animal wisdom

About this time last year I made the trek to Montreal to see Emily.  I was really excited to have a mother/daughter weekend in such a vibrant city like Montreal.  The day had been long, driving my truck loaded with more furniture for Emily’s apartment, carrying it up 2 flights of stairs in the rain, checking into the hotel, taking a breath then out for dinner.

No sooner had we arrived at the restaurant, both looking forward to a girly cocktail, I received a call from Pat saying that I needed to come home. ” WHAT?! I just got here!” I shrieked into the phone…yes, I shrieked. I was tired and knew instantly that he would not have called if there wasn’t a good reason.   “What happened?”.  He said that Bella, my then 5 year old mare had had an accident and got caught up in the wire fencing.  The vet had already been out and gave her pain relief, dressed the gaping wound that stretched the whole inside of her hind leg, and administered antibiotics. Ugh!  I knew that I wanted to be home to see her, but another part of me just wanted to leave it with Pat for the weekend so that I could be with Em…sigh…o’k.

Emily and I had a great night together and the next morning I set off to drive home.  I found Bella with her leg in full wrap, standing quietly in the run in.  She seemed to know that it was serious.  The vet came later that day and he showed me how to unwrap, irrigate, and dress the wound.  Burk, a friend of ours who happens to raise Clydesdale’s, came over to show me how to give the daily injection.  I felt so unprepared for this new level of care for my horse, yet like giving birth, there is no going back.

From September to December, I had Bella in the cross ties each morning.  She allowed me to unwrap, clean and dress her wound.  She was patient and quiet.  Sometimes I would drop the roll of gauze or the outer wrap, she would look back at me in acknowledgement and sigh.  Weekly, I saw improvements but they were incrementally small.  By mid December the wound had healed enough to let her out without a dressing.  She seemed to sense a shift and when she and Redford were let out that morning they ran like they had never run before.  It was quite beautiful to watch.

Even though I was disappointed that my fall riding season had been cut short I had been delivered an exquisite opportunity to bond with my horse.  Until we moved to Summerhill, Bella and Redford had always been boarded.  I had never been involved in daily care, let alone nurse a serious injury.  The injury to Bella created a situation where we both learned to trust one another.  She grew to know that I would care for her wounds with  gentleness and care.  I grew to know that she would allow me to fumble with bandages, give injections and work underneath her great girth. We were probably both daunted by our new roles.

Mucking stalls this morning, I realized that the injury was the turning point in our relationship.   Bella  allowed herself to be vulnerable in my presence; not so easy with flight animals.  I allowed myself to show her that I had faith in her as I moved about her underbelly.  We both established a deep level of trust.  I think instinctively we both know that we would manage, but it required the whole duration of the trauma to solidify our roles.

She knows now that I would always have her best interests at heart.  It  also changed the way I ride her.  I am a better rider because I instinctively watch for her signals of discomfort, frustration or just sheer laziness.  Each and every interaction, an opportunity to grow.  Each, an opportunity to demonstrate that I understand.

It also occurred to me that humans require the same degree of authentic interaction in order to grant trust.