Meet The Trinity
In the beginning, I didn’t want anything to do with Legend. He was many good things. He was sweet and communicative. It was obvious how much he enjoyed human companionship. And, he was an absolute handful when tacking up and riding. He fit your typical Arab profile – hot, overly sensitive, and emotional. He was afraid of trails and water, and was extremely buddy sour. He was too smart for his own good, often waiting for the perfect time to try and launch me while cantering. I realized that there was a reason he had been for free – no one could ride him safely. Because I had lived in the area where my Dad found him, I was able to learn about his background. He was started on the trails in Western MD, where he was from. This would explain his “out-of-mind” behavior. He was then purchased by a woman who owned him before we got him. She had become pregnant with her third child and was unable to ride him. At that point, he hadn’t been ridden in over two years. She often “leased” him out to a local trainer who used him as a school horse for her kid’s programs. Now, that was just crazy! And, I knew it to be true as I had witnessed her students riding dangerously out-of-control horses at the local horse shows.
At the time, I lived in DC and my horses were kept at my parents’ farm on the Eastern Shore of MD. I was able to see them about every four-to-six weeks, definitely not conducive to putting in the necessary time needed to re-start an eight-year-old horse. As my design business grew in DC, I was afforded the time to take three-day weekends. This gave me the opportunity to put time and consistency into Legend’s training. It wasn’t long before I was able to buy my first horse, Smokey. Now I had two “green-broke” horses to train, oh my!
Legend was so smart and his ability to express his feelings, emotions, showed me how complex and intelligent he was. He expressed jealousy over the time I invested with Smokey. He would stand outside the round pen, watching me work with him, pushing on the gate, walking beside me, or calling to me. Eventually he would fall asleep waiting for his turn. When I would bring him in to work with him, he would hug me, nickering. He was great at liberty – and, a handful online or under saddle. His need for emotional connection, love, and affection was so important to him and we really seemed to have fun and connect so purely at liberty. It took me awhile to figure out that I lost my heart-felt joy and connection when I had a tool in my hand. He’s been a great teacher in that regard.
To this day Legend is “A Legend.” He is a testament to the heart of a horse, their unconditional love and trust. He is strong and noble, wise beyond his years. He is a loving, proud, protective, loyal, and, most of all, brilliant horse. He continues to not only meet me where I need to be met in my horsemanship, he asks me to meet him, bringing me to a higher state of awareness and consciousness. Legend continues to amaze me with the depth of the connection that can exist between man and horse. I love him and I trust him like no other, as he is one of my soul-mates. I will be, and am now, forever grateful for his love, patience, and guiding heart.
Legend has been with me for about 13 years and was a gift from my Dad. In 2002, my first horse, Brandy, was slowly dying. He was 32-years-old and we believed it to be cancer. Brandy’s health continued to decline and it was heart wrenching to watch as he was dropping weight quickly and finding it difficult to get around. It was during this time that my Dad began looking for another horse. He wasn’t looking to replace Brandy, but rather help diffuse the pain of his departure. Just months before Brandy passed, Dad found a cute little Arab named Legend.
Smokey came to me in a black-and-white ad that I found in a local publication. The ad read something like this: Beautiful 5- year old BLACK APHA gelding, 15.2hh, sweet and “green-broke” to ride. At this time in my life, my late horse
had passed and Legend was the only horse that was rideable – if you could even call it that! I was having such a hard time with Legend, mostly because I could only see him every four-to-six weeks and he needed five days a week of training to get the bugs out of him. He was ornery and hated to be ridden with a saddle. I didn’t blame him, as I could tell he had been saddled improperly and was unsure and sour. Now that I could invest three days a week at my folks, I decided it was time to find a riding horse so my Dad and I could ride together. That’s when the ad for Smokey caught my eye.
I showed the ad to my Dad, who reminded me that I was looking for a more finished horse, not a “green -broke” horse. And, for some intuitive reason, I was dead set on checking this one out. I made a call to his owner. She was more than happy to show him to me and told me that today wasn’t a good time. I told her that I was leaving the next day to go back to DC. She explained further that he wasn’t in a “good place” as he had just bucked off someone that that came to see him. I asked her why and she said it must have been the saddle slipping that startled him. I was persistent and told her that I wasn’t interested in riding him – what? Again, I had this feeling, deep inside my heart, that told me to go and see him. I think she could hear the persistence in my voice and she eventually agreed to show him to me. Before even seeing him, I was already hooked. Like a magnetic force beyond my control, I felt absolute in my decision to not only meet him, but to buy him – sight unseen.
Believe me when I say I was NOT looking for a challenge or another re-start. I loved Legend AND I wasn’t interested in another horse with issues. I figured that the next horse would be grounded and a great trail horse – one that was tall enough for my Dad to ride and sensible, allowing me the time necessary to finish Legend. Hmmm, I think you already know where this is headed. As my Dad and I pulled up to the farm where Smokey lived, I could see this young, beautiful black QH racing around a large paddock. I’ll never forget my Dad grabbing my arm and looking me squarely in the face and asking me, “Are you sure about this? He doesn’t look very calm.” I don’t know what came over me; but, after seeing Smokey, I was even more convinced that he would be coming home with me. I didn’t see the chaos or panic in him. I saw his heart and it called out to me to save him.
As my Dad and I entered the barn, we were met by the owner and her husband. They had been trying to catch Smokey for about forty minutes. It was a cold February day and he was breathing heavily and full of drenched sweat. He was panic-stricken at this point. I could see that all his pasture mates were far away, roaming in about twenty acres, or so. Smokey kept calling to them, racing up to the electric fence. His owner was discouraged at this point. It was obvious that she had been trying to catch him for some time. I asked if I could go out to him. I could tell she was frustrated and I didn’t think she was handling the situation well as her efforts to get him were only making the situation escalate. I took a lead rope with me and walked out into the paddock, not too far from the barn, and just stood. Smokey took one look at me and ran. He ran crazily, too, with that wild look in his eye that I’ve seen before from horses that are on total flight mode. It’s almost as if they are suicidal, ready to run through anything that gets in their way of perceived danger. Understanding this, I wanted to be as calm and respectful of his emotional threshold as possible – the distance between us that was acceptable to him.
I stood there for probably fifteen minutes, breathing slowly and making sure that my intention was coming from my heart. I did not want to focus on the “why” of his state of mind, as I would then be feeding into his energy; rather, it was more important that I ground myself and be the calm, clear leader he needed right then. After about fifteen minutes of frantic running and screaming, he stopped and stared at me. That’s when I knew I had permission to quietly, calmly walk towards him, continuing to remain vigilant of his thresholds. Before long he was coming towards me. Once he was close enough to almost touch, I slowly extended my hand, in the standard “horseman’s handshake,” and he bolted away. I reminded myself to be patient. I was so drawn to him I could not help but want to gain his trust. My Dad questioned me again, my motivation for investing time in him. I told him that I just had to. There was this connection. Smokey felt it, too, as it kept drawing him into me. It was his “try” that I could not just see, but feel. After many attempts on Smokey’s part, he finally allowed me to clip the lead to him.
At this point he had calmed down enough to where he was no longer sweating, trembling, panicking. But, as soon as his owner took the lead and walked him into the center aisle of the barn, he started to pull back, tremble, and then eventually freeze, shaking all over. I was absolutely stunned and in disbelief as I had never been exposed to a horse reacting to human contact like that. This just proved to me even more that I had to buy him, save him from the confusion and sadness. That cold, February day would be the first time I saved Smokey’s life; and, six months later would be the next.
To be fair to Smokey’s previous owner, she did the best she could. She traded her favorite Arab for Smokey, saving him from the abuse and neglect he was suffering then. From the conversations we shared, she had no idea how troubled he was. Because he was “purchased” from the area, she was able to get his background – where he was born, who owned him. I soon found out that he had been passed around many times over, from person to person, before the age of five. I can only surmise that, between his reining bloodlines and looks, folks got greedy with him and pushed him too fast, too hard.
Smokey arrived at my folk’s farm the following weekend. He was shaking, sweating, and nervous. We would spend the next six months getting acquainted before he would become gravely ill from liver disease. I have to say that, within those six months, before he became ill, we made a lot of progress; although, not enough to ride him safely out on the trail. He was still too unpredictable.
It was during our progress that I began to understand how deeply troubled Smokey was. On a scale of one-to-ten, his level of baggage, issues, and triggers, was a twelve. I was continually amazed with his sense of panic. This is when I began researching areas of equine behavior and found links to Autism, specifically Spectrum Disorder. I also became educated about PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder. I felt he was showing signs of both, specifically the way he handled new situations, stimuli. It just didn’t make any sense to me that we could make so much progress and then one situation could trigger him into severe panic and flight, undoing what progress we made thus far. It was so hard to bring him back, too. It was like opening Pandora’s box…one evil after another would be opened, leaving only hope to count on. I soon began keeping track of his triggers and, more and more, they became similar to both Spectrum Disorder and PTSD causes. This would soon help me identify and solve many of his challenges. And, in the end, love, patience, and consistency proved to be the best medicine of all.
It was during those first two years that our trust, and my safety, was tested. I hit a trigger point in him one day when mounting. I was throwing my leg over him when the touch of my leg startled him, sending him into a bucking rampage. He threw me off and into the round pen panels. I suffered fractured ribs and a lot of bruising, both emotionally and physically. And, it was an experience that would positively change my life forever.
From that moment on I became more observant, more trusting of my own intuitive nature, and more careful – all of which ultimately helps you go slower and become the problem solver needed when dealing with challenging behavior. I have to admit that I was eager, even greedy, to ride Smokey that day. And, looking back, he was not even close to being ready. He is the reason I created my riding “Preflight System” where he assists me getting on, either from a mounting block or fence. His assistance shows up in his willingness to walk over to me, gently lean into me as I prepare to mount. I am not holding him or leading him either. At this stage he is very present, watching out for me and waiting – I truly couldn’t ask for, or expect, more. This is his absolute acceptance of me, as well as permission to get on. I can’t think of a better way to begin a ride, let alone a safe one enveloped in partnership.
Today Smokey is my top horse as Legend is semi-retired (only because of his weak pasterns). Smokey is a testament to the amazing resilience, and try, in a horse. I thank God that we found each other. I wasn’t looking for him… and, as the saying goes “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Smokey has helped me to look at life through the eyes of a child – living in the pure joy of each and every moment. He continues to amaze me in his eagerness to learn and shows me daily that hope is real and ever present as long as one believes and keeps their heart open.
Sundance… she is a dream come true! Believe in the power of self- visualization and manifestation. Soon after I had bought Smokey, I was able to find, and buy, my dream farm. And, it wasn’t long before Sundance would arrive.
I wanted a third horse to complete my “equine trinity.” I had an adorable Arab named Legend, a gorgeous back QH named Smokey, and now I wanted a dapple gray QH mare. Not any old mare either, as she had to be three years of age or less, basically “green-broke” and well bred. I believed in helping the local adoption agencies and equine rescues and put the word out about what I was looking for; and, wouldn’t you know it – I got a call two weeks later! They had just what I was looking for and I had to come and get her quickly. She was mean! She would charge at everyone that tried to handle her, from lunging with ears pinned to kicking out at them.
Call me crazy and I’ll own it. I think you need to have a non-conforming type of personality to want a challenge like Sundance. While Legend’s issues called upon persistence and Smokey’s issues called upon compassion, meeting Sundance’s issues called upon sheer heart from me (I didn’t always feel love for her), and commitment.
Sundance had trigger points that could send her into explosions. When I would bring her out to groom, she would come into the aisle nicely, calmly, yet she would be tense, pensive when I touched her. In the beginning, working her online proved to be miserable for us both, too. She acted as though she didn’t know what I wanted or what was to be expected; and, again, she wanted to become defensive by pinning her ears and charging at me. I never read her behavior as bratty, pushy on purpose, either. She was really unsure and the intuitive message I received from her was that she was sad and scared.
Those first few days, I spent a lot of time watching her and observing how she responded or reacted to her surroundings, including contact with me. On the outside she appeared pretty level-headed and calm; and, when I looked deep into her eyes, I could see her indifference and her protectiveness. Once and a while she would brighten up and I could see a glimmer of her sweet, true spirit; but, she was quick to close it off should I ask for too much, too soon.
I was soon contacted by the adoption agency, on behalf of acquiring her registration papers, and found out that her previous owner raised her since she was six months old and sent her into training for six months before he abandoned her and her pasture mate. It wasn’t long after the abandonment that I got her. I pretty much surmised that she was sad about the loss of her human and angry with the forceful training she had undergone.
I don’t have proof that Sundance’s training was harsh, but based upon my personal experiences rehabilitating horses, I believe so – and for the following reasons: 1) She was called “Pokey.” When you first asked her to walk on, she was a bit lazy and unsure. The moment you asked her to pick up rhythm, she went into a rage, pinning her ears, biting at you (mind you, I’m on her back), and wanting to run. It seemed to me that she should have been named “Go, Go, Go,” as that’s the speed she knew best; 2) If you applied any leg yields, she swished her tail, pinned her ears, bit into the air, and pick up speed; 3) She had no “whoa” button; and, if you applied rein aids, that angered her even more, making her pull and pick up more speed; 4) She was tight under saddle and would brace against you.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Most green horses can show some of those behaviors, but not to that extent. I have never known one to be so defensive and hateful – not without a reason. Oh yeah, did I mention she could buck? This little Quarter Horse mare can jump a four-foot fence at a standstill. Imagine the suspension in her buck. Back then, I didn’t dare ride her without a saddle.
It took about two years to get the buck out of Sundance. It took me three years to learn how to keep her with me during liberty work. She is the one that taught me my round penning approach and how to speak the language of the horse, in ways that worked easily and respectfully. Sundance is such an energy feeler. She is so aware of the power of intention, how you feel within – what you think and how you project those feelings and thoughts. She is also so truly sweet, devoted, and honest. I value her opinion and her honesty as she will only truly partner up and offer if I come from a place true to my heart – a place of love and acceptance.
Sundance is a testament to the power of forgiveness. While I have reached layers of forgiveness within her, she has taught me to forgive, release, let go of feelings and thoughts that no longer serve me well. Each time I gain a new understanding, a new awareness about myself, I see the truth of my heart in her, through her soft eyes, soft and accepting body. I have never been enveloped in love from a horse the way she envelops me. For those of you that have spent time with her, you have witnessed her wrapped around me, around you, in love and acceptance. Thank you, Sundance, for continuing to teach me the healing powers of acceptance, love, and forgiveness.