Trauma happens in almost every life, whether it is human or otherwise. The evidence is clear in interactions, though the root of the trauma, the actual incident, or recurring events may not be so evident. You'll find victims of trauma are closed off, reactive, defensive, and some even aim to cause others pain. The old adage goes "hurt people- hurt people" and it is so true-- to a point. But where does victimhood end and survival begin? How do you turn survival into living your best life? The answer nobody wants to hear is that it comes through work. Lots and lots of work on yourself from the inside out. Sometimes work that is guided and nudged by another living being.
The lasting effects of trauma are easily recognized in horses- it's one of the many reasons horses call to my soul, I'd have to guess. They wear their hearts on their proverbial sleeves. I've always had a soft spot for rescues and often joke that the local critters who have figured me out tell all their friends that if they show up here, I'll take them in and take care of them. Meet Monet. She is roughly 10 years old now. Her story is not over yet- actually, very far from it. I'd like to invite you to watch her story as she overcomes her past. This is just our beginning.
Monet came to me on the 4th of July of 2017, or should I say, I shoved her into my life on our country's Independence Day. Looking back, it was SO fitting as it was the beginning of her freedom too. Here's what I knew as I drove to Ocala to pick up this horse. She was bred in Ocala and confiscated from the breeder, though I'm not sure why. Monet is gorgeous. (And I do mean GORGEOUS.) Her upbringing is questionable. No one really knows the truth about what happened to her except for Monet herself. I heard that it's been rough and that everyone who handles her uses a stud chain. (OMG! What?!?) They treat her as if she is dangerous and malicious. I know that I am her last chance before being euthanized or shipped off for meat. Pulling into the farm where she is temporarily being housed, I see her foster struggling to bathe her in a wash rack as Monet points her powerful hind end at this girl I barely know. She is being directed by this ill-mannered mare in a very dangerous situation, enclosed in the wash rack walls with a horse who clearly had no intention of being washed. "Interesting" is all I can say to myself as I park the truck and trailer.
We take some pictures for the rescue to post on their Facebook page ("She stands nice" I say to myself) and then move to attempt to load her in the trailer. I say attempt because Monet wasn't getting within 30 feet of that trailer. Ok, that's a little dramatic. She touched it once. Just once. Within minutes, she figured out that by positioning herself on the side of the trailer like a spy hiding behind bushes, no one could force her in. "Ok," I thought to myself, "she is smart and bratty. We can work on this at home." To ease the process for her, we decide to allow her to choose to load from a pasture run and a little friendly pressure. At least I thought that was the plan. Then here comes the foster with a kevlar vest on *gasp* and a driving whip. "No, no, no!" I thought, but it was too late. Monet panicked. She ran the perimeter and searched for any way out possible while avoiding going into the trailer. She spied an opening and went for it. This opening was not 2 feet wide, between a fence post and the driver's door of my truck. Guess who won that battle..... yep, Monet. She escaped with some scratches from trying to move my 10,000lb truck or the fence post as she is more than 2 feet wide. "Great, this demon mare dented my truck..." Fast forward 3 hours and one round pen later and she was loaded, unhappily screaming to be let out. It broke my heart to have to collect her this way, but this was for her own good, even though she didn't understand at all.
The unloading process went much smoother, letting her free into the pasture beside her new buddies, 2 other rescues I've had for years. I finally got to take a good look at her and do some evaluation as I watched her meet Rev and Dusty over the fence. Perfect pivots. Strong, smooth trot. Confidence for days. And a mean mug, stone-cold death stare right in my direction that sent chills down my spine. She hated me. Hate is an understatement. Monet loathed me with every ounce of her being. I told her (safely from my side of the fence) as she glared at me across the pasture with a tightly clenched jaw that it was ok. I knew she would change her mind about me eventually. They all do. Still, the trauma I endured from a previous horse sent flashbacks through my head, making my heart pound deep in my chest.
I let her get settled for a few days before having a friend and trainer take a look at her. She is a little more relaxed, but tenses up when we enter the pasture with her. Now, mind you, I believe in non-violence and respect so every trainer I've ever had the pleasure of working with uses the same approach. My trainer was shocked at the death stare. The negative energy could not only be felt, but seen. She was deemed dangerous and I was warned to be careful with her. Fair enough. Challenge accepted. I would win her over somehow. The only way I knew how. Olive branch. Show kindness first. See what comes of it.
That afternoon, I went into the pasture with Monet and the boys and a long weighted line that is never used to hit the horses, just as an extension of my arm and hand to make motions bigger as needed. They were in a smaller pasture, maybe a little bigger than an acre. I asked them to all move off and since I trained the boys to hand cues, they quickly took off to the right. Monet stood staring at me like I had 2 heads. I got a little bigger and asked her to move too. She shot off like a rocket, angrily tossing her head at me, snorting and generally showing her disgust with my audacity. I took all pressure off her, allowing her to settle a bit (but watching to make sure she didn't come after me). All 3 stopped and looked at me, the boys waited for direction. I pointed to the left and gave the signal to move their feet and they took off, pushing Monet to join them because she was in their direct line of travel. "Great job boys" and all pressure off again. Still with a stoney face and angry head toss, Monet stopped shy of the boys who were having fun playing with me. I took the opportunity to gently ask her to travel to the right, away from her new friends. Small kiss and pressure in the direction I wanted her to go. Immediate release of pressure when she moved and she stopped dead in her tracks. Monet then took a deep breath with her head turned looking right at me. She was utterly confused. Why wasn't I chasing her? I gave her a second to process and then asked for the same thing again. Little pressure, immediate release when she offered to move this time, taking just one step. We stood in silence as she stared and sized me up. I saw her lick her lips and relax. No more looks of death wishes on me. I seized the opportunity and offered to let her come close to me. Then, she did the unthinkable. She took 3 steps toward me. I took one away from her to thank her. A few more steps and another from me. In those moments, she decided to try to trust me. She came to me gently offering me her trust. I watched as years of trauma were pushed to the side in the interest of friendship. For me, it was a reminder that it doesn't matter what you've been through, there is a way past it. (And look! Not a drop of sweat for either of us despite the heat of Florida summer!)
Now this story is far from over- Monet is still recovering from the mental blocks she has deeply etched into her mind, but one thing is very clear. Monet was a gift to me. An opportunity to heal not only her head and heart, but mine as well. The weight of the abuse I had survived reached a turning point that day. I was more than a survivor. I had been a victim of severe emotional, mental, verbal and even physical abuse in my marriage. I survived and got out, but the triggers and trauma haunted me every day. Monet and I embarked on a healing journey together. She has taught me things about forgiveness that I don't think I would have learned otherwise. I will share more of her story and my own in the coming months. Our stories are still being written in our healing work together. One thing is for sure though- we have developed a friendship that will be the rock-solid foundation we use to *hopefully* get to ride together one day.