Chester - A Case History
Chester is a very special horse - and there are another 129 like him in the same place, all having suffered some sort of abuse, neglect, ill fortune, or just got plain old. Chester, an 11-year-old TBX is now assured of a place to live, food to eat, veterinary and farrier care as necessary and lots of love, for the rest of his natural life. The thing is Chester, and many of his companions, have not quite realised they are ‘safe’ and continue to offer extremely challenging behaviour at times.
All these horses are cared for under the auspices of a registered charity known as The Friends of Bristol Horses Society, which is based in Bristol, England. One of the ways the funding for the rescued horses’ welfare is guaranteed is through a visitor’s centre called HorseWorld (www.horseworld.org.uk).
I was introduced to the centre manager by one of the employees at HorseWorld several months ago, supposedly to discuss the possibility of running one or more complementary therapy open days, but suddenly found myself more than a little involved with both the horses in the centre’s care and the bad backs of their employees - I now spend a full day every week working on people and horses. As an offshoot of this relationship, and after seeing the results of the modality on their charges, we have, for the first time, used the welfare centre as the new venue for Jock and Ivana Ruddock’s English Equine Touch® courses.
Early in August a few of the newly qualified English Equine Touch practitioners came with me and spent a day at the rescue centre in order to start work on some of the more needy horses. Chester was one of the horses allocated to me to work on. I discovered that he had been accepted into the home some weeks previously. The horses, once accepted into the rescue centre, always remain owned by the Charitable Trust so their future is secure but new, approved homes are found when possible, even if only for a couple of years or as a companion animal.
So what was Chester’s story? A couple of years ago a young woman was looking for a horse to buy and found herself following an advertisement; once she arrived at the arranged place, she realised it was a dealing yard. Chester was the horse she had gone to see but was not at all what she expected from the description in the advert! He was very, very thin. His mane and coat were matted and his feet were incredibly long. Each of his legs bore the scars of barbed wire and he was so headshy it was obvious that at sometime in his life he had been beaten around the head. The sight of Chester touched her heart and she arranged a pre-purchase vetting, which is necessary in the UK in order to insure a horse. Chester failed the vetting but in spite of that she bought him anyway! He was moved to good grass, given tender loving care and had the companionship of a pony. He soon bore no external resemblance to the horse he had been, other than the wire scars on his legs. He was ridden a little around the farm but it was discovered that he did not like tractors or traffic very much, and almost immediately his new owner discovered she was going to have a baby so he had the time off.
So why not the proverbial happy ending? Within a few months there was a new baby on the scene but Chester’s owner was not at all well, with recurring bouts of asthma without the cause being known until it was realised that she had developed an allergic reaction to horses. The letter that she wrote to the centre, asking for him to be taken in was very sad to read - but she simply could not afford, with the responsibility of a tiny baby in her care, to be continuously ill and her beloved horses had to go. In her mind the only way she could secure their future was if the Charity took them.
Chester was physically well and some light riding was attempted immediately after his quarantine period was over but it soon became obvious that the lady who had rescued him had not been able to address his unpredictability in traffic. It was whilst out hacking that the unfortunate response he had to anything he found threatening was discovered. We all know of the fight/ flight mechanism and have seen it exhibited in equine behaviour in various ways. Well, Chester’s response was to ‘fight’, not with other horses or humans, but with traffic, and he would deliberately put himself, and his rider, in front of any large vehicle by which he felt threatened.
The Centre has links with many volunteers and holds a very positive attitude toward what, these days, is loosely termed ‘Natural Horsemanship’. They have worked closely for over a year now with a horse behaviour specialist here in the UK called Gary Witheford who holds regular clinics at HorseWorld and he worked with Chester and his regular handlers, overcoming many of the handling and behavioural problems by a programme of halter training, de-sensitising and re-backing. But even that didn’t totally address the problem with the traffic.
So back to the day I first met him - we worked on about 10 horses that day with Equine Touch and saw a variety of responses; some presented with the classic responses of relaxation and ‘feel good’ and others responded in a more uncomfortable way, but Chester was something else. Even with his regular groom in attendance he would allow no sort of physical contact behind the shoulder area without ‘kicking to kill’ with the hind legs. In fact he was ‘cold’ from the shoulders back - the difference in temperature was quite astonishing; it was like feeling two different horses! Those of you who have had experience of the Equine Touch will have made the observation that a very small amount of ‘hands on’ contact can achieve a great deal and by just doing as much as the horse can accept at that moment in time it can help the body, in its current state of dis-ease, to come toward balance and harmony. It also seems to act as a ‘blueprint’ for future work, whereby the horse’s body recognises the vibration of the move when repeated at a later date.
So the next week Chester trusted me more and allowed more contact without nearly as much kicking out, and his only restraint, by his handler, was a long loose lead rope. But he would simply not allow me to work on the hind legs themselves. Week 3, I almost completed a full body balancing routine but once again touching or lifting the hind legs could not be tolerated, although his kicking out was more of a gesture! Impasse - so what next?
When I went the next week I took a selection of essential oils to Chester’s box and simply stood on the outside and offered them to him to sniff. I offered first, as it has often been indicated for suppressed fear, frankincense. There was an immediate ‘withdrawal’ into himself and he turned his back on me and moved to the back of the box. I stood quietly and allowed the aroma to be processed by his olfactory system. Within a couple of minutes his whole body softened and relaxed and he turned back toward me, looking to see what else I had to offer. His eye was quiet and his head was lower; he was interested and curious, his whole demeanour was one of alert curiosity rather than worried but aggressive, which was how he had presented earlier.
The next oil to be offered was rose - often indicated
to help release of past abuse - and again it was a spot-on choice
for him. He inhaled deeply first from the left nostril, then from
the right, finally placing his nose centrally over the bottle and
taking big snorting inhalations for several seconds before again
turning away and standing with his back toward me, wary of letting
us see how the oil was affecting him, but again coming back to see
what else was on offer!
An oil that had suggested itself to me in the light of my original Equine Touch findings of him being ‘cold’ from the shoulders back was ginger since it is so warming and comforting. It is not an oil I have been drawn to very often for horses, but - I wanted to end the session with Chester by offering him mandarin and sweet orange and I have always found that ginger and orange is a wonderful blend for those who are ‘chilled’ in body and mind. And of course both mandarin and orange are such ‘loving’ oils I wanted to try and communicate to Chester that he was safe, secure and loved despite his ‘testing’ behaviour.
The offered bottle of ginger essential oil was followed by Chester as I drew the bottle away from his nostrils and he threw up his head and made a big flehmen response. Then he snorted and shook his head gently and after a few sniffs of the sweet orange he tried to take the bottle in his mouth. So I dropped a couple of drops into a little sweet almond oil in my hand and allowed him to lick it … in fact that was the only ‘physical’ application during the 15 minutes I stood outside of his box. And that was all that was done for that week.
He was well into his rehabilitation programme by this time and during his hacking out that following week he met both a dustbin emptying wagon and a couple of double decker buses, and not once did he make a wrong move, though he did tense up as they passed. It was discovered in his ridden work that he had a big ‘pop’ in him so he was taken out on a sponsored cross country ride and won a clear round rosette! When I went two days later to give him his body balance this was a different horse I saw in front of me! He was so ‘normal’ - no fidgeting, no flinching from my hands, all the usual Equine Touch responses of licking and chewing, sighing, head lowering, ear movements, gut sounds, lymphatic drainage lines, even the big release of wind on the coccyx move, were classic. His musculature, whilst still having some ‘ouchies’, showed only a slight discomfort from his hard work and over-enthusiastic jumping on his sponsored ride, but there was none of the toxin feel or the sort of muscle tension caused by emotional problems, in his body. I completed a whole body balance, including the pelvic and sacrum moves. The only area of concern was at the sciatic point, which, once the hyper-tonicity was released by the moves, was consolidated by a week of work on a ‘long and low’ and ‘up’ into the back on a lunging programme, and in that time the area visibly changed.
The following weekend a lady came to HorseWorld because her old mare had died a few days earlier and her young event horse was beside himself without a companion. She had thought she might re-home an older, quiet horse to keep him company. However as she went out to one of the paddocks to see those available, Chester ran up to her and said ‘hey look at me’, so she did! Although she hadn’t been looking for a riding horse she thought she might as well give him a try and they just clicked - and do you know they have already completed an unaffiliated one-day event?!!!!
It is such a privilege to work on horses like Chester and to eventually find them happy to accept our help in making a difference in their lives. It also highlights the importance of the holistic modalities working together for the good of the horse. For those of us who work with horses for a living we must keep reminding ourselves to keep our minds open, and keep learning from every ‘body’ that comes under our hands. We must be brave enough, professional enough and secure enough in our own knowledge and competency to know it is not a weakness to refer on to, or to consult with, other practitioners, trainers, vets and instructors, if our own discipline doesn’t completely ‘do the job’. This is the only certain way to make a more comfortable and healthier life for our equine companions.
About the author:
Lyn Palmer is based near Glastonbury, England where she owns a dressage schooling and livery yard with her daughter, Vikki. She works with both horses and humans using aromatherapy, massage and Bowen Technique, arranges aromatherapy clinics for horse owners and is the Equine Touch coordinator for England. Lyn can be contacted at email@example.com for equine aromatherapy email consultations.