Thursday, September 23, 2010


I spent yesterday afternoon out at the rescue ranch, working with “Jay,” the trainer there. We were chatting in the arena when one of his volunteers, an experienced dressage rider, saddled up a recently rescued filly. The volunteer had just finished working with another horse, an exceptionally nice mare with a pleasant and willing attitude.

The other little horse, Mia, was one that Jay had been showing to a potential adopter, a woman with two youngsters, when I arrived at the ranch.

I watched as the volunteer mounted the filly and rode her around the arena. It wasn’t long before she and Jay started talking about how wooden and unwilling this filly was. I could see that the woman was having trouble—the horse didn’t want to move, and did nothing at all without a fight of sorts. “Hard” was the description: to get her to back up or turn, the rider had to haul on her head as though it were a block of wood. The little horse didn’t try to buck, just didn’t seem to want to do much of anything.

“Well, you should have ridden her first, before you got on [the other horse]. Then this one wouldn’t have seemed so bad,” offered Jay.

“She has no heart,” said the woman. “She has the spirit of a wet noodle.” I protested at that description.

The woman got off. Jay took the reins. “Yeah, she’s not like [the other horse]. And she’s pushy. She pushed that other woman all over the arena while we were talking. Her size would make her a good kid’s horse, but with that pushiness, maybe not.” As they were talking, Jay handed me the reins and unsaddled the horse.

“What does that mean, she has no heart?” I asked them. To the filly, I suggested we needed to change her name to Noodle, and gave her a good head scratch. She just stood there, but she let me scratch her. When she blinked her eyes, I stopped scratching for a moment, to let her think about things.

“A good horse will do anything for you. This one doesn’t want to do anything at all—you have to make her.”

By now, something about the discussion had started to bother me. I started to lead Mia around. She didn’t really want to move, but with a “send,” and a not-too-gentle tap on her withers, she came with me.

Jay swapped the bridle for a rope halter, and the filly and I did some stopping and backing up. Again, she needed quite a bit of reinforcement to move, and she did seem pretty shut down. She didn’t really offer much of any response at all at first, but as we worked, she became more willing.

After I made her back nearly to the end of her lead rope and then had her come to me, she started to sniff me, and ended up with her nose buried in my shirt front. There she stood for quite some time, head down, just breathing, while I scratched her head and neck.

At one point, although I didn’t really see her move, I sensed that her attention had shifted and she was on the alert. Looking around, I saw that one of the other staff members was walking along the aisle. Interesting. I would have expected the filly’s head to go up, or the ears to flick, or something. Mia had made no detectable movement.

By this time, with no evidence but my gut, I was convinced that there was more to this filly than Jay and the woman rider were giving her credit for. This was no plug horse, no mean and pushy horse. Something was behind those beautiful eyes. What this little filly needed was relationship. She needed someone to believe in her and care for her. What she did NOT need was a person riding her who already believed she was worthless and hard and unwilling.

I led her around a little more, got her to yield her hindquarters, backed her up again. She did better this time. Then she started following me around, with no pressure at all on the lead rope. By the time Jay backed her out of the arena to return her to her stall, even he noticed how willingly and steadily she moved.

As we left her stall, Jay told me Mia’s story: She had been one of thirteen LIVE horses on the property she had been rescued from. The other thirteen were already dead.

This little filly haunted me all day and all night; her story needs to be told, it seems. Mia…MIA…missing in action. Mia’s heart is Missing In Action.

What horrors this little horse has seen in her short lifetime we will never know. Horses are intimately connected, psychically as well as physically, to their herd. Imagine the trauma of starvation and thirst, and the horror of feeling your friends and playmates die in front of your eyes, the terror of knowing there is no way out for you, either. Humans offer no hope, no succor.

How dare we judge this horse, or others like her? How dare we say, “She has no heart”? How dare we expect her to respond to us, to do our bidding with pleasure and willingness, when she is so shut down and traumatized by what we humans have done to her and her kind?

Please believe me when I say that I am not romanticizing this horse, nor downplaying the fact that she could be dangerously pushy, even at her small size. She is a survivor, and she will do what she needs to do to become dominant over anyone and anything in her environment, as a matter of survival.

However, in just those few minutes I spent with her, quietly asking nothing more from her than respect for my space while honoring hers, there was a difference. I know this, though the evidence for change was slight. I felt the difference, and so did she.

Mia’s heart will return, if she finds someone she can trust and respect, someone who believes in her and loves her. For that person, this filly will walk through fire. I pray that she finds such a friend. To that friend, she will give her whole, beautiful heart.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Kay, this one made me cry. I am so glad Mia has you to spread her story.