For the past few weeks I’ve been struggling with making a very hard decision. One of my four legged loves started getting mean and aggressive towards clients. None of this behavior was seen when he was just doing a riding lesson. His voice was strong and clear. “I don’t want to”. My answer to him, “you don’t have to”. He's currently on vacation, meaning, no therapy sessions.
I watch our herd carefully and do my best to hear them. It’s important to me that they have a voice and are voluntary participants in our program. As a human being, I can quit a job whenever I choose to, so my horses should have the same choice, right?
If you’ve been in the horse world for some time, you have definitely seen some unhappy and/or checked out horses. They exist in lesson programs, on ranches, on the show circuits as well as in Therapeutic Riding and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.
I started The Institute for Equine Assisted Practices with one major goal; To create opportunities for human and horse to connect. We have a busy psychotherapy program and host horsemanship trainings on and off site. I love this work, and believe in the power of the horse/human connection. It is my responsibility to make sure my herd is happy, which is where this blog started. One of my horses isn’t. He’s a trauma specialist, truly, he is. For the past 4 years he’s consistently chosen to work with the most challenging trauma cases and always been a rock for these clients. He’s offered them safety in a world where every pair of eyes was a possible threat. He’s stood, solidly, underneath them, and carried them when they questioned their own ability to move. He’s showed them how to breathe, and how to stay, when all they want to do is run. When no one else seemed to understand, he said “I see”.
I love this horse with all my heart. He came to me angry and broken, and together we found a way to heal. He gave me wings when I thought I was too old to fly, and he showed me what is possible when we truly trust.
It’s my turn now. My turn to give him what he wants.
He’s lucky, this one. He’s got some young riders that adore him and he could happily continue showing for many years. His work with me and my clients may be over though. 2019 could be the year he retires from therapy. It's not what I want, but maybe it's what he wants. If the two week vacation doesn't do it, we'll go from there.
I’m not sure this is an ethical decision, although it falls under that as well. For me this is about relationships, and hearing a “no”. It’s about putting health and well-being before money, and honestly, it’s about doing what is right.
I can’t tell anyone else what to do, but I can share Wizard’s story and hope it inspires others to listen more. Whether you work as a therapist, show jump, or simply trail ride, let your horse be a partner with choices, let them have a say. They give us so much, give them the option of deciding when they are done.