I climbed on to Sueño’s back, and we began to move forward together. I was getting on his back for a couple of weeks, and we would move around bareback together. He was fine with it, had a good mind, and I was so excited about the future. Then a shadow approached us. I looked up, and before I could respond, a paraglider was directly above us by maybe thirty feet. Not only was he above us, but he was going up and down as if he was on a rollercoaster.
I felt Sueño’s entire body tighten up. His head flew up, his back tightened and hollowed, and his breath stopped. Somehow, he didn’t blow up like most horses would. I hopped off and stood next to him and did what my grandmother would have done. I shook my fist at the paraglider saying a few choice words. I walked Sueño around until he started to breath normally again. I went and got the brush running it all over his body. I then scratched his ears and jaws; all of his favorite things. It was my feeble attempt to try and end on a good note and not let that paraglider affect his young, green mind.
The next day I went out, got on him, and he let me stay there. He didn’t try to buck me off, bolt, or anything like that. Instead, what he did actually seemed a bit worse. He wouldn’t take one step forward. His head dropped towards the ground as I listened to him grind his teeth. He grabbed hold of the reins and chewed and chewed. All signs that he was thoroughly stressed. I hopped off and loved on him until he calmed down.
The paragliders were becoming a major problem for my horses. They flew over them each day after the infamous crash, and I noticed that all of my horses were chewing their sides incessantly, which meant ulcers. I called and asked my neighbor to ask them to not fly over my horses again, I put my horses on Gut X and sucralfate, and they all got a month off. I then had my appendix removed, so they got a few more weeks off. After their teeth were done, I decided it was time for all of us to get back to work.
Sueño seemed to be back to normal. No more chewing or grinding his teeth. We moved through everything easily as we refreshed all that he learned before the incident. I thought it was time to bring out the mounting block after a few weeks to see how he felt about me getting on him. I never did get on him. I still haven’t.
Each time I was about to get on, his breathing would either stop or become rapid. His body tensed as his head flew up. He looked for the lead rope to chew on. This is not what I wanted to see at all. I put getting on his back on hold as we went back to other groundwork challenges. Meanwhile I kept trying to figure out other ways to work with him; a different approach that would help him relax.
The problem was that now he was afraid of me being higher than him. He associated it with the paraglider flying directly above him. Every different approach I tried did not ease his fear. Each time he held his breath. Yes, I could have gotten on him and rode him through it, but what would the ramifications of that be? Would he get ulcers again? Would I be bucked off? If you skip a step where there is tension, it always comes back to haunt you.
Lying in bed I remembered a documentary I watched years ago called Taming Wild by Elsa Sinclair. The documentary is about giving a wild mustang the choice as to whether or not to allow someone to ride on her back. In it, Elsa gets on the back of the mustang once, and the horse seems to completely accept her. However, the next day and many days and weeks after that, she said, “No way.” Sinclair realized that whenever she stood on a stump to get on her, the horse held her breath. Instead of getting on her, she stood next to her on the stump until she finally let out a sigh, and that would be the end of their work for the day. Each day it took less time before the horse sighed, and then finally one day she let Sinclair get on her again.
“This is it!” I exclaimed in the darkness.
The next day, without a lead rope or any way to stop Sueño from walking away, he followed me to the mounting block, and I slowly climbed up alongside him. I stood facing his head with my hand resting on his back. We stood together like that for a half hour. He never walked away, but he did hold his breath. Then he began breathing fast….held his breath….breathing fast….. began shaking his head….for 3o minutes. I stood still and let him work through it. Finally, I felt him rest his hindleg, and he let out a deep, long sigh. I scratched his entire back, hopped off the mounting block and scratched the area in front of his ears; his favorite. We have been doing this six days a week, and the amount of time is getting shorter and shorter.
Then today happened.
I gathered up Sueño to work with him, and we were successfully going through some of his suppling exercises. I was so happy at how things were going, and I even had the idea of possibly getting on his back today.
Across from my hay field, my neighbors planted rows and rows of corn. Today a helicopter came to spray the fields with fertilizer. In order to spray the neighbor’s field, the helicopter has to fly over a portion of our property when he turns around. He comes close to where the horses are.
I am no fan of helicopters after a friend died in one, but I knew that this was a really good training opportunity. So, without a lead rope on, I took him over to the mounting block. I climbed up and stood alongside Sueño with my hand resting on his back. He leaned into me gently; not to push me off but to seek comfort I believe. He began moaning, and at the end of the moan, he blew out his nose. He did this three times. He has never done this before. I could have jumped off the block to comfort him, but I felt it was important to let him do it; let him work through it. Each time he blew out his nose and shook his head. I felt like he was releasing his fear of anything being above him, so I stood in that space with him.
What did I feel, I felt peaceful. I felt humbled by the fact that he leaned into me for support. I was in awe of his courage and willingness to stand with me, to trust me as this helicopter approached us over and over.
Then the helicopter looked like it was about to fall out of the sky on to a house not far from my hay field, but somehow he landed in the field across the street. Sueño took it all in stride. In fact, he rested his hindleg, was breathing normal, and finally let out a big sigh. I immediately hopped off and walked away from the mounting block. He followed me and buried his head into my arms where I held his head telling him how much I loved him.
I think we had a breakthrough, but I won’t know until tomorrow and the coming days. What I can say is when you have an opportunity like this, take it. I could have told myself to wait until the helicopter was gone. I knew it was a gift, so I accepted it. What I learned today is that sometimes it’s not about action and movement, but about standing there, breathing calmly with your horse, and providing your horse the space to work through an issue with you by their side.
If you wish to learn more about Taming Wild, here is the trailer https://youtu.be/4Kyt3QaIH4E . If you want to stream it, you can visit her webpage at https://www.tamingwild.com/movie-sales.