Mar 10, 2012

Recipero Vestri Fortuna

As fate would have it, I didn’t reach Lisa that morning. I didnt leave a voicemail. I left Bryan to his world and started my regular work. Horse chores have always provided me with quiet thinking time and that day was no exception. As I did my turnouts, fed and groomed and worked with the other boys, I thought about B.

My tears had not only been about Bryan, but *for* Bryan. He was so helpless and so lost! I know what horses can go through, having seen plenty of abuse, overt and covert, in my forty five years in the industry. I also knew Bryan had been dearly loved by his humans at least at some points in his life. So what had happened to him that had made him so wrecked physically and so checked out mentally?

And more important, what, if anything could I do about it? Could I even reach him, much less fix him?

I was more than a little embarrassed about him, especially since he was not only funny looking but, at least so far, loudly and obviously neurotic. I busied myself with the usual barn routines, and periodically stopped by his stall to talk to him, give him a carrot, and monitor his anxiety level. He wasn’t settled, but he wasn’t screaming or climbing. He was eating. He was still circling the stall and called periodically. He still did not respond to my voice or touch. If I went in the stall he just walked around me. If I stood in front of him, he would stop, then just turn around and circle around the other way. He wasn’t remotely aggressive but he did not engage at all. I could hardly bear his eyes. Little, blank, inward, unseeing. I’d seen eyes like that on photos of autistic children, war victims, schizophrenics. No living creature should have eyes like that. They broke my heart.

My barn was very quiet that afternoon. I figured it would be a good time to put Bryan in one of the grass turnouts we had. Maybe he’d like a play and a graze, and no one was around to see any goofy behavior that might arise. I went in to the stall with a carrot, and after a couple of turns I body blocked him, he let me halter him quietly, and out we went toward the paddocks. His head was up and his steps short and agitated. He started pooping, a sure sign of stress. I had the chain over his nose in case of levitations, but he was obedient, and not screaming. Whew.

Our barn is one of the few in San Diego that has nice big grassy paddocks. I knew B hadn’t been on grass in a long time. He followed me in, I turned him around, and reached up, like I have done ten million times in my lifetime, to take off his halter. It’s so habitual I didn’t even think about it.

You can tell where I am going with this, can’t you.

As I reached to undo the buckle he flew backward. I'll never know how, but the thick, old, somewhat frayed leadrope wrapped around my thigh just above my knee. I was whipped off my feet in a nanosecond. Bryan broke the speed of sound, backwards. I bounced along the ground for 100 yards. I remember being totally calm and thinking ‘wow! This has never happened to me before!’ and then 'Too funny! I am going to be killed like any beginner!' and then saying calmly ‘Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.’ And God bless him, he whoa'd. He stood there trembling but still while I slowly stood up. He stood there while I hopped about and untangled my leg. He stood there as I patted him and told him thank you and what a good boy he was. He stared off in to the distance.

Taking a breath,  I reached again  to unbuckle the halter. He flew back again, but  I went with him this time and he stopped in a few steps. Hokay.  I guess we had an issue.

Changing strategy, I kept my hands low, and slowly and softly undid the chain from his nose, and then, leaving his halter on, I unsnapped the leadrope and stepped back. He stood for a minute, not realizing what had happened and that he was free. And then in a moment he was off.

I stood there, shaken, scratched, and bleeding.

I called Lisa.

I got her voicemail.



  1. Wow, that's a freaky thing that happened with that lead rope. It's been a long time since I've taken Latin and I'm wondering what the real translation of Recipero Vestri Fortuna it "Take Your Chances?" or "Welcome Your Destiny?" or something else entirely?!

  2. Accept Your Fate. It flashed through my mind as I was flying across the paddock. >;-> It also became clear that Lisa was never going to answer her phone.

  3. Yeah, she didn't want to risk having to come take that horse back!

    My mare was sort of similar when I first got her. She was 5 and hadn't been halter broken and her interactions with humans hadn't been entirely pleasant. Leading her was like flying a kite- but if I tried a chain she absolutely lost her mind. She was awful in a stall if she couldn't see a horse right next to her, She'd work herself into a full body lather in 10 minutes.

    I took up clicker training for her, which made a huge difference, but by far the best thing I ever did was put her on pasture 24/7. She's a totally different horse now.

    Anyway- I look forward to reading more about Bryan.

    1. Thank you! He taught me so much. I also used CT with him and it helped the break through. And Lisa would have taken him back >;->

  4. What is CT? and I can't wait to hear more of his story...hurry and write more. I have a real soft spot for the damaged creatures. Bless you for such an undertaking.

    1. CT is clicker training. It actually was one of the first things that reached him. Not fully, and certainly not as instantly and thoroughly as other horses I used it with, but it did help him a lot at the beginning. It just took a lot more time than with a normal horse >;->