One day in May, I spent some time in the round pen with our newest horse Hope. She has been with us since December and her rehabilitation has been going nicely. Stillwater Stables is not only about giving children and teens the opportunity to build relationships and find purpose but the same opportunity is given to our horses that come to be part of our team. Many of our horses have been rescued in one way or another.
Hope has had a tough life and has had people in her past who have not known how to meet the needs that any horse requires. The right balance of food and vitamins, proper vet care and proper boundaries and guidance on how to be a safe horse around others and the opportunity to reach her full potential.
I have been doing ground work with horses for 16 years using many training techniques from John Lyons and Clinton Anderson. Ground work is the foundation for helping a horse to become respectful of humans and the opportunity to build trust as well. Ground work also enables the horse to gain confidence and to be able to reach their full potential.
Hope has some baggage that she came with from her past. A few of the behaviors packed in her suitcase can be dangerous that started to emerge in April as she began to feel better and was back into daily work. We have spent some time working in the round pen to begin the process of respect and relationship with this little mare. Trust is a bit of an issue and she has been used to getting away with a few dangerous behaviors. Round penning has been going well so now we have begun putting a saddle on her and adding saddle work with ground training to her routine.
With a saddle and rider back on her it has triggered automatic responses that she has learned over the years such as stopping and not going forward, going backwards, resisting to flexing to the bit, pulling on the reins, going sideways and even kicking and nipping. These habits are what she has been doing for years but something we had not seen here until recently.
As I began to work with her on the line she became confused and bossy. She wanted nothing of it so she reacted with hysterical running. When that did not work she attempted to run me over. This resulted in needing to tap her a bit more assertively then I would have liked. I had no choice because she was paying no attention to me and had lost all sight of boundaries or using her thinking side of her brain. Tapping with a “Thinking Stick” is no different than a horse kicking at another horse to get out of their space. It’s an extension of my arm so I can stay out of harm’s way yet be able to communicate clearly to a horse that is being dangerous. Here was our new mare that is in her 20’s reacting blindly with fear and aggression to a simple exercise that should have been no big deal.
What made me so sad yesterday in the round pen with her? I have worked in the round pen and have ground trained multiple horses but none have made me feel the way I felt with Hope. I was sad because I realized this horse was behaving the way she was from being around inexperienced, ignorant or incompetent people who allowed her to become this way. She had learned this from her experiences with other humans who did not guide her to be safe and respectful in the horse-human relationship. She was responding from what she had learned from her environment. Hope is a very intelligent mare who learns very quickly and I felt sad that her potential and been wasted all these years.
But Hope has shown me that it is never too late for change. It is never too late to become better or to rise above a situation and be something different. Witnessing Hopes progress has been inspiring teens who have been watching and those involved with her re training. Yesterday, May 31 Hope showed off a stretchy, relaxed walk with a teen riding her. The tension, stress, fear and aggression we had been witnessing in Hope had been replaced with a look of confidence, trust and partnership. After weeks of rebuilding this mare’s distorted foundation she was emerging with a new foundation that trusted humans and realizing she did not have to fight anymore.
A new beginning can happen today, it is never too late to change a thought, a feeling, a direction or sometimes a way of life. It is NEVER too late to find our purpose and reach a potential we never thought possible. Thank you for being a part of Stillwater Stables, making new beginnings, relationships and purpose possible for our youth and our horses. <3
For His Kids (and Horses)