and responsive under saddle. She was not yet part of the herd that was considered appropriate for therapy work.
Val came to us, a young teen with a bigger attitude than Velvet ever had. We met her because there was an emergency and she required respite immediately; it was felt that Connected Hearts was “equipped to handle” her, especially with my special education background. Velvet and Val were instantly drawn to each other, although initially, I permitted only limited contact. The personality of both the horse and teen were greatly effected by each other, an observer, even untrained, could clearly see that. Following her respite with us she was persistent with her care giver and case worker to come to live with us (and Velvet) and much to our surprise, Val was eventually given the go ahead to come to us two weekends a month, with a behavioral contract in place. In addition to being able to spend lots of time with Velvet, I was to review her current school assignments with her to keep her current at school, a major task.
For several months we saw great growth in both “girls.” Val, who had never had any experience with horses was learning to connect, trust and learn about herself and Velvet. They began with groundwork, but quickly mastered the skills and with some trepidation, I began riding instruction. Velvet was willing and patient. It was astounding to observe their bond. We were thrilled as was everyone involved with Val. They were together, just hanging out, whenever Val earned it.
One morning when I open the barn door to feed, I immediately felt an unusual level of energy among the horses, but particularly with Velvet. She was clearly upset and had been doing circles in her stall for some time. I could not settle her. Even when haltered she could not stand still, pawed the ground and was breathing harder than usual through her nostrils. She ate but not without running out to her paddock as if she was looking for something. Reluctant to put her out, I left her and Sunny in and decided to keep a close eye on her (we had cameras in the barn so we could monitor activity in the barn when foster kids had earned the right to be there with their horse without adult supervision.) As soon as I went back to the house, I shared her strange behavior with my husband. Within a few minutes, we received a call from CPS. Val had run away! No one knew where she had gone. I had to wonder, was there a connection between Velvet’s strand anxiety and the possibility that Val was in danger?
Velvet’s uneasy behavior continued in varying degrees over the next several days. The search for Val continued. On the fourth day, late in the afternoon, I checked on the horses. It was a rainy day and they were all in and I intended to give them a little hay snack to keep them busy. I walked in the barn and all was quiet, even Velvet. I went to her stall and quietly entered, asking her permission to enter her space. She seemed happy to accept me, appearing back to her affectionate self. I groomed her and talked to her, nothing unusual. After Mark and I finished dinner, we got a call from juvenile services several counties away, telling us they had Val in custody. There was no question in my mind, in my heart, that the connection between the horse and teen was strong. Could I convince folks to let us have a chance with her? I believed that Velvet could make a difference in Val’s life here at Connected Hearts Equine Healing.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Val and Velvet. Next time I will share a story of rejection providing the “Ahhhh Moment” for a teen being given an important lesson by a horse.