Once in a lifetime-horse. You know the saying, right? 'The' horse. That special one that you'll always remember because he or she has given you the experience or memory of a lifetime. Maybe it was your first pony, or your schoolmaster flying you into that next competition level while teaching you how to touch all the right buttons. Maybe it's that asshole that bucked you off more times that you could count, but helped you win that first championship title you worked so hard for. Or maybe it's just that one horse that taught you the most important lesson in your life... And even if I didn't realise it until much later, that's how it was for me when I met Dorée.
When I met Dorée, she was a little black pearl with a lot of diva attitude and a huge appetite. She belonged to a fellow boarder, but I was instantly drawn to her. She was a sweet and curious thing, even if she was quite rowdy at feeding time – like I said; huge appetite. Her owner and I became well acquainted and when she went on a trip during a long weekend, she asked me to care for Dorée and ride her for a few days.
I found out what she liked and followed her lead; she showed me what I had been missing out on. That was how we worked. Happy times are ahead if you dare to follow the horse!
Eventually we moved to a new barn, where she would be in the pasture with a buddy during the day and would come inside for the night. A new luxury for her, since she was accustomed to being in the stable most of the day except for the hours I was there. So I was excited about a change for the better for my horses. And when I started studying equine acupressure, she became my study buddy. That's when I started to notice...
When I wouldn't understand the coursework or develop that feel for those little exercises, I would take it to the barn and practice on Dorée. She never disappointed me. She would drop her head, let me practice acupoints, stretches; would actually scratch an area that I should work on...
It sounds unbelievable, but I know fellow massagetherapists will recognise these things! Because horses do show you where to put your attention and your touch. Smart and sassy! Even if that means you become their professional scratcher for a while – definitely during shedding season.
It's one of those experiences you cannot describe properly. There are no words to explain to a stranger how weird it is at the beginning, but becomes a new kind of normal over time. It's like being on the same wavelength with your best friends, only with your horse. I call it momentum. And it's a joyous experience every time.
But after moving to a place where she could be in the pasture 24/7 with an open stable, our luck ran out and Dorée needed colic surgery. She'd always had been sensitive that way, but we'd never had any real trouble before. Two years before, I lost a pregnant mare on the operation table – also colic – so you can imagine how scared I was of the idea of losing Dorée in that moment. But the surgery went well : no necrotic tissue, no leaky gut, no complications. Awesome.
Until we got home a week later.
Dorée, my well-behaved and bombproof horse, became a miserable jitterbug that could be caught with a halter, but could no longer enjoy touching, brushing, let alone be walked on hand – or be safely ridden later on. She was constantly on red alert : irrationally scared of everything that moved (or didn't move), emotionally closed down and thus completely unpredictable. She was still the sweetest thing, but when that red switch came on, she became a danger to herself and others. That was when I discovered the use of essential oils – which you can read about in my previous blogpost.
I cried a lot during those times. Both in frustration and sadness, unknowing what to do or how to help her. Because we'd find something that would work, then fall back into that pit and having to find something else. It was tiring, demotivating and at times really depressing. But you hold onto the bright moments when you find something that DOES work, right? Just... follow the horse, adapt your strategy and sooner or later, you will come to that oasis in the desert.
Slowly, but surely we were able to work our way back to communication and riding. But Dorée remained skittish, so I decided I would not show her again – didn't even know if I would be able to jump her again. There's no fun in riding a horse with that kind of stress level. So I decided I would continue down the path we had chosen : ride for fun, trying to reduce her level of tension enough so we could safely go on trail rides again – because she'd always loved those...
Today is 24 January 2018. A lot has happened in the last 2,5 years since Dorée's surgery, but when the weather takes a turn for spring, I think we're good to go again. For the first time in a long time, she is relaxed when I get up in the saddle; still a little spooky when feeling fresh, but she's “safe” again.
I can look back from time to time; track our journey and be amazed about how far we've come, before moving forward again. Because in the end, forward is the only direction to go. Winners aren't quitters. They fall down, get back up and push on. Take the next step, however hard it may seem. Always keep fighting and keep that goal in mind. And even though you're not there yet, you know you're closer than you were yesterday.
I had no idea what to expect when Dorée found me and came into my life – yes, I do believe that those once-in-a-lifetime horses find you instead of the other way around! – but there is only one way to find out...
All I have to do is follow the horse.
Thoughts & comments would be appreciated!