I started working with this 14 year old Cream Draft mare, Kate, a few months ago. She has lived a long, hard life. She was seized from her previous location and brought to Christine Judd’s place along with many other of the rescues where she foaled her umpteenth baby. Most fearful horses feel that their lives are at stake instinctively, but this mare seemed to be convinced her life was at stake from prior experience. She’d sweat, pant, try to pull away and run off, back 300 miles an hour, and when none of those worked for her, she’d stand and tremble. She was a mess in a stall or confined space, trailering was a disaster, and doing groundwork even 5 feet in the pasture from her pals caused a major panic attack. She was about as unconfident as they get.
I spent plenty of time doing groundwork up and down the pasture with her buddies on one end, trying to make the place of comfort be at the far end away from them. I’d stand in the pasture and wait for her to come to me, and she would after some time and lay her big head on my chest and tremble. It was as if she was saying, “I want to trust you but I can’t.” I worked with her in and out of gates so she could feel comfortable going away from her friends, and know she would come back so she didn’t need to tear off toward them.
When all 2000+ pounds of this big horse get upset, it’s almost as if she can’t control herself and turns into a tank, or a giant boulder rolling downhill – completely unstoppable. We worked a lot at helping to keep her just before that point, but it was tricky, because that level was so easily crossed for her. We could bearly make it out of the pasture without a complete meltdown, though we had made trips back and forth, it always felt as if it had never “took” and she still left me feeling like she had just “survived” rather than thrived.
Recently, at my mentor Sherry Jarvis’s suggestion, we stopped doing groundwork in the lass rope and switched to working in the bridle. I always felt that in the lass rope she was afraid, and knew most of the time not to push on the boundary out of fear, until she was overly fearful and would just tear off, leaving me with 50 feet quickly unwinding…130 pounds of just-a-hair-too-late timing at one end and one ton of horse at the other. In the bridle however, she seems to feel safe. She stays with me fairly relaxed, even when her friends come and go.
A few days back, we took a trip out of the pasture past the barn all the way down the driveway to Christine’s house, taking time to stop and graze a bit in between. Having this panic-driven horse so full of mental goblins stay with me, sneeze, and feel relaxed enough to graze was an amazing treat. And if that wasn’t enough, on the way back to the pasture she paused for just a moment with me, and as I led her back in to the gate she exhaled deeply and stood to let me unbridle her.
Maybe this mare will always be on the “messed up” side, maybe my timing and feel isn’t always adequate for her enormous host of problems, but I am proud of her and myself for this one day of peace for her in our human world.