Horses amaze me and there is not a day that goes by that they don't teach me something. I love each and every one of our therapy horses so deeply for the gifts they provide to our program, but this guy has rocked my world over the past 2 months.
This is Danny. He is 16 years old and 18-hands high. For those of you non horsey people- that means that at the tallest point of his back, he is almost 6ft tall. The average horse is around 15-hands. AKA He's HUGE. His nickname at the barn is the Moose. We are at a barn with huge hunter jumper horses and I'm pretty sure Danny is currently the largest at the facility. He's gorgeous and has a ridiculously loveable personality so it's hard not to fall in love with him. But it's also hard not to be intimidated of him and that's where our story begins.
I met Danny right before the holidays because his amazing owner needed to downsize her herd. Upon learning about this horse, mutual friends kept urging me to go meet him and my response was "What in the WORLD am I going to do with a horse of that size in a KIDS program?!" Well curiosity got the best of me, so I went to play with him and I was in awe. Partially because he's just really cool and partially because there's something about being in the presence of an animal that size that forces you to stop in your tracks, put everything aside and breathe in all of the feelings. I imagine that what I experienced looking up into his soulful eyes is what our tiny kiddos experience the first time they meet their horses.
Three months later, we decided to move forward with bringing him in for a trial. I was so nervous about the decision but there was something that felt like the universe kept pulling us together and maybe, just maybe, it was meant to be. I was worried because it was a big change for him. He hadn't ever been with a different owner and he wasn't a horse that transitioned from job to job. His owner was visually impaired and his job was to love and care for her. Their bond is so strong, that I knew there would be a significant adjustment period. He had the potential to be a great therapy horse, he just had to in his heart, choose to make this transition. Choose to be part of our herd.
The first little bit was challenging. There were a lot of emotions felt by both him and I. I am so sensitively in tune to my herd and I could feel all of the changes he was going through. We had to get him sound before we could start doing much work with him and his anxiety about being in a new place was through the roof. I too, often have extreme anxiety but my daily work with the horses and kids helps me to keep it in check.
Well as life would have it, I happened to be at an all time high with my unmanaged anxiety levels and I had just agreed to take on a horse that I wasn't sure I had any business having. Human anxiety + horse anxiety is a never a good combo to enter a relationship with and truth be told, I greatly dislike big horses (Don't tell him this #hedoesntknowheshuge). I have a healthy appreciation for the power they have and how far the fall is if I do something wrong. Stick me on a pony any day and I am a happy camper, but I knew that I needed this. I needed the reminders and the lessons he was going to teach me. I needed him to be this big beautiful block in my path to make me stop and evaluate what I was doing and where I was headed.
So here I was, standing with Danny in his new stall- his emotions are high, my emotions are high and I have to gently remind myself that I do in fact know what I'm doing. For the first few weeks I worked with him, I would randomly have tears running down my face and could feel my body vibrating from the energy of my insecurities. He would force me to plant my feet on the ground, breathe and consciously make the decision to trust the process and ride the learning wave that was sure to come from this experience. I wasn't afraid of him, but I was afraid of doing something wrong. I was afraid of trusting such a large animal with my life and ultimately with the lives of some of the people I care for the most. I was afraid that I wasn't enough or that WE collectively as a program couldn't be enough. We needed to learn to communicate in a way that each other understood. His comfort zone did not match with my comfort zones and I definitely had to learn to be calm and confident leading/ working with a horse that I could only see under instead of over.
We took it day by day, celebrating the silliest little wins- me being brave, him being brave and both of us breathing our way on this new journey together. Through it all, his loving and goofy personality warmed the hearts of us all and ultimately helped me through learning to better address and manage my own and sometimes overwhelming anxiety.
He was afraid of the most random things and he had a lot of confidence to build in his new element but from day one the one thing that stood out was his love for the kids. No matter what was going on he would put his head at eye level with a child, sigh and relax in peace. We gave him time to figure things out, integrate into his new herd and trust that he would sooner or later emotionally transition into his new job. I am so glad we did. He loves his herd. He and Karma are ridiculously adorable together. But above all else he LOVES his job with the kids.
I've never known a horse to be more confident with a rider in the saddle rather than in hand, but he is. No matter what is going on, when one of our kids climbs their way astride him, he goes into his happy place and off they go. It took us two solid months to get to the point that we all trusted each other to get into this routine, but it was so worth the wait. Through it all, I've intensively had to practice what I preach and I had to trust. Trust that I wasn't insane for taking this leap of faith and trust that he would go through his process and choose us.
Today marks Day 2 of our 2016 Summer Camp season and my heart is happy watching him with the kids. It is a requirement that our horses enjoy their job, but Danny truly looks as if he's won the lottery. He loves everything about the attention he's showered with, their squeals of joy and the fact that he gets to participate in camp by giving them the freedom to ride a horse. I wasn't sure if I would ever be capable of fully trusting a horse this size, but after today, that thought feels so silly and ignorant. I am so grateful he found is way into our lives and our hearts. He has helped me to become a better therapist and a more grounded person and for that I appreciate him.
This journey is still just beginning but I'm proud of him for embracing it all. I'm proud of our team for taking this chance with a horse that didn't quite seem to fit the mold. I'm proud of our herd for showing him the way. But most of all I'm proud of our kids for trusting him, jumping at the chance to ride this massive horse and always reminding us what a lot of love and patience can do for giving us a chance at something new.
Cheers to Danny and cheers to trusting the process.
**Photo Credit goes to Images by Blaire Catherine