When a horse has been abused, it learns to mistrust not only its abuser, but other humans as well. It’s an awfully big risk for a horse tot rust a human in the first place. After all, it is an herbivore in relationship with a predator.
And this trust has now been betrayed in the worst possible way.
When a horse lets you near it, when it lets you touch it, stroke it, bridle it… ride it… it is giving you an incredible gift. The gift of its trust.
The responsibility you now hold in your hands is immense. Make sure you’re up to the task. Make sure you have patience.
Do not ever approach a horse when you aren’t centered, grounded, and most of all… calm. You risk losing its trust.
I lost my voice as a child. I had been raised in a religion that teaches people what they are supposed to do, and what they are supposed to think about what they do, and then how they’re supposed to feel about what they think about what they do.
It was suppression at its worst, because if you do not think, or do, or behave in its prescribed way, the consequence is inviting the wrath of God… of being banished from his presence.
I remember very clearly the day I became ashamed of having lost my own voice.
We lived in a small town in the Midwest nearby to a very large colony of Amish. These were not the picture-postcard images of the Pennsylvania Amish we see portrayed on television and in print. These Amish were very poor, and as I was to come to find out… very suppressed, angry… and impatient.
I was with my then fiance, who owned approximately 20 horses. We would trailer them to the Amish farrier to have their feet trimmed and shoes put on when they needed it, because he did not drive, so he could not come to us.
A strange place always makes a horse slightly nervous.
This time, we had brought a Morgan mare named Star. She had a tiny white star smack in the middle of her forehead. She wasn’t the most beautiful as far as build goes, but she walked a steady 6 MPH and she was fun to ride alongside the draft horses because she didn’t have to trot to keep up.
She was led into the shed to have her feet trimmed, and tied to a post. She didn’t like it from the start. I don’t know what it was about the situation that bothered her. I now wonder if it was simply her instincts telling her this man wasn’t patient. She fidgeted a lot, and almost fell at one point when he had her foot up. He wasn’t the most gentle.
When she wouldn’t stand completely still, I watched, horrified, as he took a lip twitch to her. It was a length of bicycle chain, approximately 12 inches long, with each end attached to a metal ring, so the chain made a loop. The ring had a metal clip on it.
He took a huge handful of her upper lip, just under her nostrils, and placed the bicycle chain over it, then proceeded to twist the ring until the bicycle chain tightened up around her upper lip. When it was tight enough to cut off the blood to her upper lip, he clipped it to her halter so it wouldn’t unwind. Her eyes widened so far I could see the whites of them. She was in a lot of pain.
He proceeded to trim her hooves. When his rough work made her sensitive again, he took the hoof file he was using (a 2 foot piece of heavy metal), and he smacked her hard in the belly with it. She would stand still for only a moment or two before the pain and discomfort got to her again and she shifted. He didn’t even give her time to get her legs under her before he was trying to pick one off the ground and expected her to be able to stand on the other three when they were in the most precarious position. Every time she tried to shift to keep from falling down, he beat her several times in the belly.
She tried to get away, pulling back on the rope, only to find she was tied up. This scared her even more. Blood was now filling her mouth from the bicycle chain, so he tightened it even more.
I wanted to do something… say something, but she wasn’t my horse. Her owner was standing right next to me and wouldn’t say a thing.
As soon as he untied her and let her go, I grabbed her lead-rope to take her out of the shed and found a hose and washed the blood out of her mouth. Her lip was swollen, badly bruised, and still bleeding. I didn’t know how long it would be before she could eat comfortably.
I wanted so badly to take that hoof file to the farrier, but I stood and did nothing. I wanted to scream and yell at him and take her away from him, but I did nothing. I didn’t think it was my place, and I didn’t want to cause her more pain for my outburst.
I hated that farrier.
I hated my fiance.
I hated myself.
Two weeks later, my fiance came up from walking the lower pasture and announced that he found a stillborn colt on the bank of the creek.
We called all the horses up for grain to see which horse had given birth.
It was Star. She had been pregnant. And the only reason we found out, is because she was the only horse that wouldn’t come up for grain.
She didn’t trust us anymore.
And she had a right not to.
A week later, my fiance was trying to finish the farrier’s work, because it had been botched. He had been able to catch her and lead her out of the pasture. The Amish farrier had filed her feet unevenly and she was walking with a limp. He tied her to a horse trailer, and when she realized she was tied, she pulled back and started thrashing. He kept trying to work with her, but she didn’t want him near her feet.
He grew impatient and finally found a large log from the woodpile nearby, picked it up, and threw it at her. I heard the thud as it hit her hindquarters. It was a pretty big chunk of wood.
What good does it do to try to fix her limp if you’re just going to give her another one?!
I looked at his dad and said, “How much do you want for her?” He chewed on his lip a bit and said, “A thousand dollars.”
I said, “Done.”
I then walked over to my fiance, untied the horse and told him she was mine, that I would bring the money the following day and told him to load her in the trailer and take her to my house.
(Our engagement didn’t last long after that.) Any man that will abuse a horse like that will one day abuse me.
I took her to a pasture at my parent’s home. It was 15 acres with green grass that grew armpit high and a natural spring at the bottom of a hill. She loved it.
I turned her out and let her just be a horse again. She wouldn’t let me ride her or come near her for over a year.
It was okay. She was safe, and that’s all that mattered to me.
She deserved to just be a horse again, and our dog helped her realize what she was. It was enough.
When a horse is abused, they no longer feel like a horse. They don’t know what they are, they just know they don’t feel the same anymore. For some it is enough to simply put them out to pasture with other horses. They learn how to run with a herd again, how to interact, how to behave… how to be what they are. For some this is enough.
For others, they just can’t rejoin the herd. They have been battered so badly, all they want is death. They isolate themselves from the herd, a silent offering to any nearby predator to take them first.
They ask for death.
They commit mental suicide.
Saving a horse in this condition is very, very difficult.
One way I know of, is a technique called “horse killing.” Some people call it other things, but this is essentially what is done.
The horse is brought into a pen and with the help of four or five people, the horse is roped and pulled to the ground, where it is staked with more and more ropes, like a spiderweb, until it is laying on its side, belly exposed, and cannot move. It’s an incredible sight, watching them thrash. It’s heartbreaking.
Finally, they surrender. They surrender to death.
It is at this moment, the horse is at its weakest. The handler then begins its therapy.
The horse is approached very slowly, and very gently. It is touched all over its body, from head to tail, from hoof to hoof, until there is no part of the horse’s body that hasn’t received a loving touch. It is crucial at this point, that the horse never senses any desire or thought on the handler’s part, to do harm to the horse. It must be approached with infinite, unconditional love. Anything else and the therapy will fail.
It takes hours, and sometimes a day or more to get the horse to stop thrashing… to submit to its handler. It is exhausting work, but it is necessary if the horse is to ever overcome its abuse.
The horse has to be “killed” in its own mind, and then given back its life.
Once the treatment is complete, the horse is untied and given nourishment. But the bond has been made between horse and handler. The trust has been re-established. It has been healed.
Now the real work begins.
I was abused by my first husband. He was a former combat Marine who served in the Persian Gulf during the Iraqi conflict. He had PTSD, Bi-polar disorder, and he fit the profile of someone with sociopathic personality disorder. He was a very scary guy. I was a naive Mormon girl… now newly pregnant with his daughter.
After leaving him and filing for divorce, he became even more abusive.
During 2007 I went through Massage Therapy school. Several months in, we began learning how to do prenatal massage. It involved special draping and massage techniques so we could work on someone who could not lay on their stomach. Students always paired up, and each took turns working on the other. This was the first time I was paired up with, we’ll call him K. Not only was he a male, he was previously in the military.
Our classroom was a large room with many tables in a semicircle around the perimeter. There were hospital style curtains that would pull out around each table for privacy when needed. During class, however, these curtains were kept back against the wall so the instructor could see everyone.
After stripping (privately) and getting on the table under the sheet, I was given a pillow to pull up to my stomach to simulate a pregnant belly. K. gave me the other head and knee supports as instructed. He then proceeded to un-drape the areas he would be working on.
For the first 15 minutes of the massage, I kept hearing him say, “Relax. You’re so tense!” Finally he said, “Why are you so tense?” I wasn’t really sure. I didn’t feel tense.
I tuned in with myself and realized that I was reliving my pregnancy… during a time when my ex-husband had abused me. Every muscle in my body had tightened up protectively.
I was waiting… waiting to feel the energy from Kendrick that said, “I can kill you in two seconds if I really wanted to,” the way my ex-husband had said to me.
I was waiting for the silent threats.
“Was K. thinking these thoughts?” I wondered… I decided to attempt tuning into him to find out. (It’s amazing what you can pick up from someone’s touch.)
After another five minutes, I realized they weren’t there. I couldn’t find them. So I asked myself what I was experiencing from him. The only thing I felt was love and a total and complete desire for me to heal.
It was unlike anything I had experienced.
I quickly grabbed a handful of the sheet lying on the table in front of me and stuffed it in my mouth as the sobs erupted and wracked my body.
Within seconds, the instructor whipped the curtain around our table and blocked the view from everyone else. She placed her hand softly on my head and asked me if I wanted him to continue. I nodded yes.
I wanted so badly to heal!!!
She gave him a nod and he continued giving me the massage. She then leaned down and just a few inches from my ear she whispered, “It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it… that a man can touch you and not want to hurt you.”
I don’t know how she knew, but I was amazed that she knew exactly what I was experiencing.
I later found out that she had also been abused.
I know what it feels like… to be roped to the ground. I know the fear. I know the terror.
I also know how powerful it is to experience the touch of a healing man’s hands.
Star eventually let me near her. For the first year, she came up to the barn only twice a day, for morning and evening feedings. Then she was gone again. This time, it was the middle of the afternoon. She was up at the barn, which was highly unusual, so I went out to the pasture to see what was up. She was standing there with her head hanging low, and kept tipping it to the side, like she was hurting somehow. I climbed in the pasture with her and lifted her head up. Her left eye was huge and swollen. I immediately called the vet, who came out and informed me that she had punctured her left eye. He guessed it was a honeylocust thorn, which are about 3-4 inches long, and several of them grew in the pasture. Normally the horses stay away from them. He told me she would be blind in that eye for the rest of her life.
I got some eyebright herb from my stash and made a strong tea. I soaked it up with a cotton ball and squeezed it into her eye. It may not have brought her sight back, but at least it would soothe her eye. I also put some salve around her eye so the swelling would go down. She started coming up to the barn after that about 3 times a day, like clockwork. It wasn’t feeding time, so I knew she wanted more eyebright tea. I would put some in her eye, put some more salve on it, and she would turn as soon as I was done and walk away from me. That lasted about 2-3 weeks. Then, about a month later, she started coming up to the barn more often and I would go out and just pet her. I told her I was sorry. I told her I was sorry I didn’t stop either of those men from hitting her.
Eventually I was able to ride her again. I just couldn’t tie her up to anything. I had to tuck the lead-rope into my back pocket and let her walk circles around me while I cinched her up. She kept trying to see what I was doing, so she kept trying to turn around, and if she found that she was tied, she would freak out. I finally started saddling her from the right side, which is backwards, but it made her feel more comfortable. If I did need to saddle her from the left, I just let her walk in circles around me while I did it. It was funny, but it worked for her, and I wasn’t going to fight it.
I rode her for several years after that. I even rode her in a parade. Just before the parade started, I was sitting on her next to my mother who was riding a large quarter horse. My ex-fiance’s father came over to us. After a general greeting, I left to ride over to a friend. My mother says he muttered under his breath, “Damn, I never thought that horse would amount to anything.” She retorted quick, “Yes, and you charged my daughter a thousand dollars for a horse you really thought was completely worthless.” She said he ducked his head quickly and left.
A horse knows when its well treated, and it will respond.
A woman does, too.
As well as men.
May we be kind to one another.