Bend Horse Talk has offered many different experiences for clients over the years. While we continue to offer equine facilitated learning experiences for those who request them, this year we’re going to focus on our Learn About Horses program. We always learn about ourselves while working with horses so that will never disappear, but at this time horses need as many knowledgeable, compassionate, and caring advocates as possible. If we can help you with your horse, help you develop your skills, and support your interest in these soulful partners, then we will feel great success. Whatever your goals, we will direct our service to meeting the goals with you.
I always marvel at how a small group of strangers can come together and be honest, open, and supportive of one another while working with the horses. This past weekend was the first time our session was interrupted by rain. In Central Oregon rain is sometimes a maybe and rarely occurs with more than a brief sprinkling. This time the rain started an hour into our time together and the women were so game and good natured about it. We popped up the canopy, I ran to get extra coats to share and riding gloves for our cold hands. The activities with horses would still be in the elements, so I brought out riding helmets for everyone. As we sat in our group, all dressed in my coats and riding helmets, I thought how wonderful these clients are who don’t complain but who work with whatever is at hand. Horses do the same. They don’t complain, they roll with the elements. I am so fortunate to work with individuals who seek personal growth, respect what we have to learn from horses, and who accept my funny offerings to make it a more comfortable experience… all with a smile!
I have met many individuals who, like me, grew up loving horses, riding, even owning horses and yet, not knowing some very important things about them. For many of us, our families were not interested in horses so we learned whatever we did by hanging around the stables (and reading horse stories!)
The reason I offer this choice is because I now know there is so much to understand about horses that far transcends riding correctly. Understanding horse psychology, their physical and herd needs, their healthcare, and their unique language is a whole other world.
If you are dissatisfied with your horse or maybe you’re considering getting a horse, this offer is for you. Because horses can put our safety at risk with their size, and they’re expensive to keep, we should respect the role of owner and partner enough to go into it fully aware of how to be capable and responsible for both our sakes.
In my view, adopting a horse should be for the span of its life, as it is with our beloved dogs and cats. The learning curve and responsibilities are a lot greater, though, with horses.
When I went looking for adult horses to purchase years ago, I naturally started at our local rescue, Equine Outreach Institute. When I arrived there, they had recently brought in 70+ horses who were wild on the nearby reservation and needed to find homes. Many had never been handled at all by humans and many were pregnant. As I roamed around the rescue, one of these mares and her ten day old filly were in a separate paddock to give them some time and space alone. I spotted this beautiful sorrel filly standing so interested in the world outside her metal railing. Tall, bright eyed, and perfectly formed. I just stood and admired her.
As it turned out, none of the rescue’s adult horses were healthy or trained enough for my novice riding husband or for the equine facilitated learning business, but I couldn’t get this filly out of my mind. Among all the babies there, she was so special to me. My husband and I spent the next few months vacillating between adopting her and not adopting her once she was weaned. We didn’t need a baby, and I had never trained a horse from such a young age before.
We found two wonderful horses for both our riding interests and the business in the months to follow. Several months later, I checked the rescue’s web site and saw that my filly was still there waiting for a home. I couldn’t believe it. It was for me a sign she was waiting for me to realize our connection. We have had “Story” now for three years and she has become both a wonderful partner in riding adventures (just starting) and a wonderful addition to the business. She turned 4 yesterday. I think her wild horse heritage is a big part of her outgoing and trusting nature. I believe rescue horses know how important this special connection is…
I had a call a couple of years ago that posed an unknown for me with my equine facilitated learning capabilities. The woman who called had experienced a serious tragedy in her life and wondered if the horses could help. I wasn’t sure, given the experience she had. I invited her to come over and we would explore it together.
She came over three or four times, each time we talked more about her life and her difficulty with moving past the tragedy. She groomed the horses and we reflected on the empathy we learn while working with them. We took a couple of rides together to see if the experience would bring her joy. That became our discovery. How to find joy in each day keeps us in the present, at least for that amount of time that we experience it. For many of us, riding a horse along a beautiful lake or through the trees is a freeing experience. Free from the rest of life. We feel their body twitch, we watch their ears respond to all stimulation (including us), we breathe deeply while appreciating the freedom of sharing ourselves with our horse who doesn’t judge.
I hope my friend is doing well now. I hope she is finding joy in each day. That is certainly why I have horses in my life.
So often, as horse owners, we buy a horse and don’t know her history. We don’t know why she’s afraid to be touched in certain places or looks angry and defensive when you ask her to back up. If we’re patient, we watch and see if we can identify the difficult triggers so we can help them learn a new response. It does take patience! Our horse, Sophie, is deathly afraid of water on her body. Every summer I pledge to give little experiences of water on her legs or back to show her it won’t hurt her. Every summer she gets a little more receptive. I see her trusting me more and more during these moments. A little water, a treat and pat, a little water, another treat and a pat. She knows I’m understanding her fear.
It occurs to me that with horses I do this naturally. I try to read the signals so that I can understand and help with the fear or distrust. With people, sometimes we don’t consider the patience needed to allow for unknown histories. We don’t watch the signals, we just react to the behavior. The range of possibilities is endless, and obviously we can’t spend all day trying to figure other people out, but we can step back and observe, take a breath, and consider how to best move forward with this person.