“Do they understand us?” “How cooperative are they willing to be?” These are two questions I included in my post yesterday.
When I put Roxanna back in yesterday afternoon, I rubbed her neck and face and told her that if she wants a relationship she’ll have to trust me more. I didn’t mean trust exactly, but it was the only word I had. A rough – very rough – approximation would be she has to take the next step in making herself clear as well as trusting me more. Since horses read our minds, Roxanna “heard” what I really meant, which I don’t have words to describe.
Today, after riding Zola, I put Roxanna out to graze. My plan was to worm her when I was ready to put her in. I wasn’t expecting any problems, as I’ve had Roxanna since 2005 and she’s never been difficult to worm. I would have wormed her first, but some horses don’t like to eat right after being wormed – I’m guessing it’s because the wormer makes things taste bad – and I didn’t want to spoil her grazing time.
An hour and a half later, I went out to get her (she was wearing a halter and lead). She stood perfectly still and let me pick up the rope. She then reached over and touched her nose to the syringe of ivermectin in my pocket. It was kind of odd, but my only thought was that I hoped she wasn’t going to try to avoid getting wormed now that she’d smelled it. I took the syringe our of my pocket and started to raise it. Before I could get my arm up, Roxanna grabbed the syringe in her mouth. I instinctively (?) tried to take it out. What perverse creatures we humans are! Every time it started to come out Roxanna worked harder to keep it in. Finally (duh) I just wormed her. Then she let me have the sryinge back.
I have wormed a lot of horses, including Roxanna, and NEVER had that happen. EVER. I do not feed treats in wormer syringes. I have never used the “trick” of practising worming using applesauce, or anything else. When I present wormer to a horse it’s wormer. I don’t believe in lying to horses.
So what was that? My opinion? Roxanna was trying to show how cooperative she can be. And how much she understands. And that she definitely wants our relationship to go to the next step.
Wow is how I feel. Wow. I really can’t get over it. What an experience! If she had hands she’d have wormed herself. That’s a statement.
Our relationship is still developing and I am still letting Roxanna set the pace. My goal is to see how free can a horse be, how cooperative, when allowed to choose. To see how much of their intelligence they’ll reveal, and just how well DO they understand us?
Part of my daily routine is grazing the horses in the big field in the afternoon. Some I turn loose without halters, some with halters and lead ropes. Some I hand graze as they are not yet at the point where they can be trusted loose.
Roxanna started out as hand-graze, but after a few times I let her loose with a halter and lead rope. She was fine.
Many people do not think horses can be trusted to be turned loose. And all horses are not ready for that, it’s true. However, I think a large majority would surprise people. Horses are in kind of a catch 22 situation. They are definitely smart enough, willing enough, and trustworthy enough to be turned loose, but because people don’t believe it, they don’t get the chance to prove it.
I don’t want my horses to be slaves, or to do things because they’ve been specifically trained to do them. My goal is to have cooperative relationships with my horses. I want our interactions to be communication, not behavior modification. I believe horses can read our thoughts if they’re clear. My feeling is that if we have a language we both understand, we can engage in conversation. New things and new situations are then easily introduced to the horse because “training” is not necessary – merely an explanation. More than that – the horse becomes free to express his/her self and offer things we never even thought of.
Of course this does require that the horse like me, or at least considers me a herd member. And trust. Between both parties.
As an experiment, I’m trying something I’ve never done before – with Roxanna. She has always made it clear that she wants a relationship with me. She’s also made it clear she doesn’t completely trust humans. Not surprisingly. And I confess, as a result, I do not completely trust her. We are working on this together.
As the next step in this experiment, I decided to take a risk and let Roxanna out without a halter. The big question would be what would happen when I went to bring her in. She has already shown that haltering isn’t necessarily something that is guaranteed to happen.
I left her out until last – as she clearly understands that as a privilege. When I walked up she faced me. Good. Then she walked past me, across the field, toward the gate to the fenced area. It was clear to me that she knew it was time to go in, and she was willing to go in. I am pretty sure that if someone had been there holding the gate open she would have gone right in. But, as usual, there were at least 5 horses clustered at the gate and it was impossible for me to hold it open for Roxanna, without several going out.
I gave Roxanna three chances to go in on her own. When she didn’t (don’t blame her), it was clear that I’d have to halter her. Ah . . . problem. Not surprising. However, though Roxanna avoided the halter she never strayed far from the gate. She didn’t take off at a canter across the field or down the road. In the end, after several minutes, she allowed me to put the halter on and I put her in.
So, another step in our journey together.
In October of 2005 I decided to rescue another horse. There is a now infamous “rescue group” in eastern Washington that used the threat of horses going to slaughter to get people to adopt them. I knew they were crooks, but they were heartless crooks, and so the horses really were at risk. Most of their horses were too expensive for us to afford, but I found one for only $400 (very cheap for them). They had given her the name Maddox.
My friend, Ally, and I went over to eastern WA, to the “feedlot”, to pick her up. We were there at the appointed time but ended up having to wait almost 3 hours for someone to take care of paperwork and help us get her loaded. In those 3 hours it became apparent that we would never catch Maddox by ourselves. I would try to get close to her – but she was having none of it. She was very clever and managed also to get other horses to do her bidding. It was quite something to see. She “talked” the other horses into offering her cover, and they would move, turn, and put themselves where she told them. She had a group of geldings that were doing her bidding. It’s a shame we didn’t bring a video camera.
The closest I managed to get to Maddox was 10 feet. However, as I stood with Ally, other horses approached me. There was one older gelding in particular who I could actually hear. He didn’t understand why he was there and why he wasn’t at home. It broke my heart to listen to him. He had been a good horse (his thoughts) and done everything his people wanted. He had been a ranch horse and worked hard and done a good job. Now he was here. He didn’t belong here. (Again, his thoughts). It was hard enough to know what he was thinking, it was unbearable when he came over and tried to put his head in the halter I was holding. If I’d had the money I would have taken him on the spot. It was clear he was a gentleman, and highly trained, but he had hit his 20’s and had to be discarded while he could still bring those extra few dollars. It was excruciatingly painful not to be able to help him. It was unforgivable, to me, that his people would discard him like that, after years of service.
He was not the only horse to try to put his head in the halter. There was another older gelding who did the same thing, and a very handsome gelding in his prime. Oh to be rich! I would have taken all three. It was incredibly hard to hear their pleas and not to be able to help them. I apologized but that was cold comfort. I did learn later that those three horses did get homes. Thank goodness!
Someone finally came and corralled Maddox in a pen. At which point it became apparent that she was a trained horse. Faced with a losing proposition, she allowed herself to be haltered. She then led perfectly, and loaded perfectly. She traveled perfectly on the 3 hour ride home, and unloaded perfectly.
Released into the herd she caused the expected uproar as everyone wanted to meet the new horse. Huey quickly told everyone whatever it is that makes them all line up and let him talk to the horse alone. He talked to her for a couple minutes, then everyone returned to semi-normal and more calmly went to meet her.
Maddox began to gain weight almost immediately. But that was the only progress made. I tried to show her people could be trusted and that I didn’t want anything from her, other than that she let me approach her, touch her, and halter her. But I made virtually no progress. I could get within 3 feet of her, but that was it. I had Danielle do a reading on her. (Click here to read it.) As a result we changed her name to Libby. But I still could make no progress. Libby would let me get close enough to give her horse cookies, but it was clear it was just for the cookies.
And she had an agenda. In the herd. She started out by pushing Soldier off of every pile of hay. He would take a pile and she would take it from him. He would move to a further pile and she would take that one. No matter what pile he went to, she would push him off of it. For no reason other than to bully him. I am all about horses being horses and understand the pecking order rules. But this was more than that, and therefore unacceptable to me. The next time she pushed him off a pile of hay I immediately pushed her off it. When she went to the next pile I repeated it. In short, I did to her, what she did to Soldier. I made it clear that if she didn’t leave Soldier alone, I wouldn’t leave her alone. Being the smart girl she was – she gave up bullying Soldier. But still, I could see she had an agenda.
. . . . .
Every morning when I woke up, the first thing I’d do would be to look out the window by my bed to see the horses. One morning in late April, as I looked out, I was surprised to see the horses standing by the hay room. You don’t realize what your horses don’t do, until you see them doing it. They never stood there. Immediately I wondered why they were. Then I noticed there was something on the ground behind Huey and Lucy. As I realized what it was I flew out of bed, threw clothes on, ran downstairs, put boots on and ran out the door. Total elapsed time was under 30 seconds I’m sure. I ran full speed over to Soldier, lying on the ground. Huey and Lucy knew why I was running and never moved a muscle.
Was he dead? No. But neither did he have any desire to live. It was clear that he had made the decision to leave his tired, stiff, crippled body and move on. I had sensed his desire over the past week, but had been laid off in January, and though I had recently found a job, I had yet to receive a check. I had told him I needed a week. Clearly he couldn’t wait.
I ran into the house and called the vet. I don’t remember how long it took. Not too long, but it sure seemed long. The private road I lived on didn’t have good cell phone coverage and people often missed the house at first, so I waited by the house phone in case the vet called for more directions – I didn’t trust my cell phone.
When the vet arrived I took him out to where Soldier was lying. Let me make it clear that he was not ill, or colicky, or struggling. He was just lying there peacefully. Huey stood at his back, Lucy on the other side. Family. The other horses stood a ways off. All of them clearly knew what was going on. The vet tried to get Huey to move, but Huey wasn’t moving, and I certainly wasn’t going to ask him to move. He wasn’t in the way and he wasn’t going to do anything. The vet went to Soldier’s neck, at his back to avoid his legs. I knelt on the other side not even thinking about that. Lucy stood behind me to my left, just over my shoulder, unmoving, as the vet administered first a sedative and then the lethal injection. Soldier never moved. I have always felt that he died when he got the sedative. I think that was all the help he needed to let go.
That quick it was done. Less than 10 minutes. The vet was kind enough to take a post-dated check, and then he was gone. I was still kind of in shock. It had all happened so fast. Huey and Lucy left Soldier’s side shortly after I did. The other horses then came and inspected his body, in a very quiet and respectful way. And that was it. They all knew what had happened, and that Soldier was gone. There was no visible drama, but they were all subdued.
The vet had given me the number of a company who would pick up Soldier’s body. When I called a while later, I was told they wouldn’t be able to pick him up until Monday. It was Friday. Then the woman warned me that they wouldn’t pick him up if they had to drive through mud. The day was clear and dry and there was very little mud. But it was April in Washington and that situation was unlikely to last long. I couldn’t take the chance that it would. I couldn’t believe I would have to do it, but I would have to move Soldier.
I still can’t believe I found the strength to do it. (Not physical strength – I used my truck for muscle) The mental and emotional strength. Luckily, as I realized, his feet were facing away from the building. I tied them together with the rope I kept on hand (thank goodness!) for “fence” repair, and then I connected the length of chain from my hammock, to the rope and then to the brush guard on my truck. I very slowly backed up and as gently as possible dragged Soldier to the side yard. I didn’t plan where to stop, but as it turned out, he ended up right outside the window next to my recliner.
I wouldn’t appreciate it for a day or so, but this was a very good thing. Soldier had just shown me that horses understand death, and support each other in their time of need. Now he had one final lesson to teach.
It may sound weird, but it was actually comforting to be able to look out and see him. He had chosen to die. He hadn’t experienced the agony of colic, or been injured, or suffered. He had just been tired. So there was no horrible trauma about his death. Just loss on my part. He had gotten what he clearly wanted. He was at peace. He was free. I don’t believe that death is the end, so I knew he was in a better place and certainly happier. With his back to me, he didn’t look dead. He just appeared to be sleeping. And in truth, he looked better dead than he had alive. I had to laugh –and cry – all the time I had him I had wanted him to look better. In death I had gotten my wish.
Even in the dark of night I knew he was out there. And that kept him in my thoughts, but not in a grieving way. I thought of all the things he had taught me. Of the journey he had taken me on. Of how he had raised Lucy – and of how much she loved me. Soldier’s doing I am sure, as I had spent very little time with her in the 3 years I’d had her. I had bought her for Soldier. He in turn appeared to have charged her with loving me.
As the weekend passed, I came to realize that having Soldier there, outside my window, had helped me immensely. It allowed me the time needed to process everything before he was physically gone. From that experience I have come to believe that our desire, as a culture, to avoid death – even the sight of death – is a mistake. We wisk dead things away to save us pain. But really it causes more pain than it prevents. It’s impossible to process death in minutes or a couple hours. I was given the gift – I have to wonder if Soldier did it purposely – of letting go of Soldier over time. He wasn’t yanked away. He truly passed away. I could see him, I knew he was there, and little by little I could let go. By seeing his body I was able to go from the intellectualization that it was just his body, to the total understanding that it was just an empty shell. The force that had animated it was no longer in it. It was easy to see that even if a machine could keep his heart beating and his blood flowing, there was no LIFE in that body. I had always believed that – but to see it was to truly understand it.
I am convinced that Soldier came into my life for a reason. I know for a fact that he changed my life forever. He taught me many lessons, even in death. I took his death as a sign that he felt he’d done his job. That he had taught me all he could. The rest was up to me.
A few days ago I took a drive just for the sake of it and, on a back road, saw an Amish man with a team of horses. I wasn’t sure what he was doing – maybe grading a dirt road. I could only see one of the horses, but that was bad enough. He was a little too thin – I could see ribs. His mouth was gaping open as the man pulled on the reins. I couldn’t tell if he was asking the horses to go forward or back up. Perhaps they couldn’t tell either. But the worst thing was the expression on his face. Desperation, sadness, confusion. And the beginnings of resignation.
I had seen the horror of resignation this past summer when I passed an Amish carriage on the road. (Thankfully it’s the only one I’ve seen.) As I passed the horse and buggy, I looked over at the horse. I was horrified by what I saw. My heart still hurts when I see it in my memory. He was nearly black, not too thin. And like a zombie. It’s impossible for me to put into words what I saw in that brief moment. As a hoofcare professional I’ve seen a lot of unhappy horses. This was way beyond that. Miserable doesn’t even begin to describe it. That horse was way beyond misery. He was a broken slave forced to work as a mere machine. He was resigned to the fact that his life would be hell. Watching him trot along, shod in steel shoes, on hard pavement, with his lifeless, hopeless eyes, was torture for ME. I can’t even imagine what it’s like him for him. Every day. Every day, until there’s nothing left and he either dies or goes to slaughter. He will haunt me the rest of my life.
No one should be allowed – ever – to do that to any creature. It should be a crime. Not the work itself, but the killing of all spirit. The torturing of mind and heart. It’s possible to have happy working horses. I’ve seen them. It’s said that the Amish treat their horses like machines. Certainly I’ve seen machines that were happier than that horse.
In contrast, last night I watched Secretariat. I have to say it was better than I thought. If you haven’t seen it, you need to rent it – not necessarily for the movie, but for the Bonus Features. There is some film footage of Secretariat that is just amazing. The expression on his face was remarkable. His spirit, his intelligence, his life force – all were perfectly clear on screen, I can’t even imagine how it would have been to see him in person. Here was a horse who was loved before he was born. He was treated like a champion from his first breath. In the most important way – in people’s hearts. He was truly loved and respected. He was allowed to become a champion. People cared what he thought. Cared how he felt. Let him be himself. And what is apparent looking at him on screen is that he was a horse who was encouraged, allowed, and did, become all that he could be.
Those who believe strongly in science and only what can be seen and measured, attribute his accomplishments to his overly large heart. But I don’t believe that was the reason for his greatness. The will and desire to USE that ability is just as important as having the ability. Don’t we all know people who are brilliantly gifted but don’t become successes – far from it in many cases. Talent and ability alone do not make a champion. If it did, sport would be dull and boring. I learned things about Secretariat in that movie that I didn’t know. For instance, if he lost a race he became angry with himself, and would stay in the back of his stall. In his next race he would not only win, but set a new record. That is fact as his record is there for everyone to verify. That has nothing to do with his physical structure – that was his real heart.
Before I met Soldier I would have seen that. But Soldier opened my eyes in new ways and changed my life forever. Now I see more than I did before. I believe that Secretariat knew all his people wanted him to win the Belmont. That it was crucial that he do so. I think he knew Penny Chenery Tweedy not only wanted that, but wanted everyone to see what he really was. And he showed them.
I think Zenyatta is an example of the same thing. Yes, she had the physique. But she also had a trainer who cared about HER. Not just what she could do for him. He cared that she was kept happy during her days. Zenyatta was allowed to become all that she could be.
It’s my hope that those of us who are trying to make a better life for racehorses (and there are others out there besides me) will have at least some measure of success in getting people to see that the mind and the heart are just as important – or even more so – than the physical.
That is my dream.
Yesterday I was lying in bed reluctant to get up. I was tired, having been working intensely on developing a website for a client. I was nearly back to sleep when I felt someone staring at me. I opened my eyes to see my cat, Sissy, sitting about 6 inches away, gaze fixed on me with intent. Now, I am a light sleeper and had already been up at 5 to give Sissy fresh food and water per her request- so she had no reason to be staring at me. (Let me say that it was 7:45, later than I usually get up.) As I look at Sissy, she stands up and moves to the window at the head of my bed, reaches a paw up to the curtains, and pulls one side open to let the bright winter sun shine on my face.
An accident? I doubt it. I have a strong feeling that the horses have communicated to Sissy their desire that she get my butt out of bed so that I can feed them. (There is again snow on the ground!!!!). I comply with their wishes of course.
This is not the first time animals have used other animals to get me out of bed when I have slept in. In Colorado, I had chickens. (They came with the property I was renting.) There was a Guinea hen who had decided to live there as well, but at this point she wasn’t living in the hen house. One morning I was enjoying sleeping in. (The horses had a 900 pound bale of hay to keep them busy.) Suddenly I hear Mimi, the Guinea hen, screaming from the side yard. Then it’s from right outside my window. She never did that, so I got up to see what was wrong. As soon as I got up, the screaming stopped, and I could see her on her way back toward the chicken coop. A coincidence? I don’t think so. I believe that the chickens sent her – as the only unconfined member of the flock – to get my butt out of bed!
My animals are, in fact, quite able to get their way. At times I call them slave drivers, as it is clear I work for them. Not that I resent it, I don’t, but how did people come to think animals are stupid? My mother and I argued this point a lot when I was growing up. I always believed animals were smarter than people thought. Now, I believe it even more strongly.
I think, first of all, that people want to believe animals are stupid, as that justifies – to them – treating them badly. Also, humans want to believe we are the supreme species, so whenever animals do something that we think we would never do – such as a horse spooking from a piece of paper blowing down the trail – we are happy to use that as an indicator that they are less intelligent than us. It’s only a piece of paper! We would never be so silly as to be so scared of something so harmless. Right? Not really. I myself, before I studied about animal communication was terrified of spiders. Screaming, jumping around while screaming, yelling at one of my sons to “Kill it! Kill it!” That was me. If I was alone I would vacuum them up. Screaming the whole time. Rational. Superior. That was me.
I do feel bad about that. I don’t kill spiders anymore. Unless they break the one unbreakable rule of being on the same piece of furniture as me – or are actually ON me. Then I say I’m sorry, but I just can’t bear it. And, honestly, it very rarely happens. I have taken the advice of the many AC books I’ve read and broadcast my feelings on the issue to all the bugs in my living quarters. It seems to have worked.
Okay, so with me, it’s bugs. For some people it’s mice, or snakes, or who knows. For some poor people it’s the trash, germs, etc. We are not without our irrational behaviors. Truth be told, I believe we have far more of them than animals do. Does that make us less intelligent? No, it makes us human, just like spooking at blowing paper makes a horse a horse and not a lion. We all have our own natures.
The other thing that always bugged me was that anything brilliant that animals do, people credit to “instinct”. Birds can build magnificent nests – even on the sides of buildings – using only their beaks. What an engineering feat! But man says it has nothing to do with intelligence – it’s all instinct. Animals can find their way home across thousands of miles of terrain, without being able to read signs, have a gps, or even a compass and a map. But that’s not a highly defined skill – it’s just instinct. My question is, where are our wonderful instincts? We have none. We have very basic instincts – the desire to satisfy our hunger, thirst, and need to sleep, and procreate. Are they even instincts? Or is just our bodies telling us what to do – as science has now proven that intelligence is not located just in our brains.
Why do we feel the need to take away the intelligence that animals clearly have? While migrating birds – and even fish – can find the exact spot where they were born, we have to be sure to mark the spot where we park our car at the mall so we can find it later.
My big question? How did the first bird build a nest? Seriously. Some bird had to figure it out at some point. To me that was clearly an exercise in intelligence and problem solving.
And the people who pooh pooh animal communication? Anyone who has a pet knows that animals are smart, know things we haven’t told them, and manipulate us pretty easily. They have feelings, they feel sad, happy, angry, joyful, and loving. People who’ve never had pets say that we are “anthropomorphizing”, but are we? (Yes, I grant that some people try to turn their pets into children, but the average pet owner reads their pet pretty well.) One of the things I hear from people who do have animals but don’t believe in animal communication, is that their animals don’t do what they tell them. Well, that doesn’t prove they don’t understand you – only that they have their own ideas about things. Anyone with children want to comment? I know mine spoke English, but frequently didn’t do what I told them.
The situation will have a lot to do with whether an animal does what you say. One day, when I was living in Colorado, I got up from my desk to go the kitchen. On my way back there was a 6 foot long bull snake between me and my desk! I couldn’t believe it. Where had it come from? How long had it been there? Now, I am not afraid of snakes, but I am afraid of being bitten, as it would be painful, even if the snake is not poisonous. So I’m standing there at the top of the steps that lead down into the sunken family room wondering what to do, when the snake heads my way. My heart is pounding, but I’m not afraid and I just watch as the snake comes to the brick planters that flank the steps. (There’s nothing in them, as there is no light in that area – I don’t know what the people were thinking when they put planters there.) I watched as the snake stood up (so to speak) and then crawled into the planter on my right. Well, I might have tried to pick up a snake lying flat out on the carpet, but I have no intention of sticking my hand into what was basically an 18’ deep hole, to try and get it. What was I going to do?
I thought a minute. Really, the snake and I both wanted the same thing. Him (or her) out of the house without anyone getting hurt. This seemed to be a great time to put all my reading to the test. Luckily, I happened to have a large cardboard box handy. I got it, and laid it on the floor at the top of the planter, with the open side pointing at the planter and the flap down, so the box would be easy to get into. I then suspended my doubt about the snake hearing and understanding me and said, “I’m not going to hurt you. I know you don’t want to be here. If you come out and get in the box, I’ll let you go outside.” Those were just about my exact words. To my utter surprise, the snake IMMEDIATELY rose up, came out of the planter and crawled into the box. Whereupon I took the box to the sliding glass door, opened the door, put the box down and left him (or her) to find their way out. Which he/she did very quickly.
Though some of you may doubt it, that is a true story. Even though I did believe in animal communication, I was amazed. It was so quick! I do believe it was because the situation was so desperate for the snake. I’m sure it was way more afraid than I was. I actually like snakes. In this case, the snake had real motivation to do as I suggested. But it still amazes me – even today.
A similar situation happened a couple years ago in Washington. I was at a client’s and had just finished trimming her horses. As we stood there talking, we heard an incredible sound of beating wings. We looked up to see two crows chasing a pigeon. I’ve never seen anything like it. Or heard anything like it – the sound from their wings was incredible. My client and I stared in amazement as the poor pigeon flew for his life – or at least that was how it appeared. It was such a bizarre thing that it became almost other-worldly. The pigeon kept racing in this huge circle and the crows were hot on his tail. Around and around and around. I don’t know how long it went on, but it was as if we were part of it. I felt the desperation of the pigeon and wanted him (or her) to escape – I didn’t think it was going to end well. I felt so helpless and then suddenly I thought of what I hoped would be a solution – as the pigeon was so much smaller than the crows (or perhaps ravens). Without even thinking what I was doing, I yelled out, “head for the woods!”. My idea being the pigeon could use the trees to its advantage over the bigger birds. And he did!!! He flew right into the woods.
So clearly, my experiences have made me a believer in animal communication. But I am still amazed whenever it occurs.
When I moved to Washington, one of the first things I did was go down to meet an online friend who lived there. Let’s call her Deb. One weekend in the late summer I drove down to her place. She was also a barefoot trimmer, and had horses she had rescued. While I was there I met her horses, including one I’ll call Sammy, a big, wide, chunky, palomino, quarter horse, up there in age. It didn’t happen right away, but at one point, Sammy came over to me, stood in front of me, facing me head on, and clearly was trying to tell me something. It was really apparent that he was intent on getting through to me. I felt bad because I wasn’t hearing anything at all. I just kept thinking about Soldier and how Sammy reminded me of him. I apologized to Sammy as I got ready to leave – I felt bad I hadn’t heard what he was trying to tell me. It seemed so important to him. As I went to go through the gate he tried to squeeze through with me. I had the distinct impression that he expected to go home with me. Which would have been impossible as my horse trailer was at home. Sammy’s attempt to leave with me really upset Deb – her feelings were clearly hurt. I felt bad, because the only thing I picked up was that he clearly had thought he was leaving with me and wanted to go.
I lived about 3 hours away from Deb, and as I drove home, I kept thinking about Sammy’s behavior and how I had failed to hear him, even though he had tried so hard to get through to me. I’m a somewhat obsessive person, and this bothered me a lot. I also tend to talk to myself – which actually does help me a lot of times. As I was replaying the scene in my mind for probably the 100th time (and we humans think we are the smart ones!) and talking out loud, I heard myself say “He just kept reminding me of Soldier.” It was then that light dawned at Marblehead! That’s what he’d been doing – showing me pictures of Soldier! I had been so dense. I kept thinking how much he reminded me of Soldier. And that was the message. There was no logical reason he would remind me of Soldier. Soldier was nearly black, Sammy was a very light palomino. Soldier was built like a Thoroughbred, Sammy was bulky and wide. Sammy had been trying to tell me he knew Soldier and he wanted to go with me and see him! Then I realized – have I said I’m dense? – that Sammy was a palomino! Could he be the palomino friend that Soldier was always looking for? He had to be. I was sure of it. It’s the only thing that made sense. I was so excited!
I made arrangements with Deb to bring Soldier down to meet Sammy to see if they actually knew each other. How amazing would it be if two old friends from Colorado were to be reunited in WA? I knew that Soldier had been bred and born in Colorado, as he was branded and research had lead me to the ranch where he was born. No one remembered him of course, one dark bay colt among how many over the years, but I did know he hadn’t come from somewhere else.
When the day came to go to Deb’s, Soldier zoomed right onto the trailer. That in itself was a giveaway, as he always loaded, but also always delayed as long as possible. When we got to Deb’s he zoomed off the trailer and actually almost dragged me over to the gate to Sammy’s paddock. A breach of his otherwise impeccable manners – and how did he know to go to THAT gate and not another one? But what happened next surprised me. He made no sign of recognizing Sammy at all. And Sammy gave no sign of recognizing him. They didn’t even appear to see each other. We agreed to put them together, and we did. Sammy kept his head down and ignored Soldier. Soldier walked in, seemed not to notice Sammy, and began to eat hay - out of the same pile. I had been so sure that Sammy was Soldier’s long lost friend. I had expected to see excited greetings. But nothing.
Then it dawned on me – by which, of course, I mean that the horses made me aware of it – they deliberately didn’t greet each other so that Deb’s feelings wouldn’t be hurt. They pretended not to be long lost friends. But what they forgot to do, since horses are basically honest, was to pretend to be strangers! Soldier knew he was going to meet Sammy. He had been excited to do it. He had loaded up like lightning, he had dragged me over to the gate. He had NOT been surprised or excited to see a palomino (a first!). Sammy had completely ignored a “strange” horse entering his paddock. So unhorsey! And in fact, had shared hay without once even raising his head to look at Soldier. Definitely not normal for horses who are “strangers”. In short, though they didn’t act like this was the first time they’d seen each other in who knows how many years, they did act like horses who knew each other and lived together.
I had also brought Huey so Deb and I could go riding together. We loaded her mare on the trailer with Huey and drove to a great area not far away. On our ride, Deb made it clear that if the horses knew each other she was not prepared to take in Soldier, nor was she willing to let Sammy come and live with me. Which meant of course, that the two old friends would not be able to spend their last years together. And explained why they had been so low key. I felt bad. Horses give so much and get so little from us that it felt wrong not to let them be together. I didn’t need another horse, but I would have gladly taken Sammy, and though I would have missed him deeply, I would have let Soldier go live with Pam. But neither would happen. This would be Soldier’s and Sammy’s final reunion and final goodbye.
When we got back from our ride, Soldier walked to the gate. I knew he and Sammy had said their goodbyes. He was ready to go home.
I still cry when I think about it. Horses are so unselfish. Sammy and Soldier did their best to protect Deb’s feelings, all the while knowing that she wouldn’t let them be together. Oh yes, we humans are definitely the superior ones. Aren’t we?
To be continued . . . the rescue grows, and one more lesson from Soldier
By the spring of 2005 I was wondering why I had five horses. So much more work. So much more expense! I decided five was a good number though. Big enough to be a real herd, but not too big. Five was just perfect.
No sooner did I have those thoughts than a post, on one of the Yahoo groups I belonged to at the time, told of three mustangs who needed homes desperately. I contacted the poster offline and asked for more info. Apparently a woman who worked at Canỹon City Prison (in Colorado) had 3 mares that she no longer felt up to taking care of. They were for sale for $200 apiece. Apparently she had seen all the babies (the BLM keeps a large number of mustangs at the prison) and thought they were cute (which of course they all are) and decided to adopt not one – but three weanlings! Worse, she had no horse experience. Now the girls were all five year olds. I decided I would go take a look.
There was a good looking paint mare, who for some reason I just felt was rather belligerent. There was also a pretty bay mare, who struck me as bitchy. Immediately I’m beginning to feel it was a wasted drive. The third mare was standing on the other side of the round pen in which they lived. (There was a field, but they had learned how to escape.) The third horse, Pixie, look small and dirty. She was supposed to be a red (bay) roan, but I couldn’t see it. As I looked at her, I decided it was a wasted trip and I wasn’t going to take any of them. At that exact instant Pixie’s ears went all the way up and I could hear her say she wanted to go with us. She wanted a home.
Just at that moment the woman’s husband came out of the barn with a scoop of grain. She tells us that the horses will not take food out of anyone’s hand, but we can feed them out of the scoop if we want. Wanting to see if I had heard correctly, and how badly Pixie wanted a good home, I took a handful of feed out of the scoop, and in my mind I told Pixie that if she wanted to come with me she needed to come and take the food from my hand. Well, instantly she was right there and ate the grain. And so I bought her. It’s now apparent how I ended up with five horses.
I hadn’t brought my horse trailer, so arranged with the woman who had posted about the horses, Tanya, for Pixie to stay at her place for a month. Pixie had a mule baby from Tanya’s Mammoth Jack. The baby, Molly, was now 18 months old and though we tried, the owner would not let her come with Pixie. My son, who was with me, had been wanting a mule, so we were hoping Pixie would get in foal while she waited for us to pick her up.
When I told my friend at work that I had just bought horse number six, she said I should start a horse rescue. My initial response was that I could never do that. She responded with, “Maureen, you already are a horse rescue.” I had never thought of it that way. I was a horse rescue. I took in the horses, I bought the food, and I took care of the horses. That was the hard – and costly – part, the rest was just paperwork. My friend was brilliant! I subsequently incorporated as a non-profit in the state of Colorado, and began working on our 501(c)3 application.
When we went down to Tanya’s to pick up Pixie, I barely recognized her. She seemed so much larger, and now that she wasn’t muddy her color was very apparent. What a beautiful girl. I sometimes wonder if, as with Soldier, I had seen how she felt about herself there, as opposed to seeing her actual physical self. In the round pen she had seemed small, dirty, narrow, and I can’t really think of the words that would describe it, but like a waif. When the owner had told us that Pixie was the dominant mare I didn’t believe her – at all. The mare I saw that first day was not the horse in charge. She was kind of pathetic. The horse I saw at Tanya’s was very different. Certainly not a Pixie. I immediately changed her name to Roxie. She was not narrow or in any way waiflike. She was – and is – quite an intelligent horse with a great deal of personal power and presence. I think she was just very unhappy where she was and that was what I saw. She clearly had not lied when she said she wanted a home. From day one, though she was untrusting of us, she wanted affection and she would let us rub and scratch her.
Roxie didn’t get in foal – and it turned out to be a good thing. She clearly loves babies, as the photo on the right shows her at Tanya’s laying as close as possible to two baby mini donkeys. (Only one shows in the photo.)
So, now the herd was up to six! I’d like to say at this point that the herd is exceptional – I think. I believe that they reflect my desire to help horses. Purposely. I think they know what I think and feel, and act accordingly. Each new horse that was introduced into the herd caused a lot of excitement and all the horses tried to run up to it at once. Huey would then tell the other horses to wait – they would, they would kind of line up – then he would introduce himself to the new horse. Then everyone would calm down. The new horse would be on the outskirts of the herd until he or she had accepted the rules of the herd. There was NEVER any viciousness or meanness. No kicking or biting. Just face making and some charging threats. For those who watch The Dog Whisperer, the herd is like Cesar’s pack. Stable. Mentally healthy. They offer this to each new horse.
Not long after we picked up Roxie, my job became unbearable and finally I couldn’t take it anymore and arranged to get laid off. My goal was to take my 401K and go live somewhere cheap. I had an offer of a place in Texas from a friend and that was my plan. However, I was only unemployed for a matter of hours before I got a job offer to go to Washington state. Afraid to actually go without the “security” of a job, and also because I felt a debt to the person making the offer, I eventually agreed. Though I did protest that I didn’t want to go, and in fact, didn’t want to even work anymore. When asked what the biggest reason was why I didn’t want to go, I said I had six horses that I’d have to move. Okay – they’d pay to move the horses – next reason? The weather, I have a not so mild case of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and knew that the Seattle area is gloomy and rainy in the extreme. Okay – after 6 months we could reevaluate and maybe I could work at home (live anywhere) – or go part time. To make a long story short – the offer was too good to refuse and so I didn’t.
They wanted me up there quickly so I told the horses right away that we would be moving. I assured them that they would all travel together, and that I would be there when they arrived. I told them there would be more grass and they would like it. I repeated this weekly so they would be sure to understand what was going on.
I found a 5 acre place to rent in Stanwood, WA. The house was great. It had just been remodeled. The property was located on a private road and was very nice. It was partially fenced and had a large run-in shed, along with a storage room for hay, and even a little feed/tack room. It was not attractive in any way – but it was adequate. Because it wasn’t fully fenced I arranged to board the horses while I arranged to get fencing put up. The shipper was to deliver the horses to the boarding stable.
The horses were on the road for 2 days and arrived at the stable in the afternoon of the second day. The driver had called me and I met him there. As we unloaded the horses we put them in the covered arena at first. After I had paid the driver I went to see them. Soldier immediately cantered up to me (unheard of) and I could hear him clearly, “You’re really here! You’re really here!!” He was so happy and surprised. I realized he had wanted to believe me, but hadn’t really. And it showed in his appearance. Everyone else looked exactly like they always did. No one had lost even an ounce. Soldier looked like he’d lost 200 pounds. Soldier moved away to check out the arena but cantered up to me a second time and was still so excited, “You’re really here! You’re really here!” As if he had seen it but still couldn’t believe it. No one else did more than a casual greeting – there had been no doubt at all in their minds that I would be there.
I explained that they would have to stay at this place for a little while. I had arranged for them to live out in a field
together (it was early July and the weather was good) so they didn’t have to be in stalls. Still, by the time the fence was done I was getting looks when I came to feed. I could hear them reminding me I had promised we would be together. They were only there two weeks, but it was two weeks too long as far as they were concerned. We were all happy on the day I brought them home.
Did I mention there was a pond, along with all the grass?
I had only had the new mare for a week or so when I began to have the weirdest experience. Each morning I would go out to feed the horses before I went to work. One day, as I was throwing hay into the feeder, I felt extreme rage toward her. I have never felt anything like it, I literally wanted to just beat her. This was mind boggling to me as she had excellent manners and never did anything wrong. When I would feel this rage, she would just be standing several feet away, doing nothing.
I can’t even express how horrible and vicious this rage was. I hated her! I asked myself why? She wasn’t doing anything at all, just standing there. No sooner would I walk back to the house than I would be my normal self and even more perplexed. It was just not like me at all. This happened every morning for a few days. While I was walking back to the house on the third day – again questioning what was going on – it suddenly came to me that it wasn’t my rage I was feeling. It was hers!
As soon as I realized that, I never felt the rage again. I can only assume that she was trying to make me aware of it. It was quite a shock to think she hated people so much. (I was sure it wasn’t personal.) I was amazed she hadn’t hurt anyone. Most amazing was that there was absolutely no sign of it. Her ears would be up, her demeanor calm. She never did anything that could be faulted. Her expression was not angry. The only thing I’d noticed was that she didn’t really want to be touched. It was very subtle, if I went to touch her, she would slowly walk away just before I could put a hand on her. Yet, if I wanted to halter her she would let me.
It was quite an eye opener for me. We grow used to thinking that whatever we feel comes from us. In fact, that was clearly not true. I thought back to my first ride on all my horses. I am always a little nervous about getting on a new horse, but I have never had a problem. With some horses I would feel extremely calm, relaxed, and confident. With others I would be so nervous once in the saddle, that I would sweat and literally be shaking. I always gave credit to the horses for overlooking those emotions and being good. Suddenly I saw that I had most likely been experiencing the horses’ feelings about having a new rider. Why else would I have such disparate reactions to different horses? And, in fact, the ones where I was the most calm, were the stallions. Looking back I realized that the more submissive horses – the ones I felt would be easiest – were the ones where I was the most nervous. The ones that were quite confident and more alpha had been the ones where I had been completely relaxed and enjoying myself from the first moment. In light of this experience with this mare, I saw my relationships with my horses in a totally new way.
Meanwhile – how to help this mare? First I had to come up with a name for her. One day, while cleaning their paddock, it suddenly occurred to me to ask the mare what she wanted her name to be. She was nearby and looking at me when I asked her. Immediately I heard something that sounded like Betty. It was faint. I said “Betty”? Her response was far from faint!!! And it was instant. Bettina!! Okay, Bettina it was. At the time I wasn’t even aware Bettina was a name, but if it was what she wanted that was fine.
Our relationship improved slightly after that. I could now touch her in passing without her slinking just out of reach. But I wouldn’t say she was convinced that people were good, or trustworthy. To her credit, she was willing to give me a try.
Not long after that, the fencing on the property was finished and the horses would now have 15 acres to roam, instead of just their 100 x 100 pen. On their first day out, I opened the gate and stood to watch them as they went out into the field. Bettina stopped beside me, letting the others go ahead. I looked at her and said, “What do you think?” To my utter amazement, keeping her lips tight, she slid them up to show teeth in what can only be described as a smile. I also got the impression that no one had ever cared what she wanted before. Certainly no one had ever asked how she felt about something, this was something totally new to her.
After that moment, Bettina became a loving and affectionate horse. From not wanting to be touched she went to seeking out affection. This extended to others, not just me. She gave me the smile occasionally, always when I asked her a question with a yes answer. And sometimes, just as a smile to say she was happy.
How quickly I’d gone from 2 horses to 4! When spring came (2004) I had planned to go on a cattle drive. I’d arranged for a horse sitter for Soldier, Lucy, and Bettina. As things turned out, I decided not to go and called the horse sitter. She said that it was a good thing, as she and her friend were in a crisis. A woman they knew had been starving her 18 horses and they were trying to find homes for them. One was so bad they were afraid it might have to be put down. Though the other 17 horses were Paints, the worst one was a Thoroughbred. (Which makes sense, as they need lots more calories than the average Paint.) When I found out it was a grey gelding I blurted out, “I’ll take him.”
They delivered him a day or so later, and it was pitiful to see. His name was Legacy and he was about 17 hands tall. He was 19 and had been an eventer, jumper, and dressage horse. His feet were about 8 inches long and there were still shoes on two of his feet!!! I was told he had never raced, and accepted that without question, which is unlike me really, but I was just so concerned about his weight and his feet.
Despite his appearance, and the concerns of his rescuer that he wouldn’t survive, he never had the aura of a victim. His spirit was intact and his life force was strong. Unlike so many starving horses he was not beaten down by it. He wasn’t hopeless. Looking back, after getting to know Legacy, I’m sure he knew he was going to be with us, and that everything would be okay. The case actually ended up in the news and on TV. A reporter and photographer came out and did a story on Legacy.
Just as with Bettina, Legacy clearly wanted me to know something. Every time I would be near him all I could think of was him running. I could feel myself riding him at full speed – especially the joy of it. The joy of running – it’s all I could feel when I was near him. He had to have raced. That was what I was getting. When that thought came to me, I lifted his lip and there was his tattoo!! He had raced.
Curious, because he seemed to have loved it so much, I sent away to the TRPB to find out his real name, his pedigree, and his race record. His real name was Gran Judgement and he was very well bred. He had raced in southern California and earned (back in the late 80’s and early 90’s) just under half a million dollars. Clearly he had understood the game and loved it – and wanted me to know that. Interestingly, once he had gotten his message across, just as with Bettina, those feelings were gone.
Once I had his race record it was easy to contact Santa Anita and get one of his win photos. He had clearly been quite the handsome boy in his younger days! I have to laugh at him wearing blinkers. He knew all about racing and didn’t need “help”. Often when we were still in Colorado, he would get all the horses running, then drop way back (several hundred feet) behind them. When he thought they had a big enough lead, he would turn on the speed and race past all of them. He truly was a horse who had understood and enjoyed racing.
All the horses lived together, out 24/7, and became a family. Huey was the leader, Bettina loved Huey, Lucy was under Huey and Soldier’s wings, and was herd-leader-in-training. Soldier was taking his job seriously, and Legacy, the new man, was on the bottom of the pecking order. As it turned out this was always by his own choice, busting the myth that good racehorses want to be leaders.
Over the next few years, Legacy would reveal just what depth horses are capable of. He was a very special horse in his kindness and generosity, but also in his character.
Surprisingly, after such an active career in sports, he had no sign at all of arthritis, and was without a doubt the most flexible horse I’ve ever known.
It did take him over a year to return to normal eating habits – long after he had gained his weight back. And he was very concerned about staying. If people came out to see the horses he was always careful not to go into the paddock, which could be closed off from the field.
I took the photo to the left while my son, Matt, held Legacy. The shadow on Legacy shows a horse standing behind me – Lucy, always nearby to help.
To be continued . . . a horse rescue is born.
I began to wonder if Huey was in my life for some reason. I had never had a horse who would just do things without any prior experience. He crossed water, he crossed bridges, he would go anywhere I asked him to go, without a lead horse, and without my having to get off and lead him. This was a first for me. I began to wonder if he was the reincarnation of one of the horses I’d known in the past. Eventually I decided to have Danielle do a reading for him. It was surprising, but I have to say it certainly fits with my experience of him. (Click here to read what Huey had to say.)
In May of 2003 we had to leave the ranch. All the animal communication books I’d read had made the point that we should tell animals about major changes ahead of time. As soon as I knew we had to leave – for the welfare of the horses – I told Soldier we would be moving. I told Huey too, but he was more than ready to go. On the day that I broke the news to Soldier he ended his relationship with the young warmblood. It broke my heart. He had invested himself in that baby. He had been happy. Now that would be gone. I promised Soldier I would get him a baby of his own as soon as I could.
My friend Susan – a fellow boarder – found a place for us to take our four horses, and within a week of our decision to leave, we left. The new place was very nice – a nice outdoor arena, turnout for the horses (though not as good as the ranch), a private barn with 10 stalls and only 3 horses. Two belonged to the owner and the third was a boarder. He left shortly after we moved in, so it was just us, and another woman from the ranch with her two horses. The whole point of the move was to find a place where we were in control of the horses. We paid rent for the stalls, but we did all the work, bought all our own feed, and did all our own feeding.
All of the horses were happy to be there from the first moment, and that made all us humans happy. It took us a while to recover from the whole stressful situation, but we eventually did. About that time, Susan decided she wanted to buy a place where she could have her horses at home. Her husband favored the idea as well. Susan believed, as I do, that we create our own reality. She put it out to the Universe that she wanted a place of between 2 and 5 acres, where she could have her horses at home. She chose the size because that’s what she believed she could afford. I urged her to think big, be open to finding a place of say 20 acres, let the Universe show what it could do, but she wasn’t ready for that kind of leap yet. So Susan kept focusing on the smaller acreage, and I kept imagining a 20 acre place for her.
For some reason I no longer remember, I happened to buy a paper, a very rare thing for me. While perusing the livestock section I stumbled over an ad – a 20 acre farm for rent! Well, I had to call and go look. It turned out to be quite amazing. Over my lifetime I’ve “wished” for certain things, as in “if I ever get a house, I’d like it to have . . .” A sunken living room, a woodstove, a fireplace, coffered ceilings, a hot tub, one of those little room dividing things with a planter by the front door that were popular in the fifties, hardwood floors, ceiling fans, a huge kitchen, a mud room, a sliding glass door, a Kiva stove, a flagstone patio, a built-in china cabinet, French doors, and others. I didn’t think of all those things at once, or even keep track. Over the years, I would see something I liked and would say to myself, “that would be cool,” or “Ooh, I like that.” The most recent being a Galileo thermometer. I had picked one out as a retirement gift for someone and thought I’d like to have one someday.
Well, imagine my shock when I’m with the realtor, going through the house. It had everything on the above list. It was an old farmhouse that had been added on to by the owners – and it was funky in a kind of good way. It was far from gorgeous, but I liked it. And to see all those things, some of which I no longer thought were that cool – like the corner china cabinet – was too weird. Because they didn’t belong together in that house – but there they were. From the sunken living room, which had a woodstove, there were French doors going to a closed in porch with a hot tub, from which there were sliding glass doors to the outside. Out the back door there was a flagstone patio with a Kiva stove! There was wall to wall carpeting in the sunken living room, but hardwood floors in the older part of the house – along with coffered ceilings. There was a fireplace in the living room, along with a waist high stone planter by the front door. And the older section of the interior was painted my favorite color – a muted creamy yellow color with a slight orangey cast – hard to describe, but like sun is shining in the room.
It was weird. It was very weird. The rent was more than I felt I could afford, and I was going to say I would pass, when what did I spy on the far wall of the sunken living room but a hanging Galileo thermometer! I just couldn’t believe it. I took it as a sign, and told the realtor I would take it.
Not only was the house perfect in a weird way, but it came with a chicken coop and 40 or so chickens, a place where I could park my truck inside – a first! A building where I could store my hay. A huge run-in shed, an automatic waterer near the shed, and 20 acres of land!!! It was only partially fenced, so I had to do some fencing before I moved in, which I did. It was August 2003.
I was the first of the three of us to leave the barn we’d been renting, but Susan bought a place that fall – 2 and half acres – and Marlene (the other boarder from the ranch) bought acreage in eastern Colorado about that same time. So we all moved out in fairly short order – all of us to places where we could have our horses at home.
Meanwhile, for some reason, I was drawn to that Paint farm and made several visits after buying Huey (Mighty) from them. On one of my trips I learned that the daughter’s horse was in foal, and who was the sire but that sabino with the TB blood – the son of the old man!!! I told the woman that if the baby had no color I’d buy it. This was during the winter when we were still on the ranch. During all the drama with the move, I hadn’t been back to the Paint farm, now it was time to go see what kind of baby that mare had had!
As luck would have it, it was a solid chestnut filly. No color. The lack of color made a big difference in the price. Instead of being $2500, the filly was only $700. I paid for her that very day, she would be Soldier’s baby! She would be weaned in September, and I would pick her up then.
I went home and told Soldier I had found a baby for him. I could tell he’d believe it when he saw it. Clearly people had made promises to him they hadn’t kept. Well, he would see.
September came almost before I knew it, and the filly was weaned and ready to leave. Mind you, she had been born on May 30th and it was now only the middle of September – she was only three and a half months old. My horse trailer wasn’t suitable for hauling a baby, so Susan hauled her for me in her slant load. Of course the filly had never had a halter on, let alone been in a trailer. By the time we got her loaded and drove to the farm it was dusk. When we opened the trailer door, she was lying on the floor. This gave me a turn! But she was very calm and relaxed and seemed fine. Of course she didn’t know how to lead, but I managed to get her out of the trailer by looping the rope around her butt and encouraging her. I decided to go get Soldier, thinking that would give her someone to follow, as the horses’ pen was several hundred feet away.
I have seldom seen Soldier excited – but he was that evening. He had a baby to raise. I could see in his face that he was surprised but happy. He really hadn’t believed I would do it. He was so proud! He was almost prancing. Between Soldier leading and the rope around her butt, we got the filly to the pen. In all this time, from loading to unloading, to leading, the filly had not whinnied for her mother or the herd even once. And she never did. I think she knew this was where she was supposed to be the whole time.
Once she was in the pen with Soldier and Huey, they took over. The filly walked off and Soldier and Huey fell in on either side of her. Then, as we watched, the two geldings – one still on either side of her – led the filly around and showed her the fence. It was truly amazing to see, and I will never forget it. They knew exactly what they were doing. And she was perfectly self assured and confident. As she is to this day! Soldier was in his glory. Now he had a job!
Not long after this, I got a call from Susan telling me of a TB mare who needed a home. She urged me to go look, so I agreed. When I got there I was told the story of why she was looking for a home. She was 15, had raced and then become a low level dressage horse. Basically a horse that people learned on, then sold to get a better horse. She had had a lot of owners – and she had decided that she’d had enough. She had become hard for her current owner to mount, then one day, as the woman mounted, she had just laid down and refused to be ridden. I did feel bad for her after hearing her story, but when I actually was taken out to meet her, my immediate thought was no, I wouldn’t take her. I just didn’t get a good feeling about it. However, no sooner had I made that decision than the mare came over to me and nudged me in the back. This was no accident – she had been sure to stay out of arm’s reach and avoided even looking at me before that. There’s no point in believing in animal communication and not listening when horses talk, so I said, okay, I would take her. Only because she had indicated she wanted me to.
I had named the filly Sheezaluckydevil - because she was lucky to be off that farm! I knew what happened to their babies with no color. I called her Lucy for short. The new mare’s name was also Lucy, or Lisa, evidently the woman couldn’t make up her mind. I couldn’t have two Lucy’s, and Lisa really didn’t suit her, so I didn’t call her anything while I tried to come up with a new name. Her registered name was Lease A Man. Not much to work with there!
Meanwhile I continued to try new things to help Soldier. I became attuned in Reiki. I tried essential oils, and even had a woman come out and do a complete treatment. Which I have to say Soldier LOVED, so there must be something to it. I used the McLaren torch I’d purchased at the 2002 Parelli Savvy Conference. Eventually I came to the conclusion that Soldier hadn’t come to me to get healed. He had come to help me. He had made a far bigger change in my life than I had been able to make in his. I decided to accept that some things cannot be fixed, and just try to make Soldier’s life as happy as I could. I took small comfort in the fact that now his feet were rock-crunching sound and he no longer had sweating episodes.
It was because of Soldier’s influence that I now had two more horses. What lessons would they have to teach?
To be continued . . . Bettina has plenty to say.
After I got Soldier’s reading, I was a lot more aware of everything he did. And Huey too. For a while I didn’t even ride, as I wondered, “is that what friends do?” But Huey clearly liked to go places under saddle, so I went back to riding.
In my new spirit of learning and experimentation, when on a trail ride, if I came to an open, grassy area, I would tie up Huey’s reins and let him graze loose. I have always believed in stopping on the trail occasionally and letting my horses eat – after all, the ride should be fun for them too – but I had never been brave enough to turn one loose and see what he did. So what did Huey do? Nothing. He just grazed. Since he didn’t want to escape from me at home, he apparently didn’t want to escape from me on the trail either.
I did have a couple scares. On one ride, as we were enjoying our separate lunches, he walked under a big tree and when his saddle bags scraped against some branches he bolted from the noise. I immediately thought “Oh, crap. He’ll head right back to the trailer.” But at the same time, I instinctively said, “Whoa”, and he stopped only about 15 feet away. Another time we came across a fence with a llama on the other side. Huey had never seen a llama, and he didn’t like it. I hopped off (as I’ve said, I’m a timid rider) and just then the llama spit at Huey. I almost had him under control when two people jogged right up to within inches of us as they ran by. Well, that was it for Huey, if the people were running away he was out of there. He pulled the reins right out of my hands and took off. This was in a huge open area, luckily, so I could see where he went. I headed toward him, but then he veered and headed in the direction of the parking lot. We were only 7 miles from home and I was afraid he wouldn’t even stop at the trailer.
There was no point in running, so I just kept walking. I could still see Huey, about a quarter mile ahead. As I watched, he went up to a woman and faced her. He was trying to get her to do something – I knew that look. They stood facing each other for several seconds, then the woman turned and walked away – toward the parking lot. Huey walked apace with her for a few steps, then turned and faced her. The woman stopped and faced him. Clearly he wanted something – even the woman knew that – but what? Once again the woman started walking down the trail. Once again Huey got her stopped. Just then a group of people passed them, coming my way. Huey immediately fell into step beside them. There is no way to prove it of course, but I am sure that Huey was trying to talk the woman into walking with him back to me. He was just too afraid of the llama to come alone! When he got within earshot I called his name and he came trotting right up to me, slightly abashed at his own behavior, and clearly apologetic.
I was amazed not only by his loyalty – he was coming back to get me – but by his desire to get a human to accompany him (no doubt to protect him from the llama). Pretty sophisticated thinking in my opinion.
I could write a book about all the times my horses, along with horses I’ve run into or spent time with, have done amazing things, there are way too many for this blog, but one of my favorites showed that not only do horses talk to us, they talk to other horses about us.
[I realized, looking at the photos, that none of them show that Huey is bitless. Below is a closeup of the Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle. One of the reasons I went to the jumping hackamore, was because the reins never stayed even (especially when riding on a loose rein) they would always slide to one side or the other.]
By the time this takes place I had moved Soldier and Huey twice, and now had them at home on the former dairy I was renting. It was my birthday (2004) and a friend from work had invited me to a branding. How cool was that! I was so excited! I had always wanted to go on a cattle drive, so this was a special treat. Huey was not familiar with cattle, but he was a good boy and trusted me that it would be okay. I can’t imagine how scary it must have been for him, because it was a shock to me how much noise the cows and calves made when they were separated. It was LOUD. Really, really loud. Huey and I actually did some turn back – meaning that we turned away cows heading to the calf pens.
Part way through the day I suddenly felt Huey needed a drink. By this time he was tied to the trailer we’d come in, so I walked over to get him. He was tied between my friend’s 3 year old Paint filly, and her friend’s older chestnut mare. Knowing it would be a long day, I had brought a bale of alfalfa, and a hay net. I had hung the hay between my friend’s horse and Huey, then later moved it to the other side so the chestnut mare could have some.
As we got near the trailer after Huey had had his drink, I heard him say “See?” It was very clear. But it was clearly not meant for me. I became quiet and let my mind kind of go blank (no laughing please) and then I knew what had gone on. Huey was the ONLY horse, out of all the ones there (lots) who had hay. The horses on either side of him had asked him why his owner had given him hay. He had answered that his owner cared about him, and what he needed and wanted. They had responded with the horsey equivalent of “yeah right”, and Huey had told them he could get me to come and take him for water. Which of course he did. So he was saying, “See, I told you.” There are two things here that were kind of sad. First, the 3 year old filly already had such a low opinion of people. Second, when I returned to where my friend was and suggested her filly might be thirsty, her response was, “She can wait.”
I was deeply moved by Huey’s trust in me, and his response to the other horses. And glad that I had heard his request. Later, as we rode in from driving the cattle back out onto the range – calves now reunited with their mothers – I had another opportunity to see how clearly Huey could hear me. Some of the riders, including my friend and I, stopped for a break. We sat on our horses, kind of in a circle and just chatted about the day. Mind you, we are standing in lush, green, wonderful grass, over a foot tall. Huey is a glutton, and I knew he would be making a dive for that grass shortly. I appealed to him to look at the other horses. Most of them were ranch horses, and none of them were grazing. Basically I asked him to take his cue from them as to how he should act. And I have to say that he never even appeared to notice that grass!!! I was very proud of him. And grateful to be so lucky as to have a horse who would do what I asked, even if it meant not eating!
That day stands out as one of the best of my life. 10 hours of life the way I wish it could be every day, spent with a horse who is a true partner.
And what about Soldier? I had promised him something when we had to move from the ranch, and I delivered.
To be continued . . .
I was so excited when I got Danielle Sender’s reading on Soldier, but reading it made me cry. Really cry, not just a couple tears. I could hear Soldier in every word. I had wondered if the reading would sound genuine – really from the horse – and I was not disappointed. It was him. To someone else it probably is not as emotionally touching as it was (and is) to me. The difference is one of knowing the speaker. If you were to read the words of a stranger they might stir emotion, but to read the words of someone you know personally is very different. Because you can put a face and personality and character to the words, the message is so much stronger. You visualize the person speaking. You know how they think and act. If the words were out of character it would strike you right away that the person you know didn’t write them. But if they are genuine, you will know that too.
That’s how it was with Soldier’s reading. His personality and character were there. I have read those words several times over the years and I still cry when I read them. I cried today.
Here is Soldier’s reading, with the introduction by Danielle:
“Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to meet with Quiet Soldier.
First, let me tell you a bit about how the session with him was done. I always start by asking the animal if they are willing to communicate with me. Doing this sets up our relationship as one of respect for each other, which is important if I am to get the most out of the session. I then explain that I was asked to speak to him by you and I’ll be asking him some questions that you would like answered. I also extend an invitation for him to tell me anything that he would like me to pass along to you.
Animals communicate among themselves and with people by sending thought patterns. The thought patterns come to me primarily as a conversation with the animal, although this conversation is also supplemented with pictures and emotions they send. So the report consists of the messages Quiet Soldier sends to me, as well as any pictures and emotions he shares.
Here’s the communication with Quiet Soldier after he agreed to communicate with me.
The first thing I asked Quiet Soldier is if I can call him Soldier for short or does he wish to be called by another name. He said that Soldier is fine.
Soldier said that he really wants you to know how much he appreciates being cared for by you. He said that he can tell you are genuinely concerned about him and this makes him very happy. Soldier said that he’s a realist in that he knows he won’t be able to survive long without someone who will care for him. He said that he wants you to know that he’s glad that it’s you because you seem to care for him because you really want to.
I told Soldier that you want him to have a good life and that’s why you are so concerned about his health. I explained that in order to have a good life and live comfortably, he needs to be in good physical condition. I told him that you’d like to ride him more and take him out on the trails and even have him gallop if he’d like. However, you need to get his body into a better state of health.
Soldier said that he hasn’t felt good for quite some time. He said that in the past his people did not know how to care for him properly since he’s more of a high maintenance horse. I thought that the phrase “high maintenance horse” was an interesting one for him to use and asked where he got that from. He said that people in the past have said this about him and so now he thinks of himself that way. I explained to Soldier that this phrase usually means something negative and I think it would be good for him not to think in negative terms, since this may keep him from healing and getting better physically. I told Soldier that perhaps he was described this way because the people who cared for him just didn’t know how to care for him properly. I reassured him that you are trying to get to the bottom of his physical problems and fix them, so he can have a good life.
I told Soldier that you recently changed his diet and feel that this may be helping him already. I asked him if he’s feeling any better and if the diet change agrees with him.
Soldier said that he knew his diet was different but he didn’t realize that this was the reason for the changes in his body. He said that he is definitely feeling different. I asked him to describe what he means by different. Soldier said that his muscles have felt stiff for quite some time. He said that he feels he can’t stretch them without having some pain. (Maureen he was sending me pictures of him being very stiff and even though he wants to stretch, he can’t.) Soldier said that this has been painful for him, even when he is not doing much of anything. He said that he’s tried to ignore it but it’s hard to ignore.
Soldier said that he’s beginning to feel like he can stretch out some. He said that he feels looser and is starting to feel more flexible. Soldier said that it’s not a huge difference but after the discomfort he’s been in, he can definitely feel something positive happening.
(Maureen, this all seems to be muscle related.)
I told Soldier that you also noticed that he sweats like he might be having colic, but yet he isn’t. I asked him what this is about. Soldier said that he thinks there is an imbalance in his system, which was not being corrected by his diet. He said that when the imbalance gets particularly bad and many different parts of his body are fighting over what little he has in his system, he sometimes sweats. He said that his body gets very confused because different areas want the nutrients and his body gets stressed. He said that he himself does not feel stressed but his body does. Soldier said that it’s like different parts of his body are playing tug of war and when it gets overly tense he starts to sweat.
Soldier said that he feels different now. He said that different parts of his body are still competing for the nutrients but his diet change is causing this to lessen. Soldier said that he’s glad this is happening because it’s very difficult on him when his body gets tense like it has in the past.
I told Soldier that you know he has problems with his feet, plus his stiffness, but you want to be sure that you haven’t missed any other problems that he might have. I emphasized that you really want to help him, so you want to be sure that you haven’t missed anything that you might be able to help.
Soldier said that it makes him so happy that you care so much about him. He got extremely emotional over this. He said that he was so sure he would not have a good home again where he would be cared for well. Soldier said that he just can’t thank you enough for caring for him like you do.
Soldier said that his body in general just does not feel as if it is all that healthy. He said that he feels if he were to get ill, he would not be able to fight it off. Soldier said that even though you have been feeding him well, his body is still weak and has trouble staying healthy. Soldier said that he hopes that the diet he now has will allow all of his body to get stronger and healthier. (Maureen, from what he’s describing, it’s almost as if he’s lacking a particular nutrient or mineral. He seems to be describing an immune system that has been compromised and it will take him a while to get back into good health.
Soldier said that his body has been so out of balance that even when you were feeding him well, his body wasn’t using his food efficiently. He said that he just felt tired a lot and also stiff. I asked Soldier if this has anything to do with him not keeping weight on. He said that it has a lot to do with this. He said that his body wasn’t getting everything out of the feed. Now he feels that there is something else in his feed that is letting his body gain the benefit of his food. Soldier said that he doesn’t know if this is perfect for him, but it is certainly much better.
I asked Soldier if there’s anything else that can be done for him to help his health. Soldier said that the biggest thing is for him to get his body back in balance. He said that this will solve many of his problems. He said that the key to his health is the proper food and nutrients. Soldier said that once this is solved, then the physical problems he has will go away and new ones will be prevented.
I asked Soldier what his life was like before you got him. Soldier said he had some very good times in his life and then he also had some times where people did not know how to care for him well. He said that he has always tried to stay positive and keep hoping that as he got older, in particular, he would have a good home for his later years. Soldier said that his one big fear is that his last years would not be good. He said that he’s always felt if his last years were good, then he could forgive the rest.
Soldier said that he doesn’t really want to dwell on his past. He said that this is behind him and he doesn’t want to concentrate on negative things. He did say that his young years were a lot of fun. He said that he good times with his mother, who taught him a great deal about people, and he liked having a lot of room to run when he was very young. (It seems like he was with some other foals or yearlings, as he sent me pictures of them all running and having a good time. He really liked to play.)
(Maureen, he really didn’t want to talk that much about his past, especially where there seemed to be some time when he wasn’t handled all that well. If you have some specifics about his past that you want me to focus on, please let me know and I’ll try to get more information from him…no extra change. I just felt he was really closing up about this and didn’t want to talk about it. There seem to be some bad memories that he didn’t want to discuss.)
I asked Soldier if he’s happy now. He said that there is absolutely no doubt about this and he thought it was funny that you asked. Soldier said that his body is not fully content yet but his mind is. He said that he knows he will be well cared for and safe where he is now.
I asked Soldier if there’s anything you can do to make him happier. Soldier said that happy for him is to be content in body, mind and spirit. He said that his mind is at ease and so is his spirit. He said that his body is making good strides but has some way to go. Soldier said that when he can feel fully useful again then he’ll be happiest, so whatever you can do to help his physical problems will be important.
I told Soldier that you plan to ride him on the trail and he said that he really enjoys this. He said he likes to feel close to his rider and trail riding is one of the best ways for the rider and horse to be joined. He said that he wants to feel good enough to really enjoy the ride and look forward to them. Soldier said that it’s very important that he feel useful. He said that he needs to have a purpose in his life, whether it’s taking someone for a ride or keeping other horses company. He just wants to have a purpose and then he will feel happy and satisfied.
(Maureen, Soldier has a very, very strong sense of having to do something with his life as he gets older. You can speak out loud to him in short, simple sentences and he’ll understand you if you want to tell him what his job is. Even if he retires, he’ll need a job, like watching over the other horses or being a mentor for new horses. He doesn’t want to just waste away.)
I told Soldier that those are all the questions you had for him today and asked if there is anything else he’d like to tell you before we close.
Soldier said that he wants to thank you for watching over him so well and making his life a safe one. He said that he hopes he can repay you by getting stronger and doing whatever it is that you’d like him to do. He said that he owes you a great deal already and he likes to repay his debts. I told him that I’m sure you don’t expect repayment, however, you would very much like to see him healthy and happy. Soldier said that he wants this for himself also and he wants you to be happy with him.
And with that, the communication ended.
As you can see, Quiet Soldier had quite a bit to say. At the end of the session, I told him that he may contact me at any time in the future if he needs me to get a message to you.”
I was surprised by only two things. First that he liked me, I honestly had no idea. Soldier was not one really show his emotions. The second thing that really surprised me was his mentioning he’d like to mentor young horses. I totally couldn’t see it at all. He was so closed off – or that’s how he appeared. In fact the only time I saw him show emotion was when he would spot a palomino. His head would go up, he would get excited, he would call. He would be so wound up, and then when the other horse would get close, there would be a huge disappointment. His head would go down as he realized it wasn’t the horse he thought he’d recognized, and he would almost sigh. It was clear to me that he must have had a very close palomino friend.
No sooner did I get the reading than a yearling warmblood colt arrived to live in the pasture. To my shock and amazement, Soldier took him under his wing immediately. He watched him, he trained him, he protected him, he disciplined him, he spent all day looking after that baby. Clearly Danielle’s reading had been accurate, and I now saw a side of Soldier I never would have imagined. Soldier the teacher.
Danielle’s reading confirmed for me the reality of animal communication. Animals hear us really well, they understand what we say both to them and about them. Many people deny animal communication based on the fact that animals don’t always do what we say, or what we want them to do. To me that only proves that they truly are independent, sentient, creatures. I have three sons, they understand English, but that in no way guaranteed they would do what I said or what I wanted!!! Why should animals be any different?
I had already learned a lot more about horses just by letting Soldier roam free on the property. Even though I had always given my horses “free time”, times when they could do only what they wanted to do, this was different. Then it was just intuitive, it came naturally to me – or my horses had been very good at communicating their desires to me! Now, however, I was paying attention. I was observing with intent.
In the evenings when I’d let Soldier out to graze, I would hand graze Huey. He was young, healthy, and I hadn’t had him very long, I was afraid to let him loose. After a while though, I decided to let him go with the lead rope on. He’d graze like that and actually stayed closer to me than Soldier did. Eventually I took the lead rope off and both of them were free to go where they liked. Huey consistently stayed fairly close, and Soldier, always one to flaunt his special privileges, would go further, as if to make a point with Huey.
I realize now that this was a turning point for me. I had always given my horses a lot of leeway – and a lot of credit for being intelligent – but now it was different. Only when the horses were free to do whatever they wanted could I see who they really were and learn what they really thought.
I had had Soldier only 10 months and he had changed me forever. He had restored my joy in horses and he had opened my eyes. Now, instead of unconsciously being in tune with horses, my goal was to become consciously aware. More than that, he had started me on a journey. I had become a student of the horse. This time, from the horse’s perspective. I had learned barefoot, become open to new healing modalities, become a proponent of natural horse keeping, bitless riding, and now animal communication.
Where would I be lead next?
To be continued . . .
Mr. Muscle was blind in his right eye and liked to go. He was a rental and I had never been on him before. This was in Rockport, MA, back in the day, when you could rent a horse and then go wherever you wanted. In this photo he is not standing still, as evidenced by his forelock and the fact that the bit is blurry. I am completely relaxed and unconsciously have just the right amount of pressure on the reins to keep him dancing in place while my grandmother snapped a photo. The smile is not for the camera – I’ve always hated having my picture taken – it’s the joy that I had as a child anytime I was in the saddle – the joy I had lost somewhere over time.
Today, I would not be looking at the camera!