Complex Emotions in an Adopted Horse

An explanation to non-horse-owners: In this post, I talk about lunge whips. A lunge whip is something that should never be used on a horse, but is often used correctly with a horse.  It is a four-foot long stick with a whippy piece of fabric on the end.  Horse trainers use it as an extension of their arm, to provide direction to horses that they are training.  Horse trainers, the good ones, do not use it to beat their horses.

God bless the folks who take in animals from difficult situations.   Tasha recently took in a horse from a couple who were evicted from their house.  They were going to send for her as soon as they were settled in their new home.

These folks were hoarders. They had as many as 28 horses on their little acre of land. That’s crazy.  The husband drank a lot, and had little patience.  They raised horses, but you know, they didn’t so much raise them as let them grow up like weeds.

Two months passed without a word, and finally, when she called to say, “Hey, what’s happening here?”  The couple said, “You can keep her.”

Which was a big relief to Tasha, because she loves this horse, and didn’t want to send it on to the dysfunction that is occurring in this couple’s life.


This is a picture of Shay on her first day at Tasha’s.

Everything was great during those first 2 months.  Tasha didn’t do much with her new horse friend, Shay.  She just fed her and gave her attention.  Then after she found out that she was keeping her, Tasha decided to try to work with her.

Now, Tasha is a sweet, gentle, horsewoman. She also takes no b.s. from her horses.  She’s not abusive. She is firm.

So when Shay started acting ugly during their first training session, Tasha said, “We don’t act that way.”  And Shay decided to throw a huge temper tantrum. She turned around and sent two feet into Tasha’s direction, narrowly missing her face.

Then she bucked and kicked and snorted and lost her little horsey mind.

And Tasha called me.

Shay and I talked for a long time.  We talked about how much she missed her old owners.  She didn’t know where they had gone. She didn’t understand why she was at Tasha’s.  She missed them. They were the only people she knew.  She thought that maybe she had done something to deserve this move.

I was surprised by this.  At the same time she was talking about missing them, she was telling me about how being worked with is painful because you get hit on the back and shoulders with a cane.

She said she was confused by what Tasha wanted.  I explained the give and take of a good horse relationship, and how Shay didn’t need to worry about being hit.

What is it like to be listened to?

I showed Tasha and Shay having a back-and-forth conversation, through body language, through the natural intuitive communication we all do everyday (though most of us are not aware of it).

Shay said, “What is it like to be listened to?”

She was very serious.  She had no idea.  I told her that when somebody listens to you, they take your thoughts and ideas in.  And part of being listened to is being a good listener.

She was thrown by this whole idea.  She was a little overwhelmed by the responsibility.

We talked about horses. Shay knows how horses behave. And horses are great listeners.  I said, “People can be the same way.”

Shay asked for two things.  She asked that Tasha never use a lunge whip near her.  That she never ever have in her hand that Shay could be hit with.  She also asked that Tasha approach her the way horses approach one another,  in a circular fashion, not in the straight line of a predator.

Tasha also owns Shay’s sister, Izzy. She’s owned Izzy for years.  When I mentioned the lunge whip to Tasha, she said, “Oh yeah, Izzy trained me about the lunge whip years ago.  Whenever I have anything like that in my hand, Izzy grabs it from me and throws it on the ground and stomps on it!”

Tasha readily agreed to no lunge whip and also to walking in circles.  I think they are going to build a great relationship together.

When new animals come into our care, they can have very complex emotions about the people they are leaving. No person is all good or all bad.  Grief is part of the process.  It doesn’t mean the animal is bad or damaged. It just means that the animal is hurting.  As new owners of these pets, it’s our job and our honor to support them in this process, and where necessary, to teach them how to have relationships.

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One Response to Complex Emotions in an Adopted Horse

  1. Marietta Roby says:

    This is so interesting. When I got Sadie, a 3 y.o. mustang mare who came to me for last chance training, she was very angry. Sadie’s inexperienced adopters thought that “round penning” a horse meant running them past exhaustion until it gives in. But Sadie is a fighter (she also had pneumonia, so exhaustion came early) so after a while she charged at the person running her. He ran out of the pen, and the pattern was set. When Sadie came to me three months later, just walking past her pen would cause her to charge with her ears pinned. Going in was flat dangerous, and our first several sessions were pretty scary. I know absolutely that in her earlier sessions with her first adopters, Sadie had tried to communicate with them, but they could not see the subtle horse language and continued to chase her, and eventually she gave up trying to communicate and turned to attack. I could actually see the moment when she realized that I could understand her and respond.

    In mustang gentling, I use a lunge whip to stroke the horse all over while maintaining body distance, and also as a means of getting a rope on a horse that arrives without a halter, as Sadie did. So after a few days, I brought my long lunge whip in. She was shocked and betrayed and terrified and wanted to attack, but kept restraining herself. And pretty soon learned what it was like to be stroked gently with the flexible whip. And learned to accept it. Funny thing, though. After a few days of this, I forgot and left the whip in her pen overnight. The next morning I found it thoroughly stomped and killed. Ruined. And she was done and has never done anything like that again.

    Sadie stayed on and is now the horse dearest to my heart.

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