I have a student who recently expressed a morbid fear of horses. Apparently someone had once put her on a cranky old mare who hated kids, especially green ones. Predictably, this mare not only spit the girl off at the first available juncture, but then proceeded to strike out & attempt to stomp the girl into the dirt. No blaming her for not wanting to get anywhere near horses again!
During one of our lessons, I asked her if it was OK if we swung past the house so I could feed the horses. She agreed, but insisted that she stay in the car. Thinking of how uncommonly patient & calm George is with children, at the end of that lesson I dropped the hint that if she ever wanted to defeat this fear, I knew just the horse to help her out. She declined, & I left it at that.
Some weeks later I had this student out on other lesson. As we were driving through Langley, she suddenly asked if the offer was still open. She shared that since she actually *liked* horses it was a shame she was so afraid to get close to one. She added that both of her parents were avid horsepeople, and had tried many times to urge her to conquer her fears. So I directed her towards home, and introduced her to George & Kooter, both of whom seemed to be "extra" calm & polite. She managed no more than an extended hand, which both horses sniffed gently, then retreated on their own. Little was said on our leaving, and I decided not to push the subject, instead allowing her time to chew on the experience.
Just over 3 weeks had passed until today, when I had this student again. No sooner was she in the car when she asked to see the boys. As it worked out, she was my last lesson for the day, so I suggested to her that I made the offer to her parents instead. She agreed, and judging by her driving, that seemed to be the controlling thought on her mind for the next hour.
Her parents were only too willing to allow her to go, and so after giving them the address I asked them to meet me at home in an hour. This gave me time to make sure the boys had a snack & had been brushed down (partly because they were walking mud-balls, and mostly that a good grooming session tends to make them more receptive to being touched).
When they arrived, the girl strode directly to the fence & met the boys as they came to investigate. After briefly sniffing her hand, both of them simply wandered away a few steps, then stopped & turned to look at her; their way of saying "C'mon, follow us". I interpreted for her, and after exchanging looks with her folks, she slipped through the gate, but stood quite steadfastly just inside. The boys continued to look at her, then looked to me, almost as if they were asking for advice. After only a few seconds Kooter took the initiative & plodded over to her side. As he approached he dropped his head so low that his mane flowed across the ground. He stopped just before actually touching her, turned his muzzle upwards & began to nicker softly. She began to tremble, and her eyes flared as inches away a thousand pounds of muscle tried quite ardently to look like a puppy. I quietly said to her that was his way of saying he wanted to be cuddled, and mimicked how I reciprocated by standing with my back to his shoulder, with one arm over his neck while stroking his flank with the other hand. Slowly she slipped her hand onto his neck while he stood perfectly still. Kooter nickered again as she began to brush her hand across the side of his belly.
I watched for a sign that either horse might do anything the least bit aggressive, or that might frighten the girl; but both were being perfect gentlemen. Shortly, I glanced over at her parents, who were standing transfixed at the scene before them. We all watched quietly as those two stood immersed in one another's space. Just about the time I figured this moment could not possibly be one bit more magical, George decided to up the ante. He slowly circled around to the girl's opposite side, lowering his head as he went. He barely got within reach of her when he stopped & let out a long, slow sigh. He stood there for a moment, as though he were gauging her response. Acting on some imperceptible cue, he turned his muzzle towards her & softly held his nose to her arm.
So there we 6 stood in the waning light of a spectacular pre-storm sunset, at once witnessing & participating in a tiny but distinct miracle. I heard a small sound from the girl's mother, and turned to see her & the father with eyes glistening from welling tears. Almost as if my distraction were a signal to the horses, both then turned away in unison. The girl stood there, watching as they walked off.
Her mother reached out & touched my shoulder, unable to speak a word as tears now streamed down her cheeks. The father managed a raspy "Would you believe that?" as he turned & faced the barn wall. I eased over to the boys & clucked at them, prompting them to follow me back to the barn where their dinner awaited. I opened the doors & stepped back to allow each to pass into his respective stall & turned to face our guests. The parents were standing together, holding both of each other's hands as they looked towards their daughter. At length, the girl finally turned to face us. I have been witness to some poignant events, but this one shall remain more vivid than most. This child's face was not sculpted by emotion, and certainly not by fear; instead she wore an unmistakable look of serenity. It took me a moment to realise it, but it finally came to me. It was like watching someone who's just put the last piece of an intricate puzzle into place.
No "conquering" took place here this evening, and there was little room for fear or trepidation. What happened was a child laid a stepping stone, one that might allow her to go from this place to anywhere she chooses.