Sunday, January 23, 2011

The skeleton in Grace's closet

The red mare galloped through the open gate, unaware that it led to a trap. Her only focus was to get her foal away from the loud four wheeled machines that the men rode. 3 of them had come over the hill and into the pasture that morning. The mares and babies were accustomed to the men and their 4 wheeled noise makers on wheels; the machines were used to move the herd from pasture to pasture. Today was different. The noise had started out as normal, in the distance heading up the hill. The mares called to their foals at the first hint of change. The fillies were 5 months old now and were starting to spend more time in a small herd of their own. They were in the middle of a game of chase when the frantic calls came from their mothers. The small bay foal was the first to break from the herd of youngsters. As she reached her mother’s side, the four wheelers surrounded the two of them.

“This one first!” one of the men shouted. The wheels of his machine crept closer to the mare’s hind end. When she moved away from the pressure, the other two men moved in at her sides, leaving her only one way out, away from the herd. The mare shot off in a panicked trot, her bay foal loping at her side. They headed down the hill, towards the open gate where more men were waiting on either side. The clang of the closing gate startled the filly as it closed behind them. She leapt past her mother and right into the fence of the round pen. The machines fell silent on the other side of the fence; the men dismounted and headed towards the closed gate.

Several men had climbed onto the sturdy railings of the round pen, while two others mounted on horses entered through the gate. The red mare moved down the rounded fence line to get away from the men. She went out of her way to avoid the large post sticking up from the middle of the round pen. She had been her before; this wasn’t her first visit to the round pen. She knew that the several inches of sand around the tie post would only wear her down. The mare stopped along the fence, on the opposite side of the pen from the gate. She pressed her baby against the rails, protecting the small foal from the two men with the ropes.

“Pssssssttt…” hissed a voice from outside the pen. The bay filly shot forward as the electric prod reached through the middle boards of the fence, zapping her right side. The mounted men were too quick for the mare and foal. In a split second both the mare and foal had ropes around each of their necks. The man on the large gelding wrapped his rope around his horn just as the filly hit the end of it. The stout gelding sat back as small foal shot backwards away from him. The filly leapt into the air as the rope tightened around her neck. She shot backwards again when her hooves touched the ground, slamming her body into the fence. The small foal froze in place when she heard the scream from her mother, followed by the clang of the gate as it closed shut. Her mother was now on the other side, being led away. Forgetting about the rope around her neck the foal rushed towards the gate. The end of the rope had been moved from the saddle of the big gelding to the tie post in the middle of the round pen. The post was sunk into several feet of solid concrete; it did not budge as the weight of the small foal pulled the tension of the rope against it.

The pull of the rope swung the filly around as the hit the end of it. She was now facing the looming post she was attached to. She ran to the right, the direction her mother was led off in. She screamed frantically for her mother, she could no longer see the red mare. The rope was now pulling the filly in a circle around the post, with each lap, the circles became smaller. The filly was still galloping when the slack in the rope ran out. The sudden tension swung her off her feet, slamming her into the post. The rope had slipped up her neck closer to her ears.

She lay on the ground, dazed for a moment before slowing climbing back to her feet. She was now alone in the pen with the post. She had not noticed the men and the other two horses slip out during her frantic laps. As she took a step forward, the rope pulled tight against her throat latch, there was no more slack in it as it was wound tightly against the post. The filly struggled to remain standing in the deep sand underneath her hooves, the round pens footing was intentionally thicker around the tie post. She sat back, her hind legs shaking below her as her neck stretched out in front.

- I don’t know if this is exactly how it happened. This is what it looks like in my mind when I think about it. I wasn’t there, but Grace was. She is the frail little filly and this is the story of how she was weaned. This was my horse’s introduction to humans. No wonder she was half wild when I met her as a two year old. After they were all “weaned” from their mothers, she was turned back out with the herd of fillies. 4 of them came from California together, when they got to Washington State, Grace almost had to be weaned all over again, this time from her sister Ginger, the two of them were inseparable.

The story came up again today when Grace and I went to Sarah’s for a lesson. The focus today was more Connected Groundwork. Sarah noticed the positive change in Grace’s wither right away; she then went to work on relieving the tension in Grace’s head and neck. That is where all the trauma lives. If I am truly in my body and connected with Grace; it is hard not to get emotional when working her though this. It is one of the deepest layers of the onion; it takes her back to what had to be the scariest moment of her life.

Grace made it clear to me today that she is ready to work through this now. I have always believed that horses are emotional beings. Yes, I understand that they do not think like humans, and I tend to believe that they live in the “now”, but I cannot ignore the fact that my precious mare “goes somewhere” every time we address this injury. Today was the first time I saw her allow someone in to that scary place. The difference in her head and neck when were done with the session was remarkable. The biggest change I saw was in her eye, there was a new level of trust that wasn’t there the day before. I’m not sure if Grace knew 10 years ago when she chose me that our journey would lead back to this place of healing. I just know that I am privileged to be along for the ride.


  1. Wow, Melissa. Youve told me the story of the ropes in Grace's past, but this writing really depicted an image, poor Grace.

    Im excited to hear about how shes accepting help from you and Sarah. I cant wait to see her again in person, and am so excited for the progress you and Grace make every day. :D

  2. Very glad she's coming to trust you - that's a big step considering how she was treated in the past.

  3. This makes me sick. I was crying by the end of it. The things some horses have to go through are just heart wrenching. She's lucky to have you.

  4. I'm crying too, I cannot believe anyone would do that to a baby! How many of them break their necks doing that? How sad and awful that she had to live through that. How brave of her to let you help her now.

  5. The ranch Grace was born on was a roping ranch. We were told that every time they handled the babies they roped them. There was another baby a year behind Grace that the barn owner in Washington State hoped to bring up. Word got back to us that there was a “freak” accident and the baby didn’t make it.

    I often forget about Grace went through because it is not a daily part of our lives. She HATES ropes and I have promised her that I will never let anyone rope her. I also have no reason to every throw a rope off her; she is not built to be a roping horse. The issue does come up when doing energy work on her head and neck. She is by no means head shy, but there is a ton of “holding” in her head/neck region. Sarah and I have discussed the possibility that the “weaning” process she went through is where her physical imbalances started. In the end, it may very well relate to her hock issues, more of a spiral effect than an onion.