Lily was now safe with her chosen people. Many of the neighbors had farms with horses, and yet she had passed them all by to get to the Morrises. One has to marvel that she knew where to go and how to communicate her need. Perhaps the Universe had a plan!
The farm was now “horse friendly.” Amy and Brian settled into the daily chores of feeding and maintenance. Lily quickly established her ranking as herd leader over Olympia. Harmony spread over the farm.
Yet as time passed, questions began to mount. There was so much to learn about these beautiful horses. Reading, researching on the internet, and asking neighbors was not enough. At first Lily was just as sweet as can be. But as she became comfortable and secure in her new home, she began to express her power of leadership. She started letting Amy and Brian know that she would be led to the barn or pasture only when she wished. She would simply plant her feet and refuse to move. Amy was both intimidated and sympathetic. She felt that, considering the horrific treatment Lily had in her past, it was reasonable that she would not want to be controlled in any way. She was afraid Lily would become fearful if she insisted she move. So, she would soothingly talk to Lily, and if Lily didn’t want to follow, well, she didn’t!
What began as a subtle resistance to leadership grew. It wasn’t long before Amy & Brian realized they needed some professional assistance. They first called Dr. Logan King to examine both horses. They wanted to rule out any physical discomfort. Dr. King discussed general care and management, and gave them a clean bill of health. It was then they discussed hiring a trainer. Dr. King knows that I often work with individuals with special training needs and do not use force. The recommendation was made and shortly I was to make my first visit to their farm.
In meeting Amy and Brian, I was struck by their warmth and caring manner. They were eager to learn. They introduced me to Lily and Olympia, and I immediately saw the rising difficulty through Lily’s body language. She was curious and walked right up to me in a friendly manner. As we stood talking, I noticed Lily taking steps towards me as though she were taking over and asking – no, telling – me to move. I quietly put my hand on her chest and backed her up a few steps. She repeated that a couple of times, and then with ears pinned, turned and walked away.
I did not say anything to Amy & Brian regarding the interaction since my habit is to observe and ask questions during the first part of our original meeting. Recognizing their lack of knowledge of horse keeping and handling, they were willing and eager to start with the very basic of basics. Both were like super absorbent sponges! We worked on proper grooming and then went outside to begin a session on handling.
We worked with both horses, enabling both Amy and Brian to partake in the experience. Olympia is a bit of a bull at times, but good hearted and easily redirected to constructive habits. Lily immediately “postured” her lack of desire to be led. It was obvious that we were dealing with a learned behavior.
Horses that have been abused will protect themselves in various ways. Some fight, some go quietly inside themselves and some simply become frozen in stance. I never once thought Lily was misbehaving; she was simply doing the only thing she knew to do when she felt she was not in control. Loss of control meant pain. Horses “brace” against pain, and this is what she did. Of course there would be no pain coming from us, but she is not a human, and we needed to find a way to communicate this to her. I know from experience that horses that have been abused must be asked to work through their fear. If they don’t, the behavior will always be present.
I also knew that I was asking beginner handlers to begin a task which was normally performed by experienced professionals. Amy was clear that they did not wish to send Lily out for training, and wanted to learn and develop along with her horse. Perfect! If one possesses determination, dedication and follows proper guidelines this is a method I find highly successful. Although many owners do not wish to do this difficult stage in training, those who have the desire and possess the right attitude will develop their knowledge of horsemanship with a clarity that will be with them forever. I explained it would be a long process, since I would be working with both beginner handlers and a horse with a history of abuse. If they were willing to take the journey I was willing to be there for them every step of the way.
We spent the rest of the session in discussion/demonstration of horse behavior and language. Explaining the importance of not humanizing Lily’s behavior, I began working with both Amy and Brian on yielding exercises to the bonding with a leadership process. Wanting to keep both humans and horses safe during training, I asked if they might consider getting a round pen. They agreed, and by the time I arrived the following week, it was in place and they had already been working on the ground work I’d instructed them on. The roller coaster ride was about to begin!
This is the third part in a series of posts about Lily. Check back soon to read the rest of this story!
Lily’s Story Part 1 – Meeting Lily
Lily’s Story Part 2 – The Rescue
Lily’s Story Part 3 – New Beginnings
Lily’s Story Part 4 – Following the Leader
Lily’s Story Part 5 – Learning “Feel”
Lily’s Story Part 6 – Making Mistakes and Moving on