TRUE TALE Mu­tual ben­e­fits:

As I helped my res­cue geld­ing Do­rian over­come his spook­i­ness, I found a path to a deep cen­tered­ness that I didn’t know I pos­sessed.

EQUUS - - Equus - By Vir­ginia Slach­man, PhD

As I helped my res­cue geld­ing Do­rian over­come his spook­i­ness, I found a path to a deep cen­tered­ness that I didn’t know I pos­sessed.

When I first laid eyes on Do­rian, he was ly­ing in his pas­ture and sur­vey­ing the world on a cool, gray early spring af­ter­noon. I glanced his way but didn’t pay much at­ten­tion, to be hon­est. He was just an­other chest­nut with a blaze, and we had plenty of those at Re­nais­sance Res­cue Ranch, a Farm­ing­ham, Mis­souri, op­er­a­tion that han­dles mainly off-the-track Thor­ough­breds.

That day, like most oth­ers, I had a lot of work to do, help­ing to feed, wa­ter and train the nearly 60 horses we were pre­par­ing for a new life. Be­sides, I wasn’t re­ally look­ing for a horse of my own.

And yet. I re­mem­ber how I’d smile when po­ten­tial adopters came to the ranch with a clear idea in mind of what sort of horse they wanted. They’d ar­rive de­ter­mined to find, say, a tall black geld­ing, and in­stead, they’d be­come smit­ten with a lit­tle gray mare or some other horse. It hap­pened time af­ter time. When it comes to peo­ple and horses, a per­fect match may be one you’d never have pre­dicted. So it was with me and Do­rian. Our re­la­tion­ship be­gan when he dropped a lot of weight and de­vel­oped a bad case of rain­rot. I ba­bied him through, try­ing se­nior feed, then al­falfa pel­lets, then a host of other weight­gain reme­dies. His coat got scrubbed with a num­ber of rain­rot treat­ments. He was ba­si­cally healthy, the vet­eri­nar­ian said, so I just kept at it, and by sum­mer, he started look­ing bet­ter. He even got a lit­tle chubby.

I no­ticed that folks com­ing out to the ranch look­ing for horses to adopt never con­sid­ered Do­rian. He’s a big­boned, thick-bod­ied geld­ing, and peo­ple seemed to be look­ing for more typ­i­cal ex-race­horses---sleek and long-legged. He has an odd mane, too---there’s a swirl in the mid­dle so the front part of his mane grows for­ward---and he has a wispy tail, rather than the long, full, lus­trous tail seen on so many Thor­ough­breds.

I felt bad for him. Nurs­ing him through his is­sues, I’d got­ten to know him and I came to ap­pre­ci­ate his bright, in­tel­li­gent eye. He proved to be a lit­tle stub­born, which I felt was OK. I like a horse who has an opin­ion. But he was enor­mously spooky. In the end, I think that’s what brought us to­gether. I had spent a lot of time with him in the round pen---longe­ing, groom­ing, hang­ing out---and he did fine. But when I started rid­ing him, it seemed the whole world scared him. And why not? All he’d known as a race­horse was his stall, the train­ing track, a horse trailer, the start­ing gate. There are no ter­ri­fy­ing fall­ing leaves or rot­ting devil logs in that life!

Many times we’d be trot­ting along in a straight line and in the blink of an eye, he’d jump three feet to the left. Some­times I had no idea what had scared him. My heart went out to him--how aw­ful to live a life where ev­ery­thing ter­ri­fies you.

It was very hard to get him to try any­thing new or to go any­where he’d never been be­fore on the prop­erty. Some­times, I’d have to dis­mount and walk him up to a horse-eat­ing clod of dirt in the mid­dle of a trail. He’d balk, head high, the whites of his eyes show­ing. It’s amaz­ing, though, what calm­ness and a few soft words can do for a spooky horse.

So we took it mo­ment by mo­ment. The whole world slowed down when we were to­gether. If he made the slightest ef­fort to do what I asked, I re­leased pres­sure and we’d pause. By in­cre­men­tal steps he gained con­fi­dence in him­self and in me. It took a long, long time for Do­rian to get over his con­tin­ual bout with the willies, but he’s a dif­fer­ent horse now.

No, I take that back. He’s re­gained him­self now.

And in the process, he’s helped me find my­self, too.

The long, quiet pauses were hard for

me. I’m not a nat­u­rally pa­tient per­son. I want my own way, and I can be just as stub­born as Do­rian. I’m a bit high­strung, and my mind tends to go a hun­dred miles a minute pretty much all the time. Or it did. Work­ing with Do­rian helped me find a path to a deep au­then­tic­ity and cen­tered­ness I didn’t know I pos­sessed. I can be in the worst pos­si­ble mood, but go­ing out to the pas­ture and be­ing with my horse al­lows me to find a place in­side where a still seren­ity abides.

A good friend of mine says, “The slow way is the fast way with horses,” and I’ve found that to be true. Through our ground­work, our com­muning time and our rides, Do­rian and I formed a part­ner­ship, a bond, that I don’t think words can com­pletely ar­tic­u­late. Any­one who has a deep re­la­tion­ship with a horse will know ex­actly what I’m re­fer­ring to---it’s a re­la­tion­ship that re­sides at the level of “be­ing,” not at the level of “think­ing.”

To­day, I ride Do­rian on trails of­ten. He might stop at some­thing new, but he’s now able to work through his fear and walk on by. We’ve tra­versed ob­sta­cles, waded into streams, trot­ted and can­tered and gal­loped through woods, jumped a few cross­bars, and had a star­ing con­test with deer.

We’ve had a long jour­ney to­gether and along the way, some­how Do­rian has re­stored me. That’s part of their power, I think---horses help us re­claim our­selves, if we let them. It’s as sim­ple, and some­times as dif­fi­cult, as that.

About the au­thor: Vir­ginia Slach­man, MSW, PhD, is a de­voted sup­porter of OTTB res­cue. A mem­ber of the Equine-As­sisted Growth and Learn­ing As­so­ci­a­tion and cer­ti­fied by the Equine Ex­pe­ri­en­tial Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, she’s the pres­i­dent and founder of Stride, LLC, her equine-as­sisted ex­pe­ri­en­tial learn­ing pro­gram in St. Louis, Mis­souri. She’s also the au­thor of five books and has taught writ­ing and lit­er­a­ture at the col­lege level for over 20 years.

RESTORA­TION: “I can be in the worst pos­si­ble mood,” says Vir­ginia Slach­man, “but go­ing out to the pas­ture and be­ing with my horse al­lows me to find a place in­side where a still seren­ity abides.”

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