I’m not gonna lie – starting a horse rescue was WAY out of my league. I have only been in the horse world for about 5 years now. In that time I have worked hard to learn everything I need to know, but the learning curve is steep and nothing beats hands on experience. I am in a constant state of figuring out the next step. Thankfully, I have had the most incredible people step into my world to help with their knowledge and expertise, but there are days…
It seemed simple in the beginning. Rescue horses, get them healthy, get them trained, find them a home. The one thing I didn’t take into account was the mental aspect. Each of these horses has a past and story. And the hardest part is we have NO idea what the story is so we have to try to put the puzzle together.
Teddy was young. With a sweet gentle personality and an adorable little face, he should be easy. Not the case. He is extremely sensitive in every way. The rider has to be calm, confident, and very experienced or he will come undone mentally. It seems that I have to learn everything the hard way, and the lesson Teddy taught me was GO SLOW. We started him in training immediately after he was rescued, and he seemed to be doing very well. We sent him to a very well respected eventing barn where he would get training as well as exposure to eventers in the hopes that he would find an adopter there. Within two months, we were having a two hour vet check and at the end of the day were told his mind was so frazzled it may be best to put him out to pasture for a year. We brought him back to Ohana, let him rest, and then took baby steps. His trainer, Kaitlyn, spent the winter sometimes just sitting still on him for long periods of time so he would learn to be calm. Being ridden didn’t mean being run around frantically. It has been a year since his re-start and he is finally calm and soft. He needs to know what is expected of him and he needs to know he can be successful. Having finally figured this out, we can now make the right decisions for him.
Riser is stoic. Whatever his past is, we believe he was taken care of at one point. We have figured out that he was a Western speed horse (think barrel racing) because that’s what he “knows”. That kind of life is hard on a horse and at his age his legs can’t handle that kind of work. He has a sadness in his eyes that tells us that he once had a home and was loved. He probably could no longer do his “job” and that is what landed him at the auction. As much as we love on him, we are waiting for him to breathe deep and love us back. He’s not ready yet.
Lincoln is a different story. He has had a hard life, a cruel past. He has never been given any reason to trust humans. Still, he loves being groomed and craves attention almost like he’s making up for lost time. However, he looks to other horses for security. Being alone in the barn even for a few minutes is terrifying for him. He doesn’t like to be out grazing with us unless another horse is with him. For a while, every time his pasture buddy and best friend would leave the barn for any reason (like to be ridden), Lincoln would have an all out panic running around in circles in his stall and kicking his door. This behavior is upsetting and can be scary and dangerous. Some days are better than others for him. There are days when he is calm and settled.
It’s a roller coaster ride for me. Solving the puzzle of their past is difficult and stressful. It was after about a week of Lincoln being calm and seeming to have settled, that I had an epiphany. He seemed agitated all day. I took him out to graze and he once again panicked because he was by himself and wanted to head right back in the barn. I was so frustrated, and I was thinking WHY can’t he understand that he is safe now?! I have never shown him anything but kindness so why can’t he just trust me completely?! I left the barn deflated and went to my riding lesson. I am riding a horse who is very experienced and very safe. He has been a GREAT teacher because I can make mistakes and he doesn’t do anything scary or bad. I am slowly working on my foundation and making that really solid before I try to start jumping or doing half of the things I was doing before my accident. But every day, my trainer pushes me just a little bit further so I can continue to grow and improve. This particular day she asked me to do something that for some reason I found terrifying. It was just riding a pattern. It took me a few times to get it right because I was holding back, and when I finally did it, my hands were shaking and I felt like crying and puking. And yet, last summer I was riding much more difficult patterns including jump courses! But, guess what? That was BEFORE I had a past.
Teddy has a past. Riser has a past. Lincoln has a past. I have a past. There is NO formula to getting over it; we all just have to get through the next scary thing. And for each of us, the scary thing is different! I follow a woman named Anna Blake who writes a wonderful blog about horsemanship. This week, she wrote one about fear. Or as she likes to call it “common sense”. These are her wise words: “Ever think about where courage comes from? It isn’t born of arrogance and success. It’s purchased, one drop at a time, by internal moments of persistence in the face of challenge.”
I’m glad I have a past now. Remember what I said about having to learn everything the hard way? Sometimes I think the hard way is the RIGHT way. I can relate to “common sense” and lack of trust, and I can have the patience and understanding to go as slow as they need me to. One drop at a time.