“Who are you?” A woman asked me on a snowy February morning in Washington. “Are you a horse whisperer?”
I had to pause for a moment, hadn’t heard that term in several years. “Ha,ha,ha, no.” I replied halfheartedly. But I noticed the woman was serious. To her this was not a joking matter.
She was direct, insistent and rushed, “I have a horse I can’t handle.”
Who are you? echoed again in my mind. I was quiet a moment, how do I answer that?
Claim to train…claim to fame… not so much anymore, used to think I was a horse breaker… trainer… handler, hahaha, again I had to chuckle to myself, heaven forbid I get the word for the description wrong… for judgement sets in fast in society today, and the word that comes out of my mouth is how this woman will judge me. Dare I tell her I am a Student?
As I have been raised on a ranch most all of my life, started my first mule at age ten, being raised by a horse trader and handling more horses than I can count. Studying them, analyzing movement, patterns and their silent language. We had saved hundreds from the slaughter pen just. What ever it was that we did it made a difference to a troubled horse. Seemed like we could find a connection and work with them from there.
No degree sits on my wall, no recorded hours of studying from books. Just never ending hours with horses.
Dare I tell her I had worked with, Mustangs fresh off the desert, draft horses, ranch horses, pony’s, mules, cutting horses. do I say something to impress her, or do I tell her the truth? I am a student.
She looked directly at me waiting for an answer.
Knowing at that moment I had my hands full, with a little mare struggling to be heard.”Give me a minute.” I replied, “let me finish with her.” Referring to the little bay who seemed to be wanting to jump out of her skin.
This particular mare had been raised on a bottle in the house the first few months of its life, then moved out to the barn in a stall, then turned out with the other horses who proceeded to put her in a pecking order as to who she was to them.
Should I explain the parts of a horses brain and how they learn by memory. That this horse had no idea who she was, that she was a horse and not a people, abandoned. Could I explain, that the anger and frustration she had, maybe an identity crisis of not belonging, not knowing how to fit in, and a language barrier that is mumbled in braille.
If I had the facts right and the ability and awareness to help her along she might figure some of that out, right now consistency is what she needed. As a baby she was pampered and cute, bucking, kicking, striking, nibbling, pushing. With all of that she thought she was people. Now as a full grown mare, she couldn’t do anything right as a people or a horse, her life was a confused mess of rules and stipulations she did not understand. And it was getting worse. This was her third and final owner, and with all the trainers trying different techniques…the out come was looking bleak. I had watched her in the pasture with the other horses when I first pulled up. She stayed by herself, content to be alone, her confusion started as she started to mingle with horses and people.
The owner again speaks up with more information that helps me connect with her as the mare kicks her hind feet out toward me, as she rushes past. I shake the lead request her to turn, request again. She is having non of it, she bolts past me again, dropping her shoulder toward me. Lack of communication and response, is screaming, screaming from her, and I want her to try, just try, but she didn’t know what that meant. instead it was defiance and frustration. I wanted her to respond with understanding with a little give and take, but she is still pressing forward. So I allowed the motion with a little impulsion to keep going, so she was doing something right, instead of the stop and turn I had first requested.
If there was anything I could offer this troubled mare was that she needed heard. I waited for a sign so that I might hear. Wanting something that was going to make us both connect with the only language this mare knew, body language. She went to stop, dropped her head and put on the breaks. There it was, she was ready! Now to ask her for it. I asked her to keep going one more round, she pinned her ears and surged forward again, frustrated and tired. I dropped all emotion, all energy, and asked her to stop.
The mare stopped immediately and looked at me. She didn’t know what to do. But she had done right! I let her stand, I just waited, waited for her to quiet the chatter in her frazzled mind. She had to work this out for herself, I didn’t need to do anything, if I could just stand long enough for her to connect. She had worked herself into a sweat, not of physical but of emotional exhaustion of uncertainty. She had not let her guard down before. She was beginning a new language that was actually natural to her… instinctual maybe, yet unfamiliar, uncertain. She had no mom to teach her horse language, she had people that took good care of her so she never wanted for anything, If she pinned back her ears she got fed and left alone, if she stomped her hind foot, people walked away. Then she was turned out with horses who thought she should know how to be a horse. She didn’t know who she was or what she was capable, she just existed every day.
Now here she was learning to try, succeed and accomplish. She bobbed her head and licked her lips. I responded with walking toward her shoulder and just being there. She needed to do nothing but be. And for the first time in her life, she was willing… She shook her head and took a deep sigh again releasing all the she used to be.
All of the busyness, attempts, right, wrong, anxiety, push me- pull you, go, stop…all of that was lifting from the mare and she again released and accepted my hands on her body with no resistance just uncertainty.
We had connected to accept each other as we were, with all the faults we might have, and forgiveness was just around the corner.
As we rested a minute I looked over at the woman. I was honest, and for what ever it was going to mean to her I said “I am a Student… a Student of the horse.”