At Medicine Horse Program, the Hope Foal program paired up these babies taken from their mothers too young to have much in the way of manners, with young girls who had suffered abuse. The girls helped the foals learn to trust humans and work with them, the foals helped the girls heal and find inner strength and confidence. Adults, of course, had to work with the foals as well, to make sure the girls would be able to safely approach them.
On the tour, we visited the foal barn. I took one look at Chandler and knew I wanted to work with him. I can't tell you what it was, I just felt an energy from him that told me we were meant to work together. So I talked with the volunteer coordinator about doing that and some other work. There was a little bit of a problem with Chandler, though. He had a tendency to try to kick people. He wasn't exactly afraid, though he was a bit on the wild side. It's just he had a mind of his own and didn't want to be pushed around.
I was told to stay outside of his run until Kathy, who ran MHP, had worked with me and felt safe letting me go in alone. So I swept out the foal barn, helped feed the foals, and talked to Chandler all the time, so he'd get used to my voice and presence. I brought a chair over outside his run and sat there reading a couple of times. He'd skitter to the end of the run and look to see if I'd noticed. When I didn't react, he eventually came back and ate his hay, one eye on me the whole time.
Kathy did spend some time working with both Chandler and me, and after about a month, she gave me the okay to go in on my own. I didn't do much, that first time. I stood inside the gate, near his feed trough, and put a few broken up horse cubes on his hay.
Week by week, he got more and more comfortable with me. He would follow me as I walked to get the horse cubes, let me lead him by the halter, and always, when he got tired of being good, he'd shift that rear end around and I'd say, "Chandler, what's up, buddy?" His curiosity and interest in what I was saying ensured that he never lifted a hoof against me.
One day I brought a bucket into the middle of his run, sat down on it, and did nothing. He was eating hay at the time. I heard his hay chomping slow, then stop. My back was to him, but I could feel him looking at me, as if wondering, what is she doing now? The crunch of his hooves slowly made their way toward me. He walked around in front of me and looked. I sat there, looking back, smiling. He nosed my pockets, looking for horse cubes, but I didn't have any. I just wanted to be there with the two of us, no food, no expectation, just us.
He circled me once, nosing me every so often to see if any horse cubes might be hiding. Because the bucket was lower than his feed trough, my head was lower than his. He must have thought my hair looked like hay, because he tried to chew it. He didn't like it. Finally he stopped trying to figure it out, and he plopped down in the dust of his run and rolled around to scratch his back.
From that day on, Chandler followed me around like a dog. He still had a mind of his own, but I was able to take him to another pen where many of the older horses went for exercise and training. I'd pull grass for him that he couldn't reach himself and feed it to him. Eventually, the time came for him to move on. The Hope Foals stayed for one year, then they had to find new homes so the next crew could come in.
I started telling him about his upcoming trip to Wyoming, how much fun it would be, all the grass he'd get to eat. And I told him about the trailer, described to him how it worked, how the ramp wouldn't hurt him, and it would be noise and bumpy, but it would take him to this great place.
We had about ten days before he left, and I came out three times to be with him and tell him about the trailer. They say horses are telepathic, and that much of their communication is in mental pictures, so I talked and at the same time created mental pictures of what I was talking about. Who knew if it would work, but I knew it couldn't hurt.
He always watched me leave, and that last time was tough. But it was so worth it, when Kathy told me with surprise that he'd handled the trailer like a pro. Chandler was safely in Wyoming, and a few years later I saw some video of him being ridden. He was good as gold, and clearly happy in the life that could have ended so differently.
We never know when or how we will fall in love, or with whom. We never know when a teacher will show up and open our eyes to a whole new world. We never know.
Carol (Doc) Dougherty
An avid reader, writer, and student, with a penchant for horse racing, Shakespeare, and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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