It was the summer of 2007 when we first met. Her registered name was Laundering Money and she was running in the twelfth race at Sonoma County fairgrounds. One could not help but notice the big bodied mare throwing an even bigger tantrum in the staging area. With no less than four handlers manhandling her in their futile attempts to keep her feet on the ground, a war was waging to get her tacked up in time to race. Fighting for her life, or so she thought, I watched her hurl herself every which way but loose in her attempts to loosen her handler’s grip on her mouth. As I watched I couldn’t help but notice the whites of her eyes literally screaming for help. But with all of the frenzied attention focused on slamming her squarely into a hole that did not befit her, no one cared and not one was listening. Her eyes caught mine and the whites glared out from under her panicked big browns. Finally saddled with grooms running alongside I watched as they jumped the jockey onto her back only to have her just as quickly hurl him to the ground.
As last call to the gate rang out over the sound system they again tossed the jockey, finally but not so firmly in place, and the mare catapulted sideways towards the starting gate. And they were off, but she was no less on and ended the race in last place, having used up all her energy in her battle to be heard. Following her back to the barn I could not help but notice that the mare, though not mentally fit, was physically flawless with muscles rippling on all sides of her nearly perfect confirmation. In the light of the afternoon sun her coat shone like a newly minted copper penny off set only by four white socks that matched the still terrified whites of her eyes. Even though I was not in the market for yet another project pony, something told me that if this mare’s temper tantrums could not be tempered soon, she would soon be on the market.
In speaking with the mare’s owner/trainer my concerns were confirmed. Even though the mare had won her last two races her penchant for acting up and out most of the time, outweighed her ability to win some of the time. We agreed on a price and the mare, who her trainer concluded was more of a nightmare, was mine. And so began the story of Seven.
It was her race number on the track and if one was to look closely at the white marking between her eyes, it too closely resembled the number seven; hence she would become my lucky number Seven. Once at my ranch my new project pony needed time to settle. Still fighting for her life about everything and nothing at all, Seven nearly took my vet’s life when she let both back feet fly for no apparent reason, narrowly missing the opportunity to plant both hooves squarely in the back of his head. We both agreed it would take time to let the steroids leach from her field of thoughts that made her dream to be mean. She was angry and justifiably so. In looking at her papers I noticed that she had been kicked to the curb by nearly a dozen owners already and was just coming three, a baby even by track standards. My timing was just in time for at risk of being orphaned again, Seven was in desperate need for a herd to call home. Both of which I could and would promise to provide her.
Thoroughbreds by nature are oft times a hot horse with an abundant supply of energy. They are not unlike many of the at risk teens that participate in my Equine Assisted Skills for Youth Program, otherwise known as The EASY Program that I developed to provide youth with equine/educational learning opportunities in an authentic learning environment. It has been my experience that this energy has two ways to flow, either in a positive direction or a negative one. What can greatly assist and encourage both to channel their energy in a constructive versus destructive direction, is the relationship that develops between horse and rider. It is a collaborative effort for two to think as one.
My philosophy when working with both rescue horses and troubled teens is that what is most important is not the speed in which you travel, but more so the direction in which you go. Take small steps, albeit in the right direction, and you will eventually get exactly where you want to go. My goal with Seven was to create a learning environment that encouraged mutual trust and respect through the use of clear and consistent communication aides, namely our seat, legs, hands and voice in ways that would allow both horse and rider to flourish and succeed in any equine arena that they should choose to participate.
The relationship would take time to develop. Trust and respect would not come easy to Seven. She was aggressive by way of both her nature and the way she had been nurtured, or the lack thereof, on the track. She had to learn to follow her leader versus attempt to lead her followers. As I gained her trust, respect and further developed our relationship, I soon learned that my Seven horse not only possessed a brilliant mind but was an astute listener. Once accustomed to the use of more pain, i.e. more pressure to force her to submit, as was her experience on the track, she soon learned the concept that less was more and when she responded to less pressure she gained more positive reinforcement which ultimately put the pleasure back into working with her human counterparts and partners.
We soon moved from working in hand utilizing a lunge line and draw reins to working through the same exercises with me on her back. Reinforcing the need for trust, respect and clear and consistent use of my communication aides would allow us to keep the progress and the process positive and progressive. From there Seven’s training grew in leaps and bounds, literally for soon she was jumping small courses and most importantly enjoying her newly acquired skills. She no longer felt forced to cooperate, more so a willing participant in our partnership of two. Once an emotional basket case, her confidence grew allowing her to take life much more in stride with her strides. Today she is truly my lucky number Seven, a talented, brilliant minded and though still emotionally charged and challenged at times she has learned to stay on course. Together we are a team and the horse that once ran off course is saddled up and ready to go, as is her rider.
To our young equine audience: Do you have a favorite horse story about the relationship that you have developed with your favorite horse? If so, please share it with us in the hopes that we can share the good work that you too have accomplished in partnership with your equine partner. Entries can be sent to Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org