“Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
Napoleon arrived at Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue as a feral stallion, having been previously abandoned.
We all know the realities that face horses in this position who, through no fault of their own, have become fearful, reactive, and dangerous. Napoleon was almost euthanized for these behaviors. Luckily for him, he met Shelby Piovoso, the Head Trainer at GGDHR. Through her commitment to natural horsemanship and positive reinforcement (R+) training, she gained Napoleon’s trust and ended up adopting him herself! The pair have grown and developed together, doing truly remarkable things at liberty and under saddle.
This hasn’t been without some unique physical and psychological challenges. Shelby has noticed a shift in Napoleon’s behavior during his training sessions lately. Understandably, he’s always been discerning and skeptical with humans. He’s seemed resistant to learning, opinionated and obstinate, and resorts to threatening tactics in order to communicate his dissatisfaction. However, he’s acted shameful and deeply affected when Shelby retreats, either out of her own (valid) fear, or out of respect for his need for processing. What a conundrum!
I think we’ve all felt the discomfort Napoleon has been feeling. We don’t want one thing, but we don’t want the alternative, either. In fact, we don’t know what we want, but we feel agitated by all available options. We begin to alienate others because we are confusing to be around, and isolation fuels the fire…after all, effective communication takes practice.
When someone else’s behavior affects us, it is so important to remember that he or she is probably suffering more than we are. There may be circumstances in his or her life that are limiting the ability to feel, or be, peaceful…circumstances we know nothing about.
We’ve all been there. As events overwhelm us, we have less capacity to give. We have less tolerance for vulnerability. Our needs change. That’s life.
It can be hard to be empathetic toward someone during these times, especially when his or her behavior contradicts the essence of what we believe our relationship to be. Things may seem inequitable. We may feel resentful. But, we are all different today than we were yesterday, and we will all be different tomorrow.
To really love someone is to be present within ourselves and in the space that we share. There are always miracles hidden there!
From the bottom of my heart, I was truly humbled when Shelby requested a session not to necessarily work with Napoleon’s body, but to brainstorm ways of reestablishing their relationship through touch. I could only suggest techniques that have helped me with fearful and reactive horses, or with those that have “shut down”.
These include intention-setting, general body language and awareness, hand placement, and measured pressure.
We could call this CranioSacral Therapy, or Reiki, or any number of other things. In the end, it doesn’t really matter how we label it.
What does it look like? Well honestly, it looks a lot like giving Napoleon a hug!
That’s what we did during his session. Standing body-to-body and softening our eyes…placing one hand at the withers and the other at the center of his strong chest, and then at the center of his soft tummy…providing deep and reassuring touch…with the intention of sharing space and nothing else.
To practice this with your horse, try placing your hands where you see the GREEN dots in the picture below. Provide deep and consistent pressure, and wait patiently.
Thoughts come in, and they go out. Where should I touch? How long do I wait? What am I looking for, to know if it’s “working”?
The answers to these questions lie in trust. Trust the being you are with. Trust yourself. Trust the wisdom of the space that holds you both. Breathe into it, and just see what happens.
We are all gifts to each other, regardless of the choices we make.
There is no doubt that Shelby’s and Napoleon’s relationship is deep and resilient enough to withstand any “growing pains”. We will see what happens with a few new tools, renewed curiosity, and loads of patience! Please hold them in your hearts as they continue on their beautiful journey together.