Shortly after I purchased my farm I wanted a companion for Chinook, my ex-racing Thoroughbred. I also wanted another horse to offer my clients a choice of partner to work with in my Equine Facilitated Learning and Wellness sessions.
I came across Miss Daisy, a gorgeous 9-year-old Quarter horse, however, about a week before I was to pick her up, I found myself in a discussion about another horse that was up for adoption. This one was a 20-year-old ex-racing Thoroughbred with a history of abuse. My contact felt he would do great in my therapy program and it would be a good place for him to retire otherwise he may be bought and sold for meat. Off I went to pick up both horses.
Not very long after the horses formed a herd with Chinook, it became apparent who the leader was: Beau, the abused Thoroughbred. He was aggressive and was downright bullying the two other horses leaving them with bite marks that at times required medical attention. I spent many hours observing him. I could barely come close to him. He would sense me coming from a distance and as I would get closer his ears pinned back. At feeding time his ears would pin back and he would swing his head with his neck from side to side from the top of the stall door. For a while I had to set his feed bucket on the ground, open the door and push it in with my foot then close the stall door.
Having no experience dealing with such behavior in a horse I listened to my intuition. I had a knowing that eventually I would succeed gaining his trust. I always spoke gently to him, respected his fear but passively imposed myself gaining a bit of ground. It was obvious to me that he experienced abuse in a confined space and he most likely was abused from his left side. I saw the first improvements when I changed my state of mind from feeling sad about how he was behaving to feeling motivated and happy about our progress. Soon, I would have a chat with the door of his stall half open while he ate. He still pinned his ears but he tolerated me. I gained more and more trust from him and eventually was able to come in his stall with the door opened, then go in with the door closed, then kneel near his head with the door opened and then do the same with the door closed. Then one night as I was cleaning the stalls I decided to let him loose in the barn. All was good until I walked near him and he charged at me making me move in a reaction to keep myself safe. Then I realized what happened and I turned around, extended my arms wide and big and I felt huge. I walked towards him and said: «I am four times bigger than you right now and you are going to move. You have no reason to do this and you will move”. I continued walking towards him with intention; I was determined to set this straight and I did without touching him but just with my intention to make him understand that I am the leader. He moved. I gave us space and a moment then I walked back to him and his head was low. I brought my hand to his nose, had him smell it and gently stroked his neck in gratefulness. That was when I felt us bond and his behavior with the other horses also changed for the better.
Beau doesn't show up to partner with many people but when he does, is he ever magical! Just like all the others, I should say but with his background, I marvel every time he chooses to teach. I’ve had wonderful experiences seeing the effect he has on the people and I recall one student who came to get help. It all started in the field in an activity called "Meet the Herd”. It was noticeable the two had a strong connection. She did not know of Beau’s past. When it was time to do one-on-one work I walked to the field and Beau was separate from the herd, facing me with his head up and ears pointing towards me he walked towards me!!! I was so proud of him. As I put his halter on, I chuckled a bit and thanked him for showing up. He clearly understood from the very first activity in the field that he was the one to teach.
The client had a strong hold on his lead rope with her hand near the base of the halter and he wanted to get loose. He had no freedom, no ease of motion and he was pulling back. I asked my client how she felt. How did she think Beau felt? How was this exercise working for both of them giving her the time to respond and make sense of what was going on and how she felt and so on. It took a while for the student to get the Ah-Ha moment but boy when she got it, what a revelation it was for her: Resistance. What you resist persists. Surrender. Be open-minded. Release control. Let go. Trust life. All of this is fear-based. And the pro of fear was teaching about fear.
I am extremely grateful for the connection I have with Beau today, for the journey discovering ourselves through it which led to a much better environment for his herd members and for me. I’m so proud of his transformation and for his willingness to help people identify process and release the emotions of fear. Thank you, Beau.