Feed on
Remiscence of a previous hard lesson

Remiscence of a previous hard lesson

We have all had them at some stage or another: hard lessons, the kind that you instinctively know are right but which you only absorb as a result of your failure to act intuitively in the first place. Hard lessons tend to penetrate your very core and you find yourself hard put to resist the temptation of regret. The more obstinate the human, the tougher the lesson and the greater that temptation is. I have just had such a lesson. It came from a horse who injured herself in the teaching of it but not too late to produce the horror and trauma that some hard lessons can. And once I learned that lesson, I was granted a blessed reward. It is such an important lesson that I would like to share it with you even at the risk of revealing that I am just another human after all.

It is Sunday. We have just returned to our holiday home (yes, we are still camping as we wait for some sign of what our next move will be) in the south of Holland following an enjoyable evening with friends whom we have known for thirty years or more. The temperature is dropping from an unseasonably mild level. The cold seeks the warmth of our bodies through every aperture in our home and opening in our clothes. We crank up the heater to a decent subtropical temperature. Then Dubu, our little puppy who has just celebrated his seventeenth birthday, takes ill. Diarrhoea arches his frail, increasingly balding body and his bladder fails. By Monday morning the situation has become critical. His appetite for food and water has diminished and disappeared. He has lost strength rapidly and requires constant help and support. It is clear that without medical intervention he will die, so we immediately make arrangements to take him to a vet.

Monday is also the day on which we are scheduled to travel north to a beautiful centre in the forests of the Veluwe in the centre of the Netherlands to attend a training course with Anaïs, which is to be given by Noora Ehnqvist, a highly gifted and sensitive horsewoman, who used to be a student of and assistant to Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling. In fact, she is the only former KFH student we know of who is actually involved in teaching some of the horse work that she has learned from him, although this may be mainly due to the fact that she was already heading in this direction before she studied with him. The course is entitled Ziel van het Paard (The Horse’s Soul) and is all about connecting with horses. We have been looking forward to attending this course for some time now but it is clear that it will now be impossible for both of us to go. Vicki is insistent. It was she who helped bring Dubu into the world and cared for him when his mother died shortly after whelping. It is she who will therefore be staying behind with Dubu. I am so keen to attend the course with Anaïs that I go along with this even though I have a niggling feeling that it may not be the appropriate decision. Intuition speaks and Andrew turns a deaf ear.

Vicki drops me off at the stables with all my gear and then heads off to take Dubu to the vet. Harry from Horse Logistics (highly recommended) is already waiting with his brand new truck. Anaïs has already been on and off this truck a couple of times. This was how we transported her to the vet several weeks ago. So we do not anticipate any difficulties loading her onto the truck. It is drizzling slightly but this should not pose any difficulties, because Anaïs is likely to load very quickly before the ramp can become wet and slippery.

Perhaps it is because I view the entire matter as almost a routine affair that I do not take the time to get into the moment and establish a proper connection with Anaïs. I normally require a finely channelled meditative focus to achieve this but need some time to get into that space. This time I am not entirely there but decide to try and load Anaïs nevertheless. The result is almost predictable. The mare follows me part way up the ramp but refuses to leave the ground. I realise that I do not have a proper connection with her and lead her away from the truck to focus on that. Andrew has failed to give the mare the leadership she is seeking.

We spend some time standing and walking together. The drizzle is light on my cheeks. The cool air on  my face and hands contrasts sharply with the warm tingling in my muscles under a thick winter jacket. The tree near the gate of the outdoor manège is reflected in Anaïs’ eye. We move and then we are in unison with her eye upon me. I up the pace. She moves with me. I lower the pace. She slows with me. We halt together. We are ready.

And so we continue our promenade but this time around the truck and then directly towards the ramp. We do not falter as we ascend. This time we will enter together I think but then my boot slips on the ramp, whose ridged rubber matting is now quite damp. Anaïs halts with one foot on the ground. I immediately lead her away from the truck as though there is nothing the matter and try again. And again I find it difficult to keep my footing. I tell Harry that I think Anaïs is afraid of slipping. Obviously, if she sees that her leader has trouble mounting the ramp, she is not going to be terribly inspired to follow. Harry assures me that the problem lies in the fact that the soles of my boots are leather and that this is different from her barefoot hooves. While this might be true, it certainly will not resolve the leadership issue. Harry endeavours to accommodate my reservations by spreading some of the sawdust which lies on the floor of his truck over the ramp.

So we try again. The ramp appears to be less slippery but I have lost that close connection with Anaïs. She is having none of it and insists on keeping at least one foot on the ground at all times. I try and regain the connection but, by the time I finally believe I have it the sawdust is wet and I start slipping again. With hindsight, this is the point when I should definitely have called the whole thing off. Yet it is also the time when Vicki arrives. She has left Dubu on a drip at the vet’s and is eager to help get Anaïs onto the truck, so I defer to her and she makes a number of attempts but to no avail.

Anaïs in the trailer on the way to the vet

Anaïs in the trailer on the way to the vet

Then we start being stupid. Vicki and I take turns in trying to urge Anaïs onto the truck using a driving whip as an extension of our arms, albeit without touching her. We rig up lungeing leads at either side of the ramp to create a long passage towards it. We try leading her in, driving her in, urging her in, enticing her in with feed and at one point I notice that someone has even managed to pull one of the lungeing leads around her hindquarters in a desperate bid to push her in. This is a definite ‘no, no’. Never mind the breakdown of logic it represents – trying to force a 575 kg mare up a ramp with a flimsy lead – it is force and as such, it is entirely unacceptable even in these stupid circumstances. I again raise concerns about the slippery ramp but everyone around me seeks to allay them. And I let them. Again Andrew’s intuition speaks but he turns a deaf ear to it.

By this stage Anaïs, this sweet-natured, insecure mare who is constantly seeking leadership, is beginning to lose the plot. Whenever she feels that too much is being asked of her, she swings around and tries to dart around the truck. Every now and then she succeeds in barging through, at which point we drop everything and let her go. She speeds off but stops at the gate barring entry to the paddocks. I then slowly approach her with a chuckle and we start again. But the frequency of her breakouts increases.

I am about to call the whole thing off, when someone has a bright idea. Why not park the truck in front of a small, roofed courtyard, where the ramp will mark the only way out of it for Anaïs? On the face of it the logic is sound but when we resume our efforts, I soon realise that I no longer have a close connection with the mare. Not only has her confidence been undermined, she is also feeling under pressure, largely in part due to the confined space in which she has been placed. The owners of the stables make an appreciated, well-intentioned attempt to help as well. Still, I cannot help but feel that when a warning is bellowed at a horse that weighs as much as a car, is stronger than all of us combined and is visibly upset, and this is followed by an attempt to muscle it up the ramp with what is short enough to serve as a dog lead, that we have moved from the stupid to the ridiculous. This must stop, I feel, but do nothing. Yet again my intuition speaks and I again turn a deaf ear to it.

Harry finally takes the lead and heads up the ramp with Anaïs in tow. He has a wealth of experience with horses, so I defer to him. The mare follows him up part of the way but then stops while she still has a hoof on the ground. Harry waits before trying to urge her to take the last few steps. The pressure mounts and Anaïs balks, turns on the ramp, slips and falls, scraping her legs on the metal edge. She leaps to her feet raising her right hind leg. She is in pain but how bad it is, I do not know.

‘Enough!’ I shout. ‘This stops now!’ I curse and rush outside to subdue my anger. I am angry with myself. I have betrayed the trust that Anaïs has placed in me. I have failed to be the leader she is looking for. I have failed to heed my intuition. Following this brief moment of self-indulgence I return to the mare and lead her to her stable. It is time to tend to her, to care for her, to make amends, to atone. The breast-beating and assignment of blame can come later.

Fortunately, the wounds are superficial and Anaïs is soon munching contentedly on her feed. We will not be attending Noora’s course. It is a real disappointment but incomparable really to having a happy horse safe and sound.

Then it is time to trundle out that old but so reliable cliché in the circumstances: disaster strikes. ‘Remove Anaïs’ feed immediately!’ Vicki shrieks. ‘I have given her the wrong pellets by mistake.’ A brief spell of panic and confusion ensues and Anaïs suddenly finds herself without any feed. After all that she has gone before I am really fired up and let fly with invective until I come to my senses and realise that both of us have messed up. More importantly, it suddenly dawns on me that the whole idea of one of us leaving to attend the course was madness. Vicki was up most of last night tending to Dubu and the little sleep she had was on the sofa next to the little nest of blankets and bedding we have built for him. She is simply too tired to think straight. Caring for the dog in his condition is too much to expect of one us. It will be my turn on the sofa tonight.

And it was. Now, several days later, Dubu has made a major recovery. Although still a bit weak, he is eating and drinking, his bladder is working as it should and he is walking ever longer distances. If this is the reward for belatedly heeding one’s intuition and acquiescing in a seemingly disappointing but oh so much more appropriate course of events, it is indeed a blessed one, one which we hope to cherish for some time to come no matter how hard the lesson.

Dubu, 17 years old and still counting

Dubu, 17 years old and still counting


An afterthought

Michael Bevilacqua says that there is always a reason why a horse does or refuses to do something. I tend to agree with him. He puts it this way:

In general terms this means that if a horse refuses, there is a good reason. What we hear most of the time is that the horse is lazy, stubborn or stupid. In reality it is usually but not always because of some kind of physical discomfort. (Beyond the Dream Horse, p. 124)

Frequently it takes a great deal of effort to ascertain the reason why a horse does or refuses to do something and demands even more of us to provide true leadership when we do. The challenge lies in undertaking to do this and living up to that. Who says it is the horse and not the human that needs to be trained?!

5 Responses to “Hard Lessons and Blessed Rewards”

  1. Vulnerability is a precious gift, Andrew. It gives us an idea of your incredible strength! Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Andrew says:

      You say the nicest things, Geerteke. I think I’m going to become a fan of yours! 🙂

      Take care

      • I like your reply Andrew. It means that you are thinking of wanting to become a fan of yourself. Don’t think for too long. Make that choice now. I am the other you and you are the other me.

        I was just looking at Dubu’s picture and reading about his recovery. Wonderful. And his age is amazing. He loves being with you and Vicky. And really ‘dreads’ the moment he will have to leave both of you behind. He will be called and that call will be too strong for him to resist. He knows his time with you is not over yet. He still has some loose ends to deal with. He is very thankful for all the lessons he was able to learn being in your company. He has gathered a lot of strength. He will need that strength on his new upcoming mission/journey. He feels very privileged and is very thankful having been in a position to live with both of you all these years growing/developing/evolving into the dog he is now.
        Namasté for both of you.

  2. Laraine Bunt says:

    What an awful experience for you both having Dubu ill, so pleased he is recovered, Hope Anais has overcome her trauma and you have forgiven yourself.
    We are having a time of it at the moment with Tigga he is having bowel and bladder troubles, the antibiotics do not seem to be taking care of the situation, I am in a state as to what to do next.

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Laraine. Yes, we are delighted that Dubu is on the mend. Anaïs is quite amazing. We went for a walk in the forest the following morning and enjoyed our usual close contact. There was nothing to suggest that she had experienced any trauma within the past 24 hours.

      Sorry to hear that Tigga is experiencing bowel and bladder troubles. It sounds much the same as what Dubu had. What really helped a great deal was the drip, and he had become quite dehydrated. You may want to discuss that with your vet.

      All the best to you and Tigga!