Monday, May 24, 2010

Tricky Mickey - How a Horse Chose Me

I'm a mental health therapist and had the idea that I wanted to incorporate horses into my therapy - a method very successful and becoming more popular called Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.  Keep in mind I grew up at the beach and my experience with horses was limited to a few guided trail rides throughout my life.  About 2 1/2 years ago I called a stable close by and asked them if I could volunteer a couple times a week doing grunt work in exchange for the experience of getting to know horses better.  So, it began... I mucked a lot of stalls and did a lot of grooming and began building my confidence with horses on the ground.  I noticed there was one horse who had a strong, sad, powerful feel about her and nobody ever seemed to ride her or work her. I loved to brush her because she would exhale loudly, drop her head and close her eyes. Her name was Mickey.  "Impressive Mickey" as her Jockey Club papers illustrate.  Mickey is a 20 year old, 16.3 hand registered Thoroughbred.  I'm 5'2" and can't see over her withers. 

I was told that Mickey had been kept in the small stall for 5 years and only taken out 4 times during that period and the owner didn't invest any time or care in her.  My heart went out for this amazing creature and I felt connected immediately.  I asked the owner if I could feed lease Mickey so I could then begin turning her out in the arena and let her large body move.  The owner agreed.  I then soon noticed that Mickey was lame.  At first it was an abscess in her hoof due to standing in a stall with feces for 5 years.  The owner wouldn't get Mickey medical attention, so I raised the needed money and got her abscess seen by a veterinarian.  Then she got lame again.  We didn't know what it was but she was limping a lot and seemed to be in pain most of the time.  Everyone I knew said, "Stay away from that horse - she is older, lame and problems are just waiting to happen."  Did I listen?  No.  I went with my intuition.  It took about 5 months, but I kept asking the owner if she would sell her to me.  Originally, she agreed to $1500 "because I paid more and she has papers".  By the end of the 5 month negotiation, as Mickey's health continued to decline, I purchased her for $1 and that included all her tack.

Now what?  I have a lame horse and no horse experience.  I saw a neighbor I had never met riding a horse on his 40 acres of property.  I asked this stranger if I could board my horse who wasn't doing well at his place.  He thought about it for a day, called me back and said let's give it a try.  Fast forward.  Mickey has a new home with two other Thoroughbred friends, a large space to romp and is 100% sound.  With proper feed, space and care, she put on about 200 lbs, is in no pain, and has no lameness.  My neighbor has been teaching me for about a year, so not only did Mickey get a wonderful home, I got a good friend and a mentor who has rode and trained his whole life. 

Mickey during feed lease period.  After abscess & before lameness.

I'm getting much better and much more confident.  Mickey tests me all the time, but knows just where to stop.  There were times when I was in tears saying I couldn't do it, that she "was too much horse" or "she needs an experienced rider".  But neither Mickey nor my neighbor would have any of that. A Thoroughbred is intense - they call them "hot blooded" for a very good reason.  Her energy is concentrated and always right there on the edge.  I'm getting a lot better at riding and have no intention of ever letting Mickey go to someone else.  I made her a promise she has a home with me for life and that one day, she'll have a pasture instead of a desert floor.  So, when it comes time to move to Arkansas, we'll be loading her up and taking her along.  I've put my idea of Equine Assisted Therapy on hold.  I'm selfish.  She's my therapist and I don't want to share.  She teaches me how to move through fears, how to be patient, to trust, to get out of my own way and out of my head, to hear subtleties in the moment versus certainties from the past.  We're making a pretty good team.  Thanks, Tricky Mickey!

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