Change can be a hard pill to swallow, for humans and horses.
In a crisis, I am clear, focused and ready to lead those who may not be processing the situation well. My challenge comes later – learning to accept the change and whatever new reality that may bring.
When a horse changes barns, this is very much like a crisis to them. Their whole world is turned upside down – feed and routines are different, their equine friends are nowhere in sight, and their caregivers are strangers. Some say it can take up to a year for a horse to fully adjust to their new surroundings and truly settle in.
When my dear friend, Megan, answered my call for help and brought over Flurry to be a companion for my business partner’s horse, Atticus, it was a turning point fraught with vulnerability. Flurry handled the initial transition remarkably well, and like me, was calm, cool and collected in that moment of intensity. Also like me, I began to see his discomfort over time, showing that he was feeling unsure of this new arrangement as it sank it he wasn’t going back to his old life.
Watching him out in the field, he would interact as little as possible with the other horses and would keep to himself most of the day. In the barn, he would always be a “good boy”, doing what humans asked of him but with no real connection and avoiding contact when he could.
Slowly, he began to open up. At first, I would catch a small change of expression while he made eye contact, and I wondered if I imagined it. I was encouraged when he began acknowledging me as I would walk into the barn, giving me a sort of hello.
One day, he walked over to me, put his head in my arm, took a big sigh and started nuzzling me. I breathed a sigh of relief with him, and gave him some extra emphatic scratches while he gently groomed me back. I believed this was his moment of accepting his new world, and I was grateful to be part of it.
From that moment, Flurry really started to come out of his shell. He began spending more time with the other horses, showing more interest in his human caretakers, and happily accepting grooming and scratches whenever they were offered. He started to let out his mischievous side by unlocking his stall door and visiting the other horses in the barn. In the time it took us to figure out a latch system he couldn’t undo, he began unlocking the doors of his new-found friends as well, giving us quite the surprise the next morning as they had played musical stalls.
Then one morning, Flurry shut down again. Not wanting to push my affection on him, I tried to give him his space. He went back to spending more time away from the other horses, avoiding contact with people when he could, and seeming generally sombre.
Coinciding with his change in demeanor was my friend Megan’s realization that she could no longer have horses in her life. With two young children and a tremendous work load, she decided she had to let her horses go. She had been boarding Flurry with me while maintaining ownership, and was now looking to sell or rehome him.
For two months, discussions were taking place about Flurry’s future, and for two months he maintained a distant relationship at my farm. He seemed to know his fate was uncertain, and this new place he had started to feel was home was potentially going to change. He was in self-protection mode.
I wasn’t expecting to take on another horse, but I had become attached – I had a hard time picturing him going anywhere else. I also knew I would soon be beginning my new work with the Eponaquest training, and this would require another trustworthy, sensitive horse. As long as Flurry could come out of his shell again, he would be a perfect fit. I hoped for the best, offered to adopt him and eagerly awaited a reply.
The next morning, before the verdict was in, I went to the barn for morning feed. A bright, perky-eared Flurry greeted me at his stall door. When I gave him his breakfast, he ignored the food and came over to make contact, asking to be scratched in his favourite places.
I hoped I knew what this change in Flurry meant, trying to believe that he could actually be so perceptive. Later that morning, I had confirmation: Flurry was officially part of our equine family.
This is part of a continuing story, click here to start from the beginning.
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