Two little ponies recently entered my life by way of a dedicated rescue team and their new carer - and presented me with one of the most challenging missions of my career.
Who would have thought that two terrified little equines would have such an impact on me? We've all heard that our horses are our best teachers, and nothing could have brought this message closer than this pair of ponies ...
I'll be publishing the whole story of Jumper and Blade in a chapter of my upcoming book (so watch for it!) - but in a nutshell, these petrified ponies had probably seen many of the herd they had been part of, decimated, chased and shot, so they have every right to fear any human!
Being a horse means many things, the most important of which is to survive and be safe - and that instinct is tightly embedded into the DNA of every horse. The most appropriate word to describe these ponies was 'petrified'.
Yesterday, after hours of approach and retreat, recognising and rewarding the tiniest try, lots of soak periods, careful timing and patience, I was able to approach, touch and unhalter/halter these little guys.
The challenge was largely in part to the environment in which I was working. A large paddock with wire and electric fencing that is boggy, muddy and slippery; windy, wet weather; a makeshift yard with one strand of electric tape and pigtails; ponies that have a reputation for jumping anything when scared enough or cornered; and fear so strong it was scary in itself.
Some would have said to corner, grab and manhandle the little guys into submission. While this may work - once - it is certainly not the Horsemanship with Heart way. The HWH Way is to work on oneself - in this case, myself - to convince the ponies that I understand them, will not hurt them and am worthy of their trust, confidence and respect.
My biggest ah-ha after all this, was really just a renewed belief in The Process. The Process being to believe and trust in yourself and your skills, to humbly ask a higher power for help, and to take each moment as it comes. It's an emotional process, and I cried with relief and joy when those ponies first reached out their little noses to smell my hand. They both jumped back when their whiskers brushed the back of my hand, and I had to smile through my tears, as we made that all-important First Contact, a mutual discovery of the most beautiful kind.
(You can follow more on Jumper and Blade on my Facebook page).