Here is what we experienced together. His owner told me a bit about Blondie:
they have had him since he was 4 years old. Usually, Blondie kind of “freezes” when a stranger comes close to him, and he looks kind of “locked” and stands still like a monument, holds his breath and avoids eye contact.
He’s having problems eating – chewing only on the right side – since he had bitten something hard two months ago and broke a tooth on his left side. His pelvis is uneven, his right side is hanging down, it also doesn’t sink down to his left when he’s walking. His gait pattern shows his right leg makes the longer step forward, the left one is shorter. For some time now, he has stood “offset”, never parallel. In standing, he always stands the right (front) leg back and the left (front) leg forward.
I approached Blondie with calm and slow movements, talking to him in the same soft way, calm and reassuring him that I had only good intentions with him. He showed his usual “freezing” standing-like-a-monument reaction.
This was when I thought of my resources when working with children with special needs and children on the spectrum.
I asked myself: how could I get this horse’s attention and with what?
I asked the owner and her 18-year-old daughter what he likes to play with, and whether he would be interested in something that he enjoys. Mom couldn’t think of anything in particular, but the daughter said: “But Mom, he loves to play with that little brush!” And she went and came back with that little brush! Blondie didn’t even blink; he wasn’t going to give me an early triumph and just ignored the toy. I was thinking about his midline and how his nose must be in the way for looking right and left, his left leg was standing around 30 cm (~12 inches) behind the right one, hips far apart.
Very slowly, I moved the toy in such a
way that he could see it. I played with different distances and noticed a reaction when I moved only a little further away and
repeated it there. It worked: his interest was awakened, and he followed me with his eyes and head, to his easier side, bending his neck slightly to his right side and bending his ribs more readily to that side. After a few successful rounds of teasing and playfully tracing the toy, I felt he was losing interest. Quickly I asked if they had carrots, thinking and hoping that with a carrot, I’d have extended access to him and get him tracking something that he really loves! With a piece of carrot in my hand, I had a great tool to catch his full attention, and he forgot about his shyness towards strangers like me! We played together, including his owners, each of us having a carrot in our hands. Still, only one of us was supposed to hand it to him, so he had to search and look for it and hunt after the carrot! I guided the carrot here and there, making sure he followed with his eyes and head, leaning over his “good” side, the right one, which was easier to bend. His owner also mentioned that the osteopath of the horse had said that Blondie was extremely flexible. This got me thinking about highly flexible people and the many problems they can get in their ligaments and joints. So, Blondie stood still and was always only bending, never going or walking after the carrot. He would just bend as much as he could to get it!
After a while and about 4 carrots later, and moving the carrot also to his less available side, I noticed something else. Blondie would make a funny movement of tilting his head when he was trying to get his carrot to his left side and a little bit up, above his eye level, which he didn’t do on the other side. I went back and forth between the two sides to confirm what I saw, and he learned! He stopped tilting his head and neck in this funny way to the left after this.
Now was the time when I longed to feel and touch him with my hands. I asked the owner if she could touch his head and she said that she could do it only for a few seconds, demonstrating how she did it, Blondie took his head away again after about 15 seconds.
My turn! I went to stand in front of him, keeping my head down, not looking up into Blondie’s eyes. Slowly placing my hands on each of his cheeks and around his long face,
I softly but also firmly touched and stayed there. Blondie tolerated me staying like this and feeling him for a whole long minute. Only an obnoxious fly on his side could take him out of our internal connection with each other. I felt how he opened up and let me sense him, and I could sense that probably this was new to him, too, to feel himself through someone else’s hands. I showed him what he was doing. Confirming his way of standing and feeling him and his organization through his skeleton. I didn’t have any intention of changing him or the way that he stands. This reminds me so much of my work with children again!
My messages are the same in all cases:
You are okay the way you are!
You are perfect!
You do what you can.
Then, 5 minutes in, the beautiful moments started to happen: he was shaking a bit, took a deep breath, then he put his right foot forward and stood parallel with his feet, he lifted his whole belly and body up and stood much taller! He had his ears pointing in my direction all the time, very attentive with curiosity and life in his eyes instead of staring straight forward. He even closed his eyes! His owner said she witnessed the moment in awe, getting goosebumps and tears in her eyes. The daughter said she had never seen him like this before, so calm, serene and attentive and with a total stranger!
This was possible because Blondie and I really connected. He could feel himself, and he chose the potential change I had offered him in terms of variations of himself. He accepted my hands around his head, guiding him ever so slowly through some variations of his head and neck movements, so that he could sense and feel how that connects throughout his whole body. Inside, I felt as enthusiastic as him when we stopped! I say “we” because he worked, too! He stood tall, his weight evenly distributed through his legs, his whole posture was upright! He walked beautifully, elegant,
relaxed, tall. Some “apples” fell! The owners were over the moon, and so was I.
Thank you, Blondie, for being my teacher today!
Andrea, and The Moving Center team.