The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Trouble in Paradise

George bit me. I have never in all my life been bitten for real by a horse - nipped occasionally maybe, never bitten.  Well, I guess there had to be a first time (hopefully an only time).

As usual, the synchronicity of everything is quite remarkable.

Haven't I just been complaining about my lack of convincing leadership/or whatever the concept is?  Wasn't I, yesterday morning in church, for some reason repeatedly touching the part of my body which George was subsequently to bite? When I picked up the Widdicombe book later that day, what did I find on the next page? This passage:
On a practical level, one thing I really struggled with early on ... was projecting my energy towards the horse in such a way that he would move away from me.  ... I was 'Mr. Accommodating' on a grand scale and, as I've since realized, that is one thing horses don't find so easy to deal with. (pp. 98-99)
I was very angry with George. I chased him, hurled imprecations and sundry solid objects in his direction, and generally went banshee.  It may not have been the best reaction, but frankly I'm not sorry.  John Lyons says that if a horse bites or kicks you, you have three seconds to try to kill the horse (hitting on the head or legs not allowed). Well, let's just say it's a good thing I didn't have a machine gun handy.

And also, of course, I was very shaken.

Here's what happened. I was headed out yesterday to sit in the pasture and read a book when I suddenly decided to take some treats with me and practice what George and I had practiced to good effect before - namely remaining calm in the face of food. Along comes George to get treats.  I'm like, "Whoa there, we have to calm down first."  Well, the others were hot on his tail, and he really wanted those treats, and he was feeling very pressured by all this, and suddenly his head snaked out and bit my right side, and then he took off.

After I had tried and failed to kill him, the mares gathered around me, concerned. Bridget even planted herself in between me and George - don't know if she thought she was protecting him or me!  (I imagine me, as she was facing him.) I gave all the treats to the mares, wouldn't let George come near me, and stomped off.

Naturally, one of my first thoughts was:  "Well, I guess everyone was right.  I should've been showing him who's boss all along." But although that thought kept popping up, I also kept remembering the good things that have happened by not following that path. And in some ways I have been teaching him respect and boundaries in our normal daily interactions.

Of course, it was partly my fault.  Food is a huge stressor for George. (My friend, who used to own him, first encountered him in a pitched battle over a pile of hay, wherein he charged at her, teeth bared, and knocked her arm with his teeth. And I first won his confidence by plying him with treats.) The situation I put him in was just too much. I should have been more "in the moment" and seen it coming - food in front of him which I'm blockading, mares coming up behind him ... his frustration exploded. But, George my friend, that is no excuse.

As time went by, I was conscious that I did not need to have a rational, verbal response to this. And wouldn't you know, later I read in the Widdicombe book the following very apt comment:  "There seems to be a higher plane of consciousness that is more efficient than the level of the thinking mind, and I'm pretty sure that horses appreciate it and can pick up on it very easily." (p. 125) I did not need to say:  This shows I was wrong about a, b, or c.  Or: I must teach George a, b, or c. I needed to wait, percolate, and see what came up.

What came up this morning at church was the following passage from Luke:
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. ... But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6, 27-28,35-36)

So I decided the first order of business was to forgive George and try to re-establish some trust. After I got home, he came over to the fence.  I went into the field.  He was rather distant.  He came over a couple of times and rubbed against me but didn't stop. Finally, he came to a stop, with me in the good position next to him. After a few moments, I moved away. We reconnected in a different location.  He stood with his head next to me and had a nap.

So, we felt better. But I realized the next order of business was to confront him again in the context of food. I told him that I was going into the house for a minute and that if he wanted to come out of the pasture he should move down toward the gate. Sure enough, when I came out, there he was. I put the halter on and took him out.

The first thing I did was tell him we were just going to stand still for a minute.  Very hard for him.  Then we walked over to where I had a pile of treats, and I asked him to wait again. Very hard, but he managed it for a short minute. I gave him a treat or two in between asking him to back up, or move in a circle, or stand still. All this elicited an assortment of grouchy faces.

But guess what - my level of my body energy had magically been raised. Now that I know what lurks within, I know what I have to keep at bay.

I still don't believe I have to be the leader all the time, or the boss. But George has some serious issues with frustration, especially where food is concerned, and I need to be able to say to him, with conviction:  Chill out.

We're only one day on from the bite, and I'm sure I've nowhere near plumbed the depths of what it all means. I'm conscious of wishing to keep my thoughts amorphous still, the way they say a caterpillar kind of decomposes inside its cocoon before reshaping into its new form. My confidence is still shaken - and it's even affecting my interactions with Bridget. But after it happened, although I was angry and upset, I had a feeling of inevitability, as if it were meant to happen, as if I was being shaken out of a rut, as if it were almost a gift. And to get back to church - yesterday during mass, I had distinctly prayed for a horse-related gift of some kind. And - synchronicity again - last night before going to sleep, here's what I read in Widdicombe:
[S]ometimes it looks as if we are in control when in reality we're not. In some ways, the only tool in our box really is a prayer. (p. 141)

 p.s. Don't nobody tell my husband about this.  He would be really pissed off.


  1. Well done you for accepting a traumatic experience and using it to raise your inner energy!

    Tom Widdecombe’s book is great, reading your posts makes me think I should read it again

  2. Yes, thanks for the recommendation. It really is a good book - I'm going to add it to my favorite books - more so than the other books I've been reading lately, as I think there is a lot of wisdom in it. Whereas the other books are interesting and fun, but there is perhaps less useful stuff in them. I dunno though - the Pearce chew is helpful.

  3. Your description is great. You are so honest in all you write. Things are always heightened in a herd situation don't you find? I know Caroline Resnick does rituals around food. I found them very helpful with Ben. I like the way you were helped with the synchronicity of what you read and what you heard.

  4. Oops, I think I thanked the wrong person for the recommendation ... ?

    Yesterday, I was seized with the conviction that George really needs to know I can keep him off his food, so I ran out into the field brandishing a length of garden hose to drive him off his hay (you need a lot of momentum to drive George off food) - I slipped in the mud next to the trough and fell right over. The horses left the hay and then turned and looked at me as if they were enjoying a Laurel and Hardy show.

    The herd situation does make things much more fraught. George, for all his bravado, feels very threatened by the others - well, that's probably what causes his bravado in the first place. Chloe, for one, is very happy that I'm taking a proactive approach to him.

  5. I really loved reading this - it is so honest and so thoughtful - I'm very interested to read more and see how things progress with George.

  6. Thanks, Billie. I'm interested to see how things progress too!