Every horse that comes into our barn has something to teach us. Some of them come around quickly to the new routine, and improve rapidly with the consistency of a training program. Others may take longer for us to figure out, and require us to bend and grow as horse people.
For example, Dory, our sweet 21 year old Hackney pony mare, is what we have come to refer to as hyper-vigilant. Many of you may have experienced these horses before. They are the ones that seem unable to ever fully relax and are always “worried.” They need a very set routine in order to find any reprieve from their constant fretting. This personality trait can make training difficult because you are always competing for the horse’s undivided attention.
Dory joined our program in September of 2023 from Bagaduce River Equine Rescue. Prior to her rescue, she had been isolated in a large barn away from other animals for several years. BRER did a great job weaning Dory back into a herd and teaching her to be a horse again. Upon arrival at Horses with Hope, Dory had to settle into an entirely new routine, new friends, and a new setting, which was a huge challenge for her. It took a couple of months before Dory really settled in with her neighbors and turnout situation. We offered support in the form of ulcer treatment and calming supplements during this transition.
As we continue to work with and get to know Dory, we are amazed at her high level of intelligence and her ability to be in “two places at once.” She is able to follow cues from her handler while focusing most of her mental energy on what is happening elsewhere. In this sense it is easy to be fooled into thinking she is with you, when in all actuality, she is a million miles away mentally.
We keep our training sessions with Dory short and really pay attention to both of us being present with each other. When we ask Dory to do a task, we look for a softening in her body and acknowledgement of her handler before moving on. We have found that adding obstacles is a very helpful way to get her thinking about what she is doing and to connect her brain to her hooves. Ground poles are especially useful. They have helped her start to relax through her whole body in a slow, thoughtful manner.
There are still lots of times we jokingly exclaim, “we have lost Dory!” In these moments it is important to remember she is just very worried about what’s happening around her. When we “lose” Dory it is our job to bring her back down to earth and refocus her attention. We choose to do so by gently encouraging her to connect with us through easy movements and exercises with which she is very familiar. As we progress, we will start to work on increasing the length of these tiny moments of connection, and also the locations where we are able to achieve them. Dory still has so much to teach us and we are grateful each and every day to be a part of “finding” her.
Keep an eye on our Facebook page for updates on sweet Dory!