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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?


Season’s greetings

There is hay on the ground. My mare, Pip, is eating. The other two horses are not. He moves closer towards her and stops. Then ever so slowly he stretches his neck until the delicate skin between mouth and nose is just shy of touching hers through the mesh. The silence is only punctured by Pip’s rhythmic munching. I watch and wait. What comes next should not surprise me but it does. The mare snorts, squeals and paws the ground. No, it cannot be but most assuredly it can. Her hormones, always close to the surface, are about to run amok. Anaïs is coming into season to greet the first male equine to enter the property in two years.

Anaïs and Farinelli within minutes of their reunion after eight years

Anaïs and Farinelli within minutes of their reunion after eight years


The next few days are a frenzy of hormonal activity. Farinelli joins the mares that same afternoon, and Anaïs makes her preferences known to him in no uncertain terms. He is hers and everyone had better get used to this by yesterday. Pip will not dare to challenge her. Instead, she lunges at Farinelli whenever she presumes that he is drawing too close and for good measure even when she does not. Anaïs is quick to spot this and hastily positions herself between the two. Pip will have to learn that sharing Farinelli, even if only to sink her incisors into him, is not on her list of options.



So what does he do? Initially, Farinelli seems rather confused. During his month in Holland he had shown us a side to himself that we had never seen before. Surrounded by mares, he had risen to the occasion and pronounced himself hunk of them all with their enthusiastic blessing. Yet there had been something edgy to his behaviour, as though he had to prove himself. He lost weight during his month with them and fatigue seemed to dull his gaze. Was he getting any quality rem sleep? Is he still fatigued?

Anaïs to Farinelli: Spanish pass or season's greeting?

Anaïs to Farinelli: Spanish pass or season’s greeting?


Overwhelmed, is the impression that I have a few days later. He is clearly having difficulties coping with Anaïs’ lustful demands. Overwhelmed and intimidated. Over the next few days I watch Farinelli gradually increase the pace with which he slinks away from the mare whose departure that fine spring day so many years ago had elicited such pained whinnies of loss and anguish accompanied by hours’ of fretful pacing along the fence line. Within days he is effectively replaying his past role of victim to the bitch from hell. Anaïs’ hormones subside and she assumes the role that he has assigned to her, chasing him away as robustly as she had done in their younger days.

Pip takes solace from Farinelli’s newfound misery. Perhaps her relationship with the stronger mare will revert to what it was before the intruder arrived. At least Anaïs does not intervene when she lunges at the gelding and bares her teeth. Henpecked. My heart goes out to Farinelli. Is this to be his future? And that after having travelled across the world to be reunited with us? No, surely not but I see no sign to challenge this conclusion.



Farinelli requires care, bucket loads of it following his epic trip across the planet and the absence of conditions favourable to his health and well-being during the month before the final leg of his journey. He did not manage to come to rest and recover his strength in Holland, as we had planned. We are intensely aware of the demands which the trip has made on our elderly boy, not to mention the fact that virtually everything which he has been experiencing since he left Australia is utterly alien to him. So Vicki and I knuckle down to give him the care he requires.

Farinelli settling in. "Where's the grass?" he seems to be asking.

Farinelli settling in. “Where’s the grass?” he seems to be asking.


Within weeks I begin to notice a marked change. He starts to put on weight and, as we head into a European winter, his Australian summer coat turns glossy. He also seems more rested and less narky. Yet the change is not confined to the physical. There is a stillness which he begins to radiate. When the mares try to chase him off, he calmly stands his ground. They are at a bit of a loss and break off their charges in the face of his cool composure to investigate this new phenomenon. I catch glimpses in him of his former mate of twenty-two years, Gulliver, he of the stoic presence in the face of all that life tossed his way. For about a week I have the feeling that we are moving into unknown interactive terrain. Anaïs’ dominant behaviour towards Pip begins to subside and Pip begins to seek contact with Farinelli. The horses are now really moving around the fields together, the mares taking the lead, but relations between them all appear to be fluid.

In the week that follows there is a major shift. Anaïs begins to soften in her dealings with Farinelli before actively seeking his presence. Then suddenly she is in season again but now as we have never seen her for many years. She will have her male and she will have him now but this time Farinelli is secure in himself. He accepts her attentions but turns away when he has had enough and this generously proportioned pithy mare simply follows him with doe-eyed devotion. Calm again until the next bout of heaving hormones, Anaïs is content to acquiesce in all of Farinelli’s preferences with the exception of his desire for a break from her presence. She eggs him on, paws the ground and whinnies before thrusting her buttocks in his face. He observes this coolly before turning his attention elsewhere.



It is visible, the pace with which Farinelli grows in his presence with the mares. He exchanges affectionate intimacies with Anaïs, muzzles gently seeking each other out, soft caresses on the upper legs, it is all so very touching to see. He allows the mares to share his hay but also motions them away when he feels a need to. And in all he does he exhibits much of the steady calm that I so associate with Gulliver, that master of subtly strong persuasive presence. Self-assured, dependable, trustworthy … these are the qualities that spring to mind when I think of him. The glimpses of Gulliver in Farinelli are precisely that: brief snippets of a sprig of hope heaving with promise.

Vicki out and about with our tiny harem band in the making

Vicki out and about with our tiny harem band in the making


Now, a little over a month since his arrival, our gentle gelding is settling in. Apart from a minor colic alarm, which probably indicates a need for a gut balancer, Farinelli has started to put on weight, is rested and appears to be more content. Although Anaïs has finally emerged from her lengthy preoccupation with her new guy, for the moment anyway, the two of them still spend much time together and she has calmed down overall. Pip has become more independent of the lovers, often going off on her own. Yet both mares still get together regularly on their quest for fresh grass in the wake of recent rainfalls, sometimes leaving their male partner belatedly trying to catch up with them. And when either or both of them seek to share feed with Farinelli, he usually allows them to do so before calmly but persuasively urging restraint, although he tends to favour Anaïs. I sense that we have a tiny harem band in the making.

Finding Gulliver within

Finding Gulliver within


For the first time in his twenty-two years with us I see Farinelli slowly developing the presence which seemed to come so naturally to his former friend, Gulliver. And when I see what effect it has on the other horses, it sets me thinking. What if? What if, instead of reaching for bridle and whip, a rope halter and carrot stick or whatever it is we use to control and coerce the horse however gently, whether in the name of fame, profit, love or anything else…. What if, instead of resorting to behaviour conditioning in the name of horse training, we were to focus on human self-development to achieve the type of presence which Farinelli’s mate epitomised? Would it then become possible for horses and humans to learn to understand and trust each other long before we reach for the training aids once we find Gulliver within?





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2 Responses to “Finding Gulliver Within”

  1. Patrick says:

    greetings from Patrick I refer to the photo with comment ‘farinelli settling in’…and I ask you to inform me the name of the village/town at upper centre and slightly left in photo. ( I trust you are enjoying half decent weather)…