Gina McKnight, Monday Creek Publishing Author, Freelance Writer, Equestrian, Blogger, and Poet! Welcome to my international blog about horses, writers, authors, books, cowboys, equestrians, photographers, artists, poets, poems, and more horses.
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Friday, August 14, 2015
Truman's Trauma; supporting a fearful horse by Anna Twinney
Jennifer had a true desire to see Truman heal from past experience so they could grow together.
“He has a tattoo on his lip.” This was the first
detail she told me about Truman. Truman was a 17 hand Bay Thoroughbred.
The tattoo indicated that he has been in the racing industry, although we
had no way of knowing if he had ever actually raced. I had seen Truman at
the rescue in which he lived. He would often play with his feed bucket,
asking for his evening meal. He had quite a presence about him, even if
his internal feeding clock was usually about an hour too early.
As my client continued, she mentioned that she
had begun training him about six months ago, having only met him a few
months prior to that. She also mentioned that he had been saddled and
long-lined, and her intention was to eventually ride and show jump him
bridle-less. He had been cleared by the vet and chiropractor, and he was
ready for this new chapter in his life. She was hoping I could support her
with her very first ride, and asked if I would have time to assess Truman for
As I was currently occupied by the 16-hour days
of teaching our Holistic Horsemanship Program, my first reaction was to
simply say, “No, I just don’t have the time.” Especially considering we
were expecting rain and flash flooding which would surely shorten the day
as well. But, I reconsidered and told her if she could make herself
available in the next hour, I could evaluate Truman during the course, as
his evaluation fit perfectly with our curriculum for the day.
I explained that I would be able to demonstrate
the value of “Reaching Out” and the ultimate reading of a horse by
reintroducing the saddle to him. This way she would get the professional
assessment she was looking for and the course participants would gain the
benefits of a real-life Reaching Out and evaluation.
We set up the portable round pen, ensuring we
had great footing, and Truman arrived right on time. I watched as he
approached the round pen gate and promptly stalled. My client walked him
around the pen, introducing him to the area, giving him the time he needed
to walk through the gate, which he eventually did. Once inside we removed
his halter and gave him further time to get comfortable in his new
attempting his new rider, I planned to place a dummy rider on his back.
The dummy was by the side of the pen and I noticed that Truman kept his
distance. I thought that was odd, considering he had previously had a
dummy on his back.
Once I joined Truman in the round pen I invited
him to come to me by gaining his attention and drawing my eyes to my feet.
He was familiar with this gesture as it was part of a language he
understood, his own. He stepped forward, shared a moment’s space and left.
I made a suggestion he be haltered and Truman
left, making curves around me. Clearly he was skeptical about my presence
and purpose. In my mind I reassured him that I was here to support both he
and his person, not to harm him, but help through communication,
connection and this assessment. He remained somewhat skeptical but
accepted the halter. By retreating to get the long-line in the center
of the pen I provided extra time and space for him to digest my presence
before I began our formal introductions.
We began exploring the 4 directions, North, East,
South and West to orient and introduce him to the space. He was quite
willing to follow me while being attached to the lead. His desire to come
off pressure was questionable and confirmed what I had already observed. I
took this to mean that he wasn’t entirely sure about what was yet to come.
Through gentle strokes and reassuring movements and energy, I showed him
that the motions I made would stay consistent. Gradually I discovered some
places he didn’t mind me touching, and made sure not to look him in the
eye, but instead honored him by lowering my eyes.
I stood back, allowing him to leave so we could
have a conversation. He chose one direction of the round pen and began to
perform his familiar moves. With little effort and great compliance he
moved at a trot, transitioning up to a canter for several laps. Without
being asked, he turned the opposite way to explore the next direction. It
appeared he had done this before, as it looked like a rhythm he
had created. The turns were deliberate, and his stride was one to which he
I wasn’t looking for compliance, though. Instead
I was seeking a conversation and began to change our dialogue. Asking for
the next turn clearly confused him and he didn’t want to make a mistake.
He quivered some before he followed through with his turn. His body
language clearly showed just how worried he was as he looked like he made
cutting horse motions for a while.
I just needed to see speed changes to know that
we were connected. He was certainly capable of leading the way, but when I
led the way he became a little unglued. Together we worked out how to ask
each other questions, hear the answers, and find our team flow. Throughout
his session he tried hard to do what he thought was right, while I did my
best to interpret his actions. He was clearly strong and had been in a
round pen before.
Once our liaison was in full swing, he began
revealing his history, connecting and committing to our conversation,
finally settling into a walk and giving signs of relaxation. I invited him
to join me. Although he wanted to badly, he wasn’t quite able to, and
stayed on the fence, showing his concern. Instead of sending him further
and putting him out to work, I encouraged him to join me knowing
that together we could make this work. With some rubs, and soothing
motions I coaxed him to follow me closely and our connection began
In view of his apprehension, I felt I needed to
check in with him further about how he felt with the long-line behind his
hocks and he accepted it without any concern.
It was an easy step to build in and yet
essential for us to be able to move into ground driving without any
continued to build our relationship by massaging him, introducing myself to
him through touch, and exploring any sensitive areas, as the tack was
brought into the pen and placed in the center of the pen. I unhooked
the line, asking Truman to follow me, but instead he made a wide
berth around the saddle. It didn’t make sense and I commented on it. He
also stomped his foot hard three times. It didn’t take a professional
horsewoman to know that he was not happy with the saddle.
A little confused by his responses I walked him
to the center of the pen where I lifted up the saddle pad and my 10lb
saddle, designed specifically to start horses. When I attempted to set it
on his back he bolted side-ways and the saddle fell to the ground. He
moved so quickly there was no stopping him. Without any reprimands and
only encouragement to come back, I knew I had to help him out a little
Understanding that he was clearly unsure about
this whole process, instead of simply “making it happen”, I took my time
to introduce the saddle pad time and time again. He began to relax,
gradually removing any spooks and starts in his body, creating softer
muscles and eyes. I watched for his legs to be safely on the ground and
for his head to relax. The offside proved to be less impactful and he
settled pretty much immediately which added more clues to uncovering our
mystery. He was more comfortable with the saddle where humans spend less
Returning to his nearside, I was able to make
some noise with the saddle before placing it on his back. He accepted it
with greater ease, but with the first billet barely fastened Truman bucked
hard. He took the line out to the end and began “screaming”. I prayed that
I had managed to tighten the girth enough for the saddle to stay in place
and not create further angst by rolling under his belly. I could not take
my eyes off his. It was imperative I stayed calm, focused on him, and let
him know I would be there for him.
With gentle and confident movements I followed
him around the pen as he bucked with all his life, bellowing all the
while. I watched his every move like a hawk, supporting him as best I
could, and keeping myself safe from being run over. Finally he settled
down enough for me to approach him and girth up the 2nd billet.
Unsure if he would attempt to get out of the pen
by trying the round pen boundary, I kept him on the line, rewarding each
calm motion he made. Gradually his ears moved forward and his eye
softened. He would stop for reassurance and I would provide a space for
him to do just that. Eventually he moved from fear and flight,
to processing information.
figured out that he had a sweet spot – East in our 4-directions of the round
pen, and he would slow down just there. In time we expanded the area until
he was able to transition through the gaits with ease. Gradually he did
the very same without the line attached gaining his confidence. While he
became more rhythmic the fear left his body. And yet it still
existed…underneath. I felt the fear that remained. I asked him to turn
unexpectedly and follow through with the turn away from me and he became
We were discovering more and more triggers,
revealing clues to his past, and how he felt today. It looked like he was
expecting to be reprimanded, to be hurt. I knew my client, a student of
ROTH for some time, wouldn’t hurt him, so it appeared this took place
before her time. I was finding triggers and “holes” we needed to fill.
My client must have felt the same intuitively as she had asked for my
involvement in the first place.
The stars had aligned for this demonstration to
occur. From the moment she asked, the day she asked for the support, and
everything in between. The weather forecast had predicted monsoon rains,
and yet the storms had not arrived. I felt that deep inner knowing that I
was here to help them both and potentially prevent an accident from happening.
Truman looked for support and through my intention, energy, and body
language I gave him that solid support system he needed.
When the time was right I invited Truman to
stand still and wait for me to bring him to the center of the pen. There I
would move forward and attach the ground-driving lines. This he seemed to
understand, and it was clear he had been trained in this area. My
intention was to assess his knowledge in turning left, right, going
forward with line influence, slow down, and even stop, and back up.
He understood each queue and I was quickly able
to replace my body language conversation with a communication from my
hands to his mouth. He excelled in this short session. I watched his
respiration throughout, ensuring that we did not overdo anything. Horses
in the round pen earlier in the day barely brought up a sweat and Truman
was wet from nose to flank. It was not the physical exercise causing the
perspiration but the mental excursion.
At this point I made the decision not to proceed
with either the dummy rider or bellying over. Clearly he had experienced
enough for one day and needed time to process this experience. Arguably it
could be said that he would accept the dummy rider and the rider having
experienced one prior. And yet this would mean entering a whole new
conversation and taking an unnecessary risk beginning that conversation.
He had had enough and there was no need to push it.
His ears went back to not only listen to the
tack removal, but also out of concern. I took my time to remove the tack
at his speed. With lots of praise we stood together and he was now
“naked”, tack free to roll if he felt the need. I gave him space to
be. While I shared my experiences, observations and interpretations with
the students, Truman joined me and stood closer than he had done at the
beginning of our time together. He chose to remain connected and sought my
attention. I had made an impression on him, a good one. In my heart I knew
it. This was an exceptional experience for everyone who witnessed it that
day, leaving hoof prints on hearts.
When he left our circle, bucking frantically, I
had felt for him. The only sentence going through my mind was “What have
they done to you?” I had felt his fear in my body, and had needed to let
it go to be able to be there for him. At no time did I push him beyond
what I thought he was capable of doing and what I knew he had done in the
my saddle had sparked a memory and it was fortunate this memory came out
with me and not another. Instead of reprimanding, I supported him. I
didn’t force or hurt him, I heard him. No one was injured and both he and
my client were safe.
It’s not often that I have experienced horses
with such a great flight instinct that they need to buck as though their
lives depend on it and “scream” in action. Instead of leaving him alone or
hurting him for the action, I stood by him. Here was a large animal
concerned about the saddle, ultimately living in fear, and walking on
egg shells in certain situations. When faced with similar circumstances I
always ask myself, “What happened to him and why is it happening in our
He had manifested a hard life lesson, but he
also manifested, my client, an amazing human being to help him find his
way through to the other side of the lesson. She has provided him with a
home and given him respite. She will honor him, raise him up to be the
horse he is meant to be, and take the time he needs to show him that
the trust he has learned to gain back is an honest trust. We may need to
prove it again in times to come, but we shall do that, for he is worth it.