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So what could happen if a horse encounters pain in the course of an equine bodywork session in which you are the practitioner and the horse is not restrained in any way whatsoever, meaning they have a choice? What is the horse likely to do? Stay or walk away? What would you be more inclined to do or refrain from doing? And perhaps more importantly, why would you even consider an equine bodywork session without any restraint on a horse with whom you have only conducted two previous sessions, during which they have clearly shown that they are experiencing pain while restrained with a halter and a lead rope held by another experienced bodywork practitioner? Why present the horse and yourself with the challenge of choice?

 

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Finding Gulliver Within

She edges forward against the gate, presses her muzzle against the wire mesh. Her nostrils flare as she sniffs. Will this confirm what her large, soft eyes take in? Is it really Farinelli? I lead him closer. Tenderly he steps forward, the stony ground harsh against his soft soles. In the midst of all that is so utterly new and strange to him, the discomfort of the comprehensively alien world into which he has been thrust, will he recognise her? It has been eight and a half years since they have last seen each other on the other side of the world. And if he does, if they do, will he revert to cowering before the unkind attentions which she mercilessly hurled against him and might just do again? Or would that presence, the kind that used to come so naturally to Gulliver, her sometime lover and friend to both while still alive, which he had so recently allowed us to glimpse within him, would it transform him into the kind of horse that she would seek to be with, whom she understands, whom she trusts?

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You may not believe it but most humans are truly gobsmacked by my graceful, majestic presence when they first see me. Clearly this is not my day. My best friend, Gulliver, has just died, leaving me very lost and utterly alone, as the rest of the family, including the mare to whom I lost my heart many years ago, is on the other side of the world. The good news is that my humans are planning a family reunion over there with me as the guest of honour. The bad news is that, unless we come up with a solution, it may break the bank, which has me seriously worried about the impact on my feed rations.

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Yesterday I discovered a post in the Horses and Humans group on Facebook which seemed to claim that horses need human training. Clearly this was stated from the perspective of a human. It led me to consider the numerous occasions on which I have discussed horse training with other humans. The vast majority have insisted that training is absolutely necessary if we want meaningful communication with a horse and utterly essential if we want to take care of our equine friends. This I cannot reconcile with my own experience of dealings with our own and other horses, many of whom were strangers, if not hostile, when we first met. So I wonder. Are we humans not trying to hide behind training. And if so, is there an alternative?

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Rescue. “To save from a dangerous or difficult situation.” Horse rescue centre. A place where horses can be safe from a dangerous or difficult situation, where they can find refuge. Refuge. “The state of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or difficulty.” I used to think that, if a facility is called a horse rescue centre, it must by definition be a place where horses are safe from neglect and abuse, so I volunteered. Then I started to notice disquieting occurrences. Aberrations, I thought they were, until I met a horse called Rhianna, a victim of severe neglect who had arrived at our rescue centre. Her experience led me to examine other questionable occurrences and eventually to ask myself whether in some instances we should not consider rescuing rescued horses from their rescuers.

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