I wanted to share the journey of a horse and their person I have been working with because it illustrates how closely our we and our horses are intertwined on every level. It also illustrates how sometimes a complex “training” issue is a carefully disguised personal journey for horse and person.

I asked Brio’s owner to write this blog series with me because I was struck by the experience they had myself.

Here is the first part of this series. Brio’s person writes:

“My vet gave me your name because he thought you could give me some useful tools for working with my horse. I checked out your website and I like your philosophy, so I decided to call.”

I’ve had Brio since she was a long yearling, when I brought her home

from the breeder’s to live at my mini-farm. She’s eight now, and since she was

four, she’s had long periods of not wanting to go forward, even under saddle

with the professional dressage rider who started her – and this person’s expertise

is starting young horses and getting them forward. Brio doesn’t want to walk

or trot; she prefers standing with all four feet planted or moving like a snail, and

my attempts to use a whip have either been ignored or brought on a buck.

Cantering has been out of the question for me because when she’s been forward

enough to ask for it, I’ve been afraid because she’s on the edge of throwing her

famous rodeo buck. She’s also really spooky. Three years ago, the trainer’s

schedule changed and she couldn’t make it out here. I also couldn’t afford help,

so I decided I’d ride her myself. ”

“She’s also been really tough on the ground, starting at two when she

started biting and trying to kick me. She tries to cow- kick in the aisle and in her

stall, and she’s tried to double- barrel kick me in the stall and when I’ve tried to

mount her. Two summers ago, she kicked me in the ribs. When I first got her, my

vet thought she would outgrow it, but she didn’t. There’s no family history of

aggression. Two equine professionals told me she should be put down, and three

others said she should be sold.”

“ Two summers ago, I tried doing natural horsemanship with her to try to

get her on the trailer so we could go to my friend’s barn as a field trip and get

more help with natural horsemanship. Brio would do this fake joining-up act

when I round penned her, and then rear and strike out when we approached the

trailer. She’d loaded fine when we first started going at the end of June, then

decided she didn’t want to go, but I just wouldn’t give up. I went toe-to-toe with

her until she finally got on, even if it took 5 hours and was too late to trailer out. I

finally did give up, though, and decided to quit trying to load her in late July. By

the middle of August , our rides were me trying to keep her from bucking and

rearing her way back to the barn.

I had her scoped in October, and saw what grade 4 ulcers look like up close and personal. I’d had bad ulcers myself a couple of years ago, and when I realized the amount of pain she was in, I couldn’t believe that she let me tack her up and get on her. I stopped riding, and focused on healing her.

She scoped clean in December, and I decided then and there that I

needed a trainer who could come to us, and who could work with her in a non-

aggressive way that would set her up to want to do the right thing without stress,

because I never wanted her to be sick again.”

Having said this in my initial phone call to Farah, I waited for her

reply. My hopes had been raised by a picture of her on her website handling a filly

that looked very similar to Brio in temperament, intelligence and athleticism.

They were confirmed when she told me she specialized in “difficult, dominant

mares.” The two questions she then posed laid the foundation for the respect and

confidence with which I regard this woman. She wanted to know about Brio’s

health history so that any physical conditions would be factored into deciphering

the cause and determining the best course of training. I told her about the Lyme

disease that robbed her of any training during the summer she was 3; the

Regumate-defying heat cycles that coincided with behavior that was truly

dangerous and my decision to put her on Hilton Herb’s Easy Mare; the monthly

allergy shots required to keep her hives at bay during summer; the complete

physical examination at a reputable clinic (thank God for insurance) to determine

why she refused to go forward. The test revealed no reproductive irregularity or

any other physical cause for such behavior. I was counseled to put her in training

with someone who could handle “crazy, aggressive warmbloods.” That was not

an option for me financially. I also felt convicted that Brio’s ability to work with

a professional in a training environment was no guarantee she would cooperate

with me in my backyard. I assured Farah that her teeth were done every six

months, her feet done every five weeks, her saddle fitted every two or three

months, that I did a yearly Lyme, fecal and vitamin E test, and that she was

regularly seen by my homeopathic vet who used acupuncture, chiropractic and

herbs to treat her.

Farah’s second question was “Are you committed to this horse?” I told her I was. In hindsight, I recognize in her reply the logic, pragmatism and honesty that are her hallmarks. There was no optimistic reassurance, just the quiet statement that she would have to work with her and with me to determine whether we could be a suitable match…words I didn’t want to hear, but at the same time an invitation to the journey I needed to undertake.”

I want to highlight some things that I picked up in my “Listening” and observing. You’ll note that Brio’s person had the ulcer’s first. So she resonated with her horse’s pain, but my question is, did the horse resonate with her person’s pain by taking on the ulcers? I have witnessed this in other animals with their people. Food for thought. Another observation I wanted to bring up was my initial evaluation of this combination. One of the “tests” I do for difficult cases is I work with the horse a bit on my own to see if the pattern is the general character or behavior of the horse or it is a pattern mainly between the horse and their person. I have learned to be neutral with a horse and bring a “clean slate” so I can see what the horse will do with a person they have no established patterns with. It tells me if the dynamics can be shifted. Brio showed me that they could if her person had the right tools and the willingness. Share any comments about your difficult journey of discovery you may have made with your horse(s)

No reins, no stirrups

No reins, no stirrups

Brio’s Journey

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