Shadow is a 21 year old gelding owned by Jeanine, a friend of mine. He’s a striking flea-bitten Quarter Horse/Percheron cross that stands about 15.3 hands and weighs about 1125 lbs. We met last year while riding at Dawson Forest, a local wilderness/preserve. Since then, we have been meeting weekly to ride the trails that loop throughout the 10,000 acre tract. Jeanine and Shadow have unwittingly become part of my ongoing conditioning program for my Morgan mare, Mandy.
I thought that Mandy had a big extended trot till I saw Shadow motoring down the trail. Like Mandy, Shadow is a natural trotter who prefers that gait to cantering. He has a huge hindquarters that powers him along like rolling thunder.
During the many miles and hours we have spent together on the trails, I’ve been able to piece together Shadow’s story. Jeanine has owned him since he was five, and has ridden him over these wilderness trails since then. In previous years, she had the time to spend as much as five days a week riding him here, where they would typically charge up old steep mountain roads and jump fallen trees for fun. When we started riding together, Jeanine would talk about looking for a new mount who would be able to keep up that pace with her. Shadow now struggles to move up any slope, and he is always now so very slow to move out at the pace she prefers.
I quietly listened to Jeanine’s frustrations during our rides while trying to relate her perspective to the horse I was getting to know. It wasn’t so much his body language, as the impression I felt from him. I told Jeanine that I thought he was a wonderful horse who still had many years ahead of him as her trusty mount. Sometime later, when she realized that I was an animal communicator, Jeanine asked me to talk to Shadow.
Shadow told me that his primary issue was emotional and it involved Jeanine. He said he was upset with her constant demands to perform at a higher level. I began to quickly see Shadow as an incredibly sensitive horse who could become very stubborn when pushed too far. Unfortunately, his owner with the driven type-A personality, was not able to accept his slowing pace and athleticism. The more she used the riding crop on him, the more he resisted her urges. To make matters more complicated, I began to sense that Shadow was actually responding to my subtle, energetic encouragement as we all rode together. He was beginning to look to me as his leader.
This was not something that I could easily share with his owner. I chose to gently coach her on how to show Shadow how much she appreciated him. Over time I began to see a pattern in how they interacted during the course of a typical ride. Jeanine would almost always arrive at the trail head with her ‘driven’ personality in full expression…and by the end of our ride she would become mellow and genuinely appreciative of Shadow’s effort. It didn’t hurt that Shadow was always very exuberant and motivated on the return ride back to the trail head.
One day, after the end of a ride while we were removing tack, I bluntly told Jeanine to go over and tell Shadow how much she appreciated him. She did so with genuine heartfelt emotion. Shadow’s response was palpable. I could see the change in his expression and body language. More importantly, Jeanine saw it.
After our winter rides, Jeanine and I would often share warm cups of tea. One afternoon, while sharing tea, I spontaneously offered Shadow a piece of an oatmeal cookie I was eating. The look on his face when he tasted it was priceless. When I then gave him a whole cookie, his eyes changed. Jeanine was practically speechless. She said that was a face she hadn’t seen since he was five years old. Jeanine took him home promising to be more attentive and appreciative. It felt like they were beginning to discover each other all over again.
To be continued…