My husband and I purchased 3 Friesian horses for our retirement. Neither of us had much horse experience. Mine began and ended when I was 9. Howard however was taking riding lessons in the mid-1990s for about a year. That’s it – the extent of our knowledge.
We were unable to have horses at our home, so we put them at a very nice stable. They could see each other when stalled, and had their own private pasture during the day. We worked with a trainer for awhile, but she said her specialty was riding, and all we wanted to do was learn groundwork. So she passed us on to someone who never came through. We watched videos, read books, read internet articles, internet forums, and took in a lot of YouTube videos. The most important thing to us was that we never hurt them, and finding advice on handling horses that didn’t include some painful discomfort to the horse was extremely difficult.
After spending 6 months at the stable, with us visiting everyday, we realized that our relationship with our horses was no better then, than it was when they first arrived. We kept watching for, and hoping for a change. None came. One horse was shut down. One was hyper vigilant. And one was just plain dangerous.
We decided we needed to live with them to create a bond. We bought a new house, which had a pasture. We built open stalls, added peagravel near the stalls, added a lean-to off the stall building, and a pavilion covering the hay feeder and automatic waterer to protect them from rain and snow while they ate. Then we added the horses.
While they were visibly happier in their new surroundings, there were still issues. We were able to gradually build a somewhat comfortable bond with the two females, but the gelding was still wound up tight and lashing out. We dealt with this for a year in our new home, trying different trainers, different tactics, and went so far as to contact an animal communicator. We worked on ourselves everyday to try to come off as “the leader” of this pack. Nothing changed his attitude. He would still frequently charge us in the pasture, show aggression whenever we were around, and basically make us feel unsafe in our own back yard (mostly me – he seemed to have some sense of respect for my husband). After 10 months of living with them, we were debating our next move. Sell them and go back to our old house? Or keep trying, and hoping that something finally changes.
Almost exactly one year after moving them to the new house, I found a book on Amazon called Horse Speak. I should add here that I had already read many books on horses, horse training, horse behavior… you name it. But I figured, what’s one more… might as well give it a read. As soon as it arrived, I read the first chapter. Somewhat excited, I went out right away and fist bumped all our horses in greeting. Each one fist bumped me back. The gelding, Eliazar, was even nice about it.
For that day, I fist bumped them anytime I saw them. My husband came out that evening and tried it as well. Fist bump here, fist bump there. It was a start. They all seemed a bit calmer than usual. Very interesting.
Later that same evening, we went out to do a final cleaning of the stalls, and fist bumped everyone. They all hung around us a bit, then wandered off. We stayed, and just hung out and talked out there, watching them. Zalika, the lead mare, was eating hay alongside Eliazar. Ayesha, the younger mare, came to stand with us, until she walked off with her head high, looking off in the distance. We thought, hey – an opportunity to use Horse Speak!
We both walked up and stood on either side of her, heads high, necks craned, looking off in the distance with her. I did a Sentry Breath. A few seconds later, my husband did one. And we all just stood and watched. We saw nothing. Ayesha turned and left us to stand elsewhere, where she looked off in the distance again. We followed. We did Sentry Breaths again. And suddenly we noticed a herd of deer off on the horizon. That was what she was watching.
We did one more Sentry Breath, and I turned to see that Zalika and Eliazar were watching us. They both walked toward us. So used to being shoved around by Eliazar I could feel myself tense up a bit, but I worked hard to go back to some semblance of Zero. Zalika walked up behind me, and rested her head on top of mine. Something she had never done before, but has done frequently since. Eliazar walked over and rested his head on my husband’s shoulder – also something never done before but repeated since. Ayesha stood at attention in between us. It was THE most remarkable moment we had experienced with these beautiful creatures with whom we had joined lives. It was peaceful, and serene, and I never wanted it to end. It was literally life changing for all of us.
The rest of the evening was easier and calmer than any time we’ve had in the paddock with them. Over time, my fear of being trampled was negated dramatically. It was still there – you don’t just throw away a fear you held daily for 18 months. But I felt better – like there was finally a way for me to bond with these horses, and not die in the middle of a pasture with hoofprints covering my body.
It’s been 4 months now, and the horses are so comfortable with us. I no longer fear Eli even a little bit. I didn’t think that would ever happen.
In trying to find a way to describe our experience to other horse people I know, I say: The horses acted like deaf orphans whose new parents finally got their act together and learned sign language. They have so much to say now! Life with the horses has been a joy ever since. Still so much we have to learn, but what a difference even just a little bit has made.
Thank you Sharon, for all of your work, attention, research, and dedication to learning this magnificent manner of communicating with horses. We knew there had to be something better than what we were being told before, and you found it. Because you shared this, our lives, and the lives of our three horses, have all improved in ways I cannot even put into words.