I am blessed to watch the magic the horses do by holding space for people to face their emotions.  Last night, I had an amazing experience – the impact of which is starting to seep through my conciousness.

I have a cranky old mare here who came to me following some pretty horrendous circumstances including abusive treatment and near starvation when she was left without food for a northern Alberta winter while she carried and nursed a foal.  I have seen her as a victim first, and a survivor second and have never asked much of her.   Manners are important for all my other horses, but I excuse her and want to make her life easy.  When I lead her, I let her stop and graze as often as she wants “because she knows what it’s like to be hungry”.  When she pins her ears and makes ugly faces (she has never followed through – only threatened), I have asked clients to “respect her space” and leave her alone.  She lived up to my expectations.

One of my clients (who has some horse experience) was drawn to her and did not take no for an answer.  She gave the mare an opportunity to reconsider, and the mare stood quietly with her for more than ten minutes, allowing her to touch her and building a connection between them.  The client came back for another session, and due to bad weather, we worked inside.  I brought the old mare in, together with her paddock mate, and expected that when the clients went in with the horses, the other mare would continue to display the aptitude for working with clients she has displayed.  To my surprise, the old mare joined the client and other mare in the middle, and the younger mare sauntered off.   The old mare stayed with the client and offered up a quiet and safe space for emotions to arise and be worked through.   Once that session was complete, we expressed our appreciation to the old mare and went to the next client.  Given the relationship the client had created with the mare the week before, I was only a bit surprised this had happened.

I was dumbfounded to see the same thing happen again but with a different person.  The old mare offered her heart to the second client as well.  Knock me over with a feather!

I believe that neural pathways are built in the horses’ minds as they have positive experiences with people and discover that they feel better when they are with people than not.  I have not spent the time with this mare to build this positive association, and I let her down.  I assigned a role to her which she has obviously rejected.  She is capable of so much more.  I have not treated her unkindly, but I have projected a victim image on her when I have been with her.  I am examining the times I do that with people, too.  I have no right to label them, and yet I do sometimes.

For this old mare, the jig is up.  I have done her no favours by babying her and protecting her from the world.   She will be asked to behave herself when she is being led.  I will expect her to respect me and my clients as we respect her, and her life will be better as she becomes a happy and productive equine partner with me and my clients.  I will continue to treat her kindly, but I will ask that she return this to me and to my clients.

Today, I express gratitude to cranky old mares everywhere, and understand that respect is earned on both sides of each relationship.  Preconcieved notions I carry will affect the outcome of my relationships.    I invite my friends to point out when I am pinning my ears, but please do so kindly…