The Nature of Things

Continued from last time…

permiedef9. In the problem lies the solution.

I knew very little about Zoe when I saw her for the first time, but her owner, Romy, had told me that no one except her groom could take her out of her paddock, that she didn’t like to be touched, and that she was dangerous to ride. The fact that she would not budge from the horse trailer upon arriving, and then, after some coaxing, could not be safely lead from the trailer to the large round pen by her owner indicated extreme tension. It took me quite a while to hand-walk her the short distance to the round pen using a long, 15-foot lead rope. I am familiar with using a rope for the purpose of keeping a horse at some distance behind me and did so with Zoe so that she would remain out of striking and kicking range. My 120 lbs was not enough to contain the 2000 lb, 18-hand mare from leaping, bolting and rearing, but with the rope I could set a parameter so that she wouldn’t harm me when her feet left the ground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce in the round pen she seemed unmanageable, throwing her head and her tail straight up in the air, bolting, bucking, whinnying, and sweating. By her behavior, she seemed not to be at all cognizant of Romy and me just outside the pen. Fortunately, other horses had taught me that these kinds of superficial interpretations of behavior did not tell a complete story. How things appear to us do not always reveal the underlying truth. Perhaps never do they…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we remained outside the pen to observe, I began to search Zoe’s demeanor for more clues. First, in spite of the tension that was coursing through her entire being, she was not running herself into the fence, into the ground, or anywhere accept in fits and starts within the pen. It takes some presence of mind to respect such parameters while under the influence of so much turmoil. This allowed me to question the label of “insane mare” that she came with.

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Unfortunately, I did not have a camera with me that first day and these photos, taken more recently, do not reflect the degree of tension I describe. However, they do reflect a now-manageable horse who has some residual tension and that “need to look,” more common among horses we experience everyday. For this reason I’m including them here because the process of helping a horse at this stage remains the same.

Secondly, Zoe definitely wanted to look, and rushed to and fro to then stop and gaze at everything between bolts. Maybe it’s that we forget what it’s like to be a child, needing to explore all that lies around us. Or maybe it’s just that we’ve heard the phrase, “get that horse to pay attention to you,” for so long that we have lost the ability to appreciate one of life’s natural functions at work: the gift of raw awareness, an “on-site resource” that allows us — both horses and people — to process and interpret the meaning of the world around us, and to do so to the point where we are settled, or confident, with our place in it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThirdly, the tensions that Zoe exhibited — head and neck pariscoping, back hollow, tail high and arched, body rigid — were typical of any horse filled with fear and insecurity. For a person to step in at this point to get a response would have been asking for disappointment, a fight, an escalation of reactivity, or all of the above. She was not yet capable of freeing her mind from trying to figure out where she was, to then also respond to the requirements of a human.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter a while, however, her sudden bursts of movement began to include sniffing the ground, the rail, the wind. With each lowering of her head the muscles in her body could release some modicum of tension, even if only for a few seconds at a time. Her prance and dart from one side of the round pen to the other eased into a sporadic trot and even an occasional walk. By this time, she had still not looked our way, nor seemed to care about our human presence… oh, but wait… there was that little twitch of an ear, cocked in our direction for a few nanoseconds now and again. It’s something that’s easy to miss, but it reflected the fact that she was aware of us.

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Zoe performing a “drive-by.” Sure seems like she’s blowing me off… but wait… what’s up with that right ear?

At this point, I had Romy move inside the pen and wait in the middle. Although Zoe still appeared transfixed with all that was happening around her, she would often arc in close to Romy on her way from one side of the pen to the other. For many people, this behavior is particularly annoying. The horse seems like it’s finally coming in to acknowledge you, but then turns and moves off like you never existed.

But there’s another way to interpret it. Just as a child who is barely old enough to be aware of the world outside its mother wanders off before coming back in for reassurance, so will a horse come close before their inherent need to assess their world pulls them out again to gaze at their surroundings. A “drive-by,” I call it, indicating that there was something positive Zoe received by veering close to her person before going back out toward the rail to look away some more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat were we supposed to do about that?

Nothing. Zoe’s inherent processes were already busy at work, helping her to bit by bit calm and settle herself. That was a lesson no one would be able to make her learn. But by staying out of her way, we could give her the opportunity to learn it for herself. In other words, we were using her wandering attention, normally considered a liability, to our benefit, and for the benefit of Zoe as well. In the problem lies the solution.

Tune in next time for more of Zoe’s journey…

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About findingpegasus

Author of 'Finding Pegasus'
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4 Responses to The Nature of Things

  1. Sally Hankins says:

    Terry, that was so well written! I can’t wait for the next installment. On another note, I had to put Snuffy down after 22 years (he lived to the wonderful age of 34.) The bond we form with our horses is indescribable. He was a great horse who introduced riding to each of my six granddaughters. They will all be better people for having known him. Sally

    • I’m sending my deepest condolences, Sally. At the same time, how wonderful to remember Snuffy the way you have. Your six (SIX??? 😉 ) granddaughters are lucky! Thank you as well for your kind comments. So happy you enjoyed the read.

  2. carenmyers says:

    Terry, I enjoy your blog so much and I learn from them each time you write. “Pollution is an Unused Resource” is fabulous! It makes me remember that we can use whatever our horse gives us to help them and ourselves. When we can do that, nothing is pollution. Keep writing, please! Love you!

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