Dream - This four-year-old gelding had been having some problems in his training. His companion Denise called me to speak with Dream and see if he could explain some of these difficulties from his point of view. Recently, Dream had become reluctant to come to her when she walked into his field to bring him in for a training session. None of the traditional methods of coaxing a horse to come to her seemed to help.
We asked Dream if he could tell us what the problem was.
He related his feelings, "I am feeling confused about the work Denise and I are doing together… what is it that she wants from me? I am worried that I will not be able to stay with her, am I part of her family, or not?"
Denise replied that he was right to be concerned about this. When Dream first came to stay with her, the plan was to re-train him and then sell him. But those plans had now changed, Denise had come to love him very much and now had no intention of ever selling Dream, he was indeed a part of her family forever. Regarding Dream's confusion about his work with her, Denise said that she wanted him to understand that the reason for all of the ground work she had been teaching him, as well as his time spent under saddle, was to help him improve his balance and therefore create a strong foundation for all of their future work together.
Dream was very glad to be assured of his place in Denise's family, this security was very important to him. Also, he seemed very interested in the idea that there was a reason for the ground work. Until now, he just thought Denise was doing this on a whim, he just couldn't see a purpose for it. But Denise's explanation felt good to him, he now could understand that the ground work was an exercise which could help him improve his performance. I suggested that Denise talk to Dream during their work together and explain the reason for each exercise. When I spoke with Denise several weeks later, she happily reported that after our conversation, Dream had begun to come to her willingly in the field and had a much better attitude about their work.
Another new problem Denise had been having with Dream was that he had begun "shying" and bolting forward if he was even slightly startled or surprised by something while she was riding him. She said that it felt as if Dream was about to get away from her, that she might possibly even be thrown from the horse. She described his behavior as feeling out of proportion to the situation, as if he was over-reacting. When I asked Dream about his shying, he shared a picture with me of his being startled and bolting diagonally forward and to the right. Denise confirmed that this was indeed the direction he always seemed to run before she could manage to calm him.
I asked Dream for more information about this behavior and he responded, "If something startles me and I move too quickly, I get a very sharp pain in my withers," (between the shoulder blades) "something is not right in my back in that spot and it really hurts, almost an electrical shock, if I make a sudden movement." He went on, "If I feel that sharp pain, it makes me want to get away, and moving quickly forward to the right just seems to be the way I react to the pain, I can't help it, I don't mean to hurt anyone."
Later that month, Denise and Dream were visiting the veterinarian/chiropractor and before Denise could relate the story Dream had told us about the pain he was having, the veterinarian found the sore spot in his withers. The vet gave Dream an adjustment and injected the area to speed healing.
The next time Denise called to communicate with Dream, before being told of the vet's findings and treatment, I found the area around Dream's withers to be completely free of pain or soreness. Denise reported that while Dream does still occasionally become startled by something when they are out for a ride together, he is no longer over-reacting, and he regains his composure easily.
The issues we discussed with Dream turned out to be easily resolved when approached with the knowledge of the horse's situation. He had questions about his future and about his work, that when answered, put his mind at ease and solved the problems. The other issue involved physical pain, that was cured with treatment. Without such an understanding of Dream's point of view, these problems could have been perceived to be behavior problems and dealt with harshly and unfairly, possibly resulting in an escalation of the difficulties. By opening our hearts and minds, by allowing for a deeper understanding of the animal's point of view, we not only enhance our relationships with our animal companions, but as we've seen in this case, we can often resolve problems more efficiently as well.