How do you know what your is horse telling you?
It can be frustrating when you have a problem with your horse and you know they are trying to tell you something, but you just can’t work out what.
I’m going to share a story about one of the times in my life when I just knew something wasn’t right with my horse, Jack, but I didn’t know what. It led me on an amazing journey which taught me to listen to my gut instincts and to trust my intuition.
When I bought Jack, he was underweight and unfit but I thought that with time and some ‘Rosie TLC’ he would soon be a lovely horse for me and my daughter to share. During the first few months he had his teeth checked, a new saddle fitted and a treatment with the physiotherapist. The physio confirmed that he was very weak in his hindquarters and she recommended exercises to build up the muscle, as she was concerned that he may have a neurological problem. I decided to continue with his training and see how he progressed.
Gradually Jack began to put on condition and within six months he looked like a different horse. Although he was developing well, the main challenge was correcting his balance, as he was very ‘on the forehand’. His behaviour was also unpredictable. He was generally very calm, but at times he would spook and shoot off forwards or sideways and he was very unsettled when travelling. I wasn’t a brave rider, but I had coped with many spooky, fresh horses over the years and yet there was always something different about Jack’s ‘spooks’ which frightened me!
On her next visit the physio recommended that I get the vet to do some tests. An x-ray showed that Jack had two lumbar vertebrae quite close together and although they were not touching, the vet recommended injecting into the joint. Nothing unusual was found in his neck. I agreed to the injection and I was asked to continue with his training and to monitor any changes in his way of going and/or behaviour.
I didn’t notice any changes and I began to think that it was me! Perhaps my fear about his spooking was causing the problem! Perhaps my training wasn’t good enough!
But that didn’t add up either. By this time, we had won several local dressage competitions and I’d decided to register with British Dressage so that we could compete at affiliated competitions. Jack was a star at the competitions and he won his first six preliminary dressage tests and his first Novice test. But as we did more competitions he became more stressed in the trailer. On the final outing, he became so upset that he managed to jump over the front bar of the trailer whilst travelling. This was the last straw. I decided that I would not carry on competing until I could find and solve the underlying problem. I knew that there was something going on, which I had to uncover.
On one of Jack’s regular dental check-ups I was telling the dentist about my problems and she recommended the work of Peggy Cummings and her Connected Riding. Peggy was soon coming to the UK to run a clinic and I decided to go along. This was one of the best things I ever did. Peggy has a wonderful philosophy of training horse and rider in connection. I loved the course and I really believed that I had found the ‘key’ to Jack’s problems! I attended several more of Peggy’s clinics and had some private sessions with Jack and the exercises that we
worked through made a real difference. Firstly, it helped to raise my awareness of where Jack was tight and bracing in his body and secondly, Peggy’s exercises helped to soften him and allowed him to move more freely.
Jack continued to improve but there was still something that seemed to block his progress and I didn’t know what! His suppleness had improved, but he was still quite tight in his neck and as he was asked to address his balance and take more weight on his hindlegs he began to drag his hind feet. The spooking continued.
I became frustrated. When he did spook and I got wrapped around his neck, I was sure that he didn’t want to get me off; he seemed as upset as me! I wanted to be more ‘in tune’ with Jack so that I could communicate with him on a deeper level and understand what he was trying to tell me.
I’d had a reading with an Animal Communicator many years earlier and the idea came to me to have a reading for Jack and so I contacted Holly Davis. After all, I’d tried all the physical avenues and I was now looking for another clue!
In the reading, Holly told me that I had the answers and that if I ‘became a horse’ I would be able to feel into Jack’s body. At the time, I had no idea what she meant (and as I’m writing now I can understand why some of my new clients think I’m mad when I suggest this to them!). Holly also recommended that I read The Tao of Equus by Linda Kohanov.
I didn’t get the book, but two months later, when I was hacking out, Jack was spooked by some cattle. He shot sideways and we both ended up in a heap on the road. He was very shocked and had scrapes on his legs and I broke my collar bone. Something told me, then, that I needed to read Linda’s book.
Another life changing experience. Through my own experiences with horses I resonated with so much of Linda’s story and I was intrigued to find out more about the altered states of consciousness to which she referred. Linda had created a training programme of Equine Facilitated Learning and so I searched for a facilitator in the UK. I went for a private session the following month and this led me to attend a workshop. Shortly afterwards, I signed up to follow the training with Linda in Arizona to become a facilitator myself. Again, I thought that I had found the key to Jack’s spooking. I had been suppressing my true feelings about riding Jack; I didn’t want to show that I was fearful. In this EFL session I learned that by hiding my feelings of frustration, fear and vulnerability, my internal physical sensations would heighten and it would escalate the situation. So, was I causing the spooking by my own feelings of fear?
I was desperate to know the answer – and to know what Jack was trying to tell me.
In the first couple of months of my training with Eponaquest I was introduced to a lovely lady who did shamanic healing and I decided to have a reading for Jack. I told her that I wanted to be able to communicate with Jack – I wanted to know what he was trying to tell me. She did the reading remotely and sent me the tape.
The Shamanic healer saw me sitting in the field, where Jack and other horses appeared to me. I started talking to them and they could hear me. I asked them why they would not communicate with me. They replied, “we are communicating with you, you simply don’t hear us.”
The Animal Communicator saw what looked like a clear piece of Perspex between me and the horses and although they could hear me, it was blocking me from hearing their responses. She then told me that the Perspex represented my ‘doubts’ and ‘negative beliefs’ and that I could not hear the responses from the horses because I did not believe what I was hearing. The horses told me that I was highly intuitive, but, I had to learn to listen and trust my intuition.
During my training with Linda Kohanov I learned to ‘become a horse’ as Holly Davis had suggested. I learned to listen to my body sensations, my gut instincts and my emotions. Over the months that followed I became much more in tune with myself and with Jack. Gradually I did less riding, more groundwork and spent more time just sitting in the field with Jack and Bramble. I started practising mindfulness and meditation too. As our relationship grew and I began to trust my intuition, I would get an idea of ‘the next step’. I suddenly knew that it was time to start to address Jack’s problem with travelling. I couldn’t imagine travelling in a trailer again; even the thought of it terrified me, but I kept getting the image of a lorry. A few months later my friend asked me if I wanted to buy her lorry, so I sold my trailer and did.
Consistently, I began to visualise what I needed to do next. Finally, I had let go of what I ‘should do’ and had begun to listen to my intuition. The loading process was going well, and our partnership was growing, but still there was this underlying niggling feeling that something was not right. I still didn’t feel 100% safe when I was riding Jack.
Finally, my intuition told me that I needed to get a second veterinary opinion about Jack and so I called in a different vet. The vet came, did a few simple assessments and looked at me. I held his gaze for several minutes as tears welled up in my eyes. In that moment, I knew that there was something else wrong, the something that my intuition had been telling me all along and that I hadn’t listened to. Instead I’d allowed all the doubts and negative beliefs of ‘what do I know’, ‘it must be my poor training’, ‘I’m causing the problem because I’m scared’ to get in the way. The vet told me that Jack did have physical problems and they could be in his neck, spine, hocks, pelvis or a combination of any of these and that x-rays would now be needed to clarify his condition.
To cut a long story short, Jack went to the vet’s clinic and after two days of exploratory tests it was found that his spinal cord was impinged in two places in his neck and that he had osteoarthritic changes in between the C6 and C7 cervical vertebrae. It was this that had been causing the unpredictable spooking! When Jack was worried about something in his environment and tightened his neck it created a pain (twinge) in his neck which caused him to ‘react’ with an unpredictable ‘spook’ or spin. That made so much sense! His unpredictable reactions were caused by pain – not by his behaviour or by me!
Furthermore, this neck injury was also the cause of the neurological problem, which made Jack drag his toes, be unable to balance properly in the trailer and be stressed when travelling.
Jack had an injection into the joint and the vet’s advice was to ‘carry on as normal’. I couldn’t imagine what ‘normal’ was. I did bring Jack back into work and spent several months building him up again, but as soon as I asked him to take more weight onto his hind legs he started to drag his toes again and his back muscles tightened.
I decided that was enough. If I’m honest I had hoped that this injection would transform Jack’s movement and that we would gallop across the field together and off into the sunset. Then I could write a book about my success story! This wasn’t to be the case, however, so instead I decided to retire him.
I felt very sad that it took me so long to find out what Jack was trying to tell me, but so grateful for what I had learned along the way. Not only had Jack taken me on an amazing journey which had transformed my life, but it changed the way that I train and so has also helped the lives of many other horses and riders.
So, if you want to know what your horse is telling you, learn to listen to your gut feelings and trust your intuition.
How do you know if your intuition is intuition or a fantasy? Follow it through!
If you want to find out how Horses as Teachers can help you to ‘become more horselike’ and to listen to your gut feelings and instincts then click here for information about my private sessions and workshops.