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For anyone intent on living intuitively, it is essential to be observant of and sensitive to what is happening within the range of one’s senses, understanding and, above all, gut feeling. Sometimes, if not frequently, it is difficult to make sense of the apparent jumble of utterances and occurrences of everyday life that inundate and clog up our perceptive apparatus. If you persist in your efforts to identify a pattern, you may discern a trend, a current leading in a general direction. This may offer a guide to where to look but usually no more than this. What is sometimes required, is a dramatic intervention. Ours came in the form of calls from the other side of the world notifying us of the impending death of our oldest equine friend, Gulliver, calls that were so alarming that we boarded a plane as soon as possible and arrived in Australia to discover that destiny speaks loudest to those that listen.


So who is Gulliver?

An Australian thoroughbred horse of twenty-seven years of age, Gulliver is a survivor and above all a leader, not in the human sense of controlling but in the equine sense of being worthy of following. He came to us in 1997 to join Vicki’s younger gelding, Farinelli, after a five-year sojourn of abandonment in a large, fenced section of bushland outside a small country town in Queensland, Australia, which had been preceded by an unsuccessful racing career under the name of Emotional Hooligan. The signs of his abandonment, which included a long, straggly, dirty mane, overgrown hooves, emaciation, atrophy and many of the other signs one may see in a picture of a Spanish rescue centre horse, were soon washed away with bucketloads of tender loving care but nothing could remove the scars or restore his compromised conformation.

Guided by little more than the bum-back relationship to horses which I had developed in the past and a general commitment to the well-being of animals instilled in me by a generously natured mother, I muddled my way with Gulliver and did things with and to him which, looking back now, make me cringe with shame. Riding, we needed to do this, for this is what horses are for, is it not? And so we did, and he bore me with as much dignity as his uncoordinated frame and my lack of riding skills allowed. Indeed, I fell off him with such frequency that I perfected the technique of falling to the level of a form of art to the extent that I never really suffered any injury.

Gulliver and Farinelli just before we left for Europe in 2011

Gulliver and Farinelli just before we left for Europe in 2011

The highlight was an encounter with a kangaroo during a solo ride in the bush. Gulliver crashed through the shrubbery to the left while I continued straight on the path. The discovery of empty space below my buttocks received immediate confirmation in the form of a rapid strike to the head as I hit the ground (I later thanked whoever was in charge of the universe for the wisdom to decide in favour of wearing a sturdy, white helmet. Rising unsteadily in front of Gulliver, who had returned to stand above me, he took one look at that pale apparition bobbing in front of him, before turning for home and braving every stray kangaroo en route rather than having to confront the white ghost behind him. My rescue on the back of a neighbour’s horse with another neighbour escorting us in his four-wheel drive ensured that our escapade was recorded in the annals of local lore.


So what is the point of it all?

Throughout our dressage lessons, Gulliver exhibited an uncanny awareness of energy, one which I now appreciate but did not really do so at the time. I recall being quite overwhelmed with profound contentment when we halted together. I would simply relax and come to a halt physically, mentally and emotionally, and this was enough for him to do the same. Yet without someone to help me develop that side of horse-human interaction, I soon became bored. What was the purpose of teaching a horse to do or refrain from doing something in a particular way and at a particular time dictated by the human? I could not see the point. And so I stopped riding and distanced myself from active interaction with horses for a while, other than to care for them.

Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling riding his chestnut gelding, Janosch

Then in 2007 I saw Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling ride his horse, Janosch, in Dancing with Horses and I knew immediately that the relationship which they had with each other was what I wanted with my horse. If there was any point to horses, the secret had to lie in such a close relationship. But where to start? In the absence of any other ready-to-hand non-conventional approach, Vicki and I started Parelli. This time, however, she interacted with Gulliver, while I took on Farinelli, who had been retired from dressage because he had developed kissing spine.

Gulliver went on to endure much at our hands in our search for a meaningful way of interacting with horses. Although he was not overly impressed with Parelli’s “seven games”, he dutifully performed as required, while always casting a questioning eye towards his crazy humans, even if he did sometimes stomp his foot in protest before doing so. The same occurred when we switched to Hempfling and herded him round the square walkway which the German had dubbed the “magic circle”. Perhaps he did so, because he detected the commitment to his well-being which underlaid all we did with him. Then again, perhaps he also did so, because he enjoyed interacting with his humans.


Gulliver, the leader

Within his small equine band until it broke up when Vicki and I returned to Europe, Gulliver was never a leader as we humans usually interpret the term. Rather than round up and herd the other horses as a stallion does, or direct and control them as a human does, Gulliver developed the stoicism, calm self-assurance and reassuring, grounded presence which inspired other horses to follow him. And if another horse sought to challenge him, a mere glance or ear twitch accompanied by the appropriate energy was usually enough to persuade them to desist from their foolish ways.

Gulliver, my first equine teacher. I was a poor student.

Gulliver, my first equine teacher. I was a poor student.

Gulliver is also capable of providing guidance to a human provided that you are open to it. Equally stoic, calm, self-assured and grounded with humans as he is with other horses, he can let you know soon enough if you have overstepped the mark but without resorting to resistance or evasion. He may mark your violation of his sensibilities with a withering gaze or an impatient stomp of the foot but usually he goes no further. It is in this sense that Gulliver has played an important role in the development of my own approach to horses and my interaction with them.


At death’s door

It was small wonder then that, shortly after completing a Compact Saddlery course in France, where we also received our Master Saddle Fitting Consultant diploma, Vicki and I barely missed a beat in our response to urgent calls from the other side of the world advising us that Gulliver’s system was shutting down, that he was at death’s door and that we needed to board a plane immediately if we wished to see him alive and smooth his transition from this life. Indeed, so grave was his situation that an appointment made to have him euthenised the following Wednesday was brought forward to the Monday, the day following our arrival in Australia. After we touched down in Singapore I even issued a plea on Facebook for all our friends and acquaintances to send good vibrations to Gulliver.

Gulliver upon our arrival from the airport: emaciated but pleased to see us

Gulliver upon our arrival from the airport: emaciated but pleased to see us

Yet, when we arrived at his paddock on Sunday afternoon after driving there directly from Brisbane Airport, Gulliver nevertheless managed to greet us with a perkiness which belied the gravity of his condition. Doubts assailed us. Was Gulliver’s condition really as bad as the livery yard (“agistment centre” to our Antipodean readers) manager, Maree (our former animal carer and now good friend) and the vet had claimed? Our doubts were enough to postpone Gulliver’s date with death back to Wednesday. Did we dare hope for the seemingly impossible?


The awakening

It was just as well that we postponed Gulliver’s scheduled death, as no provision had been made for Farinelli, Gulliver’s mate and companion of twenty years, whom we suspected would be devastated by the loss. Yet Monday morning left me resigned to the inevitable. True, Gulliver again ate a meal but the noises which he emitted from his trachea after swallowing each bite elicited a sense of foreboding in us. Perhaps we had not been fair to Gulliver. Maybe we should have gone ahead with the appointment on Monday.

As the sun warmed the earth in a bright, blue sky, its gathering light revealed a Gulliver who suddenly began to clamour for life and even managed to roll his emaciated body in a joyful embrace of the earth. That evening I wrote the following in a post on my Facebook page:

Yet in the course of the afternoon all of us, horses and humans, began to revel in the warmth of the closest contact that we have had with each other for a long time (or perhaps the closest ever).

We don’t know what you guys are putting in your good vibes but it must be truly potent. Thank you so much! Gulliver seems to have rebounded, eating 50% or more of his normal ration of hard feed after refusing any for close to a week. He is alive, alert and so very present. We are basking in his evident joy while Farinelli seeks ever more contact.

Were we witnessing an awakening of life in Gulliver?


Reclaiming life

From the time of our arrival Vicki and I had assumed responsibility for the horses’ care and feed, so we were right on top of events. When I arrived at the yard to feed the geldings on Tuesday morning, I was astounded by what I saw. Gulliver was the first to arrive, purposefully marching up and planting himself before me. He was alert, animated and even playful while I prepared his breakfast. For the first time in a week or more. Gulliver enthusiastically devoured his hard feed and let it be known that he had space for more. He seemed to be reclaiming his life.

Part of my Facebook post for the day read as follows:

Throughout the day we drip-fed him more feed and he simply could not get enough, as though he had some serious catching-up to do. By the afternoon, he was stepping out when we invited him to join us on a paddock crawl.

It became clear to us that we simply cannot have him killed tomorrow. Gulliver is not yet finished with life.


Today is not a good day to die!

Wednesday, the date of Gulliver’s scheduled encounter with death arrived. The appointment had been made with the vet to euthanise him, the site had been chosen for his burial and arrangements had been made with the digger to bury him.

Gulliver and Farinelli to the left with his scheduled burial site at the witches hats to the right

Gulliver and Farinelli to the left with his designated burial site at the traffic cones to the right

But Gulliver had other ideas. Committed to the everyday business of living, he strode up to claim his breakfast in the morning, wolfed down a number of small meals during the day and cantered up for dinner in the evening.

That day the vet found himself with duties other than those agreed to. Instead of dealing out death, much to his astonishment he ended up affirming Gulliver’s new lease on life. Our big boy seemed to be saying loud and clear: “Today is not a good day to die!”


A clear need for more intensive care

It is clear to us that, if Gulliver is to live to his full potential, he will require a level of care which cannot be provided at the livery yard where the geldings have been living for the past six years. This is not to suggest that their livery yard is inferior, merely that it does not have the facilities to provide such intensive care.

The same is true for Farinelli. In the past week he has been experiencing pain. Apart from a small abscess in a forehoof, the issue is where it has always been: predominantly in the back. Diagnosed with kissing spine many years ago, Farinelli has also developed issues in the lumbar region. He requires regular sessions of bodywork and perhaps also red light therapy and/or acupuncture.


Upheaval in Spain

On the other side of the world in Spain we also have to contend with upheaval Rancho Acecbuchal, the livery yard in which our mares are kept. There the difficulties do not involve the horses but the humans. Although our horses have suffered more injuries (most of them minor, fortunately) in their current livery yard than in any other, overall they are quite healthy, physically and mentally, at present, although we are concerned that there are too many horses in the herd and now we have just heard that another two have been added. When money is added to the horse-human equation, it is generally the horses that suffer.

Relations between some of their human carers, on the other hand, have deteriorated to such an extent since we arrived from Australia in mid-December, that matters can no longer remain as they are. Although not quite as boisterous as in a previous livery yard in the Netherlands (see my posts entitled When Freedom Comes and Our Horses Banished by the Ice Queen), in some respects conditions have been reminiscent of Peyton Place since our mares’ arrival there in January last year. At the time our instincts warned us against moving the mares to that yard but, in the absence of a suitable alternative, we felt compelled to act contrary to those instincts.

Acceptance and then action ... piling up rocks to clean the field at Rancho Acebuchal

Acceptance and then action … piling up rocks to clean the field at Rancho Acebuchal

The long and the short of it is that, following numerous unsolicited adverse encounters with the yard manager since mid-December after discontinuing the latter’s training of her horse, Vicki, who eschews confrontation at the best of times, came to the conclusion subsequent to yet another unsolicited adverse encounter with the yard manager in April that the energy prevailing in the livery yard was so negative that she needed to give notice of her intention to leave the yard with Anaïs by the end of June. I have decided to join her with Pip for reasons pertaining to those unsolicitied adverse encounters. We are now looking for alternative accommodation for our mares.


Destiny speaks

The upshot of it all is that Vicki and I need to find a new home for our geldings in Australia and our mares in Spain as soon as possible. If you have been following the progress with our mares from one livery yard to another in three different countries in Europe, you may ask yourself why we should not consider finding a home for all of our horses, where we can look after them ourselves. I must confess that the thought has already occurred to us. Indeed, it has assumed the status of a huge question mark arising before us, a clear signal that we should seriously be considering this option.

Of course, the implications are enormous. Because our geldings are too old to fly, we would need to take Anaïs and Pip to Australia and this would make huge demands of both us and them. First the mares would have to be trucked to Germany – a trip in a lorry over a number of days – where they would be required to stay in quarantine for two weeks. After this, they would have to board a plane to Sydney and after a demanding flight be required to endure another spate of quarantine, following which they would have to undergo another road trip, this time several hundred kilometres north along the eastern coast of Australia. Would this be fair to the mares? Then there is the cost involved, which would be astronomical. Sanity would seem to argue against such a move.

Anaïs immediately after her arrival in the Netherlands from Australia via the UK

Anaïs immediately after her arrival in the Netherlands from Australia via the UK

Yet, when we also take into consideration that we have now completed all the equine studies in Europe which we had embarked upon, and that our plan to set up an equine centre together with Vicki’s twin sister, Agathe, in southern Spain has not materialised and is unlikely to do so, there seems to be little reason, if any, to continue to maintain a European presence. If this is destiny speaking, then the direction seems clear to me: we should abandon Europe and find a home for our entire equine family in Australia. Yes, the challenge is huge but is there really an alternative?

There would be if we could find facilities which could provide the type and level of care our horses require in the countries in which they currently reside. But after a six-year experience of various livery yards in four different countries, I wonder whether the prospect of finding two such yards is not a realistic as pie in the sky. As destiny speaks this time, it is not a murmur I hear but a roar!

Vicki seeking a connection with Gulliver via the feed trough

Vicki seeking a connection with Gulliver via the feed trough



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