This post is a bit of a personal one so I suggest you grab yourself a drink and make yourself comfortable before starting it. I’ll wait…
OK, here goes.
I was working with Danny Boy today and the man that comes out to feed him, let’s call him Johnny, was walking by and saw me asking Danny to put his head in the halter.
He said, “Since he lets you get close to him, just throw the rope around his neck and grab him. Then hold on tight and when he stops pulling quickly put the halter on and you’ve got him!”
Then he said, “And when you get the halter on, tie him up so I can get the farrier out to sedate him to do his feet.”
Wow, there is a whole lot wrong with those two statements in my book!
I do understand that a lot of horse people may look at what I’m doing with Danny as ‘babying him’.
However, after seeing and hearing how Johnny would like to tie him up and how he’d like to handle his hoof care, it is no wonder Danny is so terrified of being caught.
When Johnny came over to the fence line, Danny took off running as far as he could to get away from him. He pinned his ears, swished his tail angrily, and kicked up. He really dislikes this guy.
And it’s also pretty obvious that Johnny doesn’t care much if Danny likes him or not. All he cares about is making Danny do what he wants when he gets the chance. Luckily, that’s no longer the case now as I’m taking care of Danny’s welfare and training.
The sad part is that Johnny doesn’t even notice that Danny doesn’t like him, doesn’t trust him and doesn’t want to be around him. None of that matters to him.
ALL of that matters to me.
I want my horse to trust me, like me, want to be with me and enjoy my company as a part of the herd.
Let me tell you why it’s so important to me to ask for things from my horse, to build trust first, to work on a relationship with a two-way conversation, and to want to be liked and even loved by my horse.
The story behind the story:
If you’ve heard my backstory with horses, you’ll know that I trained with some well-known names in the industry.
They were all amazing in their own ways and I’m sure they all felt they were doing their best for the horse. But even back then it was clear to me that some trainers were better than others when it came to considering the horse’s thoughts and feelings.
However, I was always looking for a better way to train horses – one that was not so demanding, pushy, dominant, and one-sided.
And that’s why I began to train my own way… because I couldn’t find anyone who did it the way I wanted to.
I wanted to have a two-way conversation. I wanted the horse’s thoughts and feelings to be considered in the training process.
I wanted it to be as natural to the horse as possible and to take the horse’s behavior and herd dynamics into consideration.
I wanted the horse to not only enjoy the process of training but to look forward to it and to want to be with me.
Now… Why do I want these things for horses? Why do I feel so strongly about a ‘better way’ for horses?
Because I want these things for me too, and for women in general.
I was abused when I was younger and it took me a long time to understand, cope, and get through it. During that process of dealing with my own abuse, I went to my horses for comfort and love.
I could see so many similarities to what I was going through to what people were telling me to do to my horses to ‘train’ them.
· Hit them when they don’t do it right
· Be more dominant and control them
· Don’t let them do what they want, make them do what you want
· Use a whip, use spurs, use a harsher bit, use more force
How could I do to my horses what I couldn’t stand being done to me?
How could I look at this beautiful creature before me that only showed me love and kindness and hit them with a crop or kick spurs into their side because I wanted something faster?
How could I be demanding and forceful with this amazing animal that had stood by me and comforted me during my times of need?
My first boyfriend ever when I was 17 years old was my dream man. He was a tall, dark, handsome and charming Italian boy of 18. His mother and father were both from Italy and had moved to the U.S. when he was a child.
At first, he seemed absolutely perfect. He was sweet and thoughtful. He would say the nicest things and loved to be close and hold my hand.
I would go to his football games and he would blow me a kiss during the game which made me feel very special. It was just like in the movies. I was in puppy love and would do anything in the world to make him happy.
Funny thing is that my mom never liked him. She was always cautious and watched him like a hawk. I thought it was because she was just being over-protective, but looking back… she saw something I didn’t.
I’m not sure I would have even listened to her if she had tried to explain her fears to me as I was a teenager and of course I knew everything!
Anyway, he was my first boyfriend so I had no point of reference on how it was supposed to go. Everything was fine until one day I didn’t do something that he wanted me to do.
I can’t remember now exactly what it was but I do remember that I thought it was something minor. But to him, it must have been major as he grabbed me by the arm and squeezed so hard that I yelled out in pain.
You’d think he’d let go when I screamed but instead he just squeezed harder and shouted, “Shut up!”.
My instincts kicked in and I instantly shut up and cowered as I knew things might get worse if I didn’t.
Once I had submitted, he let go and repeated what he wanted me to do and I agreed.
I remember thinking that it was really strange and it must just have been a bad day for him. So, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and just blew it off.
I never even told anyone about it and just made sure the huge bruise on my arm was covered up.
But little did I know that these kinds of things can often escalate over time and this is exactly what happened.
He started to grab me more regularly and force me to change my plans and then he would say it was my fault he had to hurt me and I needed to be better.
At first, I thought it was my fault and so I changed in order to make him happy. But no matter what I did or how much I changed it never seemed to be enough and he would still get mad and find fault with what I did, or what I was wearing, or what I said, etc…
I was a little 17-year-old girl who had only ever known happy, loving, caring people and if my mother punished me for something I did wrong, I knew she was right and I learned a lesson.
So, this stuff with my boyfriend was totally foreign to me and I didn’t understand it.
Soon after, he started hitting my shoulder when I hadn’t done whatever it was he’d been expecting or wanting me to do. It was getting harder and harder for me to figure out what he did want, it was all so confusing.
I tried to understand why he was hurting me. I thought, “He says he loves me, and if he knew that him punching me hurt he would stop because you don’t hit someone you love.” Right?
When I tried to tell him this, he just ignored me.
Since trying to change didn’t make him happy, I felt I had to change something else to make the situation better.
So, the next time he punched me I hit him back, so you can guess what happened next…
Yup, he hit me back even harder.
I thought that if he could only understand how much he was hurting me that he would stop so I punched him back trying to tell him this.
Well, he hit me back again even harder and it quickly descended into an all-out punching match.
I didn’t back down though as I was determined to get through to him that this was really hurting me.
Crazy logic, I know, but I really did think that this would make him to stop. Remember, I was only 17.
Boy, was I wrong.
It didn’t stop until he punched me as hard as he could repeatedly, kicked my legs out from under me, and was about to punch me in the face when I realized I’d better back down so I begged him to stop.
At that moment, I remember feeling that my soul was dying and my heart was breaking. I felt absolutely dead inside as I knew there was nothing I could do to stop the situation.
My mind, my will, and my body had been broken and I had no choice but to surrender.
And it’s the same pattern in horses as it is with humans. I know because I’ve lived it.
Confusion -> Despair -> Learned Helplessness
Equine Confusion -> Equine Stress -> Equine Burnout
It’s as clear as day to anyone who has been through that sort of experience.
And the ironic thing is that I would probably never have left him if my mother hadn’t walked into the bathroom as I was stepping out of the shower a couple of days later.
She saw all the bruises and knew immediately what had happened.
She took me to the doctor (I also had broken bones) and called some ex-colleagues for help. I never knew but at one time she’d been a social worker helping female victims of abuse.
I was so very grateful (and still am) that she knew precisely what to do and how to protect me from my boyfriend.
So, perhaps now you can understand my passion and my drive to help horses not go through what I did.
I will do anything and everything in my power to make sure they are treated in a more ethical, loving, and compassionate way, no matter what.
Horses need a voice in this human world and my goal is to give them that through my teaching by helping one person and one horse at a time.
Until next week, let’s try and make all horses happy 🙂
I’d love to hear what questions and comments you have so please write them below. Thanks!
Danny is now out of his pasture that he has been in for the past 3 years, in a barn stall at night and a new grass pasture during the day, AND is right next to Kit so they can interact and be close.
They actually have barn stalls right next to each other where they can see and touch each other and they share a single fence line in their new turn out pastures too.
Danny was so happy to be close to Kit that he started licking Kit’s face and Kit just stood there looking like he was in heaven.
And yes, they are both stallions so this is very unique as normally stallions are very aggressive about their territory and space. I’ve even seen stallions go after geldings in attached pastures.
I believe part of Kit and Danny’s affinity for each other is because they have both been starved of attention for the last 3 years. They have only been able to see each other across a double fence line that was electric so they couldn’t even get close to each other before.
The other part of the success with the two of them is because they are Arabians. Even though the breed is known to be higher strung than other breeds, they also seem to bond stronger, more deeply, and more fully than any other breed I’ve worked with.
Now that they are trusting and bonding with me, they are also following my lead to get along and keep the peace. It’s beautiful to watch these two lovely Arabian Stallions get along. The next step is putting them in the same large pasture together and on the side of the farm that has mares. Fun times to come.
Years ago in my 20’s, when I first started to train horses, I worked with two crazy Arabians that were very aggressive and very dangerous. I told myself then that I would never work with the breed again.
That was the case until just last month and now I know what I’ve been missing out on as they are so beautiful, intelligent, and majestic. I’m sorry it took me so long to find out.