horse eating from person's hand

Tiny Taina

My tiniest princess dragon. Taina (Ty-ee-nah)

So full of rage, underneath it fear, underneath that grief…

Trust and hope had been stolen from her. She had retreated into her mind and violently tried to make the suffering stop, but there was nothing she could do. She never truly shut down, never truly given up, always continued to rage against the torment in her life. But she would be compliant to avoid additional suffering. She has always been obedient, if I held her should would stand for vets or hoses (to get the waste off her legs) or farriers. She was ridden at the slaughter pen, she performed correctly. She did everything right – but inside was boiling over in fear and rage.

Many people would be happy with this compliance despite the obviously visible emotional torment. She never kicked or bit a human, she knew better, rather she’ll attack her walls or fences, pace in her stall and throw her body into the wall. She would hurt herself to release the pain and hysteria she was holding inside the whole time she was in the hands of a human. But for many people this would be acceptable, because she was compliant and “respectful” (I hate that word).

On arrival here Taina retreated to the back of her stall and her self-harm reduced to just gently banging her sides into the wall, or biting the wall. It was only after vet work or a stressful experience she would have an episode of kicking or biting or throwing herself into her walls (or fences, she has an indoor/outdoor). She remained terrified of the other horses, she wouldn’t leave her stall if any of the others were out (even with a fence between them). She retreated in terror of her whole world. We only invaded her world for medical care, otherwise we only offered ourselves with kindness. This was met with great suspicion.

Then one day she started to want to open up. She shared breath with me, it was her first unguarded moment of relationship. After several minutes of breathing gently and sweetly in my face and me breathing back gentle, loving thoughts, she stopped then it seemed to dawn on her what had happened and she jumped away from me and attacked her wall. From that day forward she began to truly progress.

We eliminated all aversives from her life (aside from medical). If she disliked something we made sure she didn’t have to deal with it, which took a great deal of creative problem solving, as she hated everything. Soon we were letting her loose in the barn aisle so she could explore on her own (as she wouldn’t go outside when other horses were there). From there she began to meet the other horses in her own form of “Protected Contact” she would scream at them through their stall bars and tell them how much she hated them and how scary they were. Most ignored her or walked off, some engaged in this screaming fight. But soon she began to trust them. Soon she began to go out and show heat to the boys over the fence, or strike with the girls, even a rare moment of mutual grooming over a fence. She still won’t go near them in full contact though, she likes being able to retreat.

We spent many months enriching her environment gently and positively. Adding small, new objects that were easy to avoid but had valuable payout if she explored. Soon she began to get excited for and love all these new things. Then we started letting her explore more and more of the farm. First on lead, we let her take us for walks (sometimes Hannah would be stuck with her for hours as Taina walked her around the farm!) Then we realized we were just in her way and confusing her, so we let her wander on her own. She has free range of our farm when we were out with her. She will greet the other horses from her safe distance and will check to make sure everyone cleaned their food dishes. She will explore their stalls and make sure we clean the barn right (but don’t you bring that broom too close!) and she’ll inform us when she’s ready to have her treat ball in her stall again and settle in for the night.

She has taken control back of her life. She is still “obedient” when needed for vet or farrier, and this fear will return, but much less so than ever before. She is 100% herself, alive and animated and oh so opinionated. She is honest and complete. She is happy.

We have no aspirations for her, we don’t know the extent of the physical and emotional toll her previous life has taken on her and will never test those limits. She will never be a riding horse again, though I’m sure I could hop on and go for a smooth gaited ride around the farm and she would accept that – but I don’t believe she will ever be able to let her guard down enough to enjoy that. Maybe agility someday? For now, we do “yoga” on her exercise mats, this she enjoys. We play with toys, she tells us when she wants a cuddle or an itch, and she tells us when she’s done. And we always listen. Her smile grows and her eyes relax with each day that passes and the good outweighs the bad.

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