A Journey With A Friend
I first met Janice Weir and Spartacus through Nancy DeSisto, a natural horsemanship trainer in Palm City, Florida. Spartacus is a 10 year old, 17+ hand tall Standardbred gelding who'd been in and out of rescue for a few years. Janice was drawn to Spartacus but also intimidated by his behavior and his size. As she volunteered with the rescue group who cared for him, she wanted to get to know him better. Janice began to toy with the idea of adopting him if they could reach an understanding.
In my first communication session with Spartacus, I summed up the session for Janice as follows: ' Janice, I think you're in for the ride of your life with Spartacus! He is a very smart horse, has a lot to teach you if you're willing. He doesn't do well with people who are wishy-washy or intimidated by him. He appreciates being admired, but doesn't like to be seen as a bully or overbearing or too big (which, in some ways, can trigger irritability in him). He wants to be seen as an equal in all ways - mentally, emotionally and spiritually. He acknowledges that he is (physically) superior to humans in the physical realm. Scan/check your emotions when you're around him. Be sure you're feeling centered and confident. He responds best to that, because he feels he's meeting the best you have inside you when you're in that place. And being in that place will get the best response from him. Meet him with confidence and candor and respect, and I think he will be even more awesome to you than he is now.'
Janice had to face how she felt intimidated by Spartacus - not just by his size but his life energy and mannerisms as well. Over several months she worked to earn Spartacus's confidence, and to expand her confidence to engage with Spartacus from a place of equality and partnership. This went so well that she officially adopted Spartacus in April 2004. I asked him how partnering with Janice felt for him. He responded,
Quiiiiiite Wonderful! Yes, it truly is. She has very well come 'up to the mark', as you say, in understanding how to be with me in full measure. She is not shrinking [i.e., displaying nervousness or anxiety] around me as before. I think she has found a way to Stand Tall in herself and to be as big as I am [in spirit, confidence]. And that is a good thing. We are much more suited now than before [when Janice was still learning to trust him]. I believe she can take good care of me, and very good care of herself now, as we learn together and find a common ground of mutual companionship, fun and joy. Because that's what it's all about - spirited fun and joy, deep deep heart joy.
I asked him if he liked the natural horsemanship methods Janice was employing (I explained the concept to him). He answered,
Yes, they are quite fine. It is refined work, and that is what I like. I like a challenge, I like to be stretched in the mind and the body. I can feel more of me coming into play, more of my body is working in a new way, and I find this a gentler approach of bonding than other ways I have been [utilized in past training and work]. I am here to show strength of purpose, that is what I am good at. No dilly-dallying, you know? I want to do something good in this world, even if that's just be ALL that I can be.
At the end of the session I asked Spartacus if there was anything he wanted to let Janice know. He said,
Just that I am VERY proud of her for finding her courage and stepping into this arena with me. [arena meaning a lifestyle, a commitment, a partnership] She has everything in her that she needs in order to partner with me, and I am glad to see that her heart is opening wider to process that and to grab onto it. We will do fine as a pair, she is going to find great courage from being with me through life. I cannot say where this will all take us, but I know it is going to be a wonderful ride! She is really quite wise, she knows more than she thinks she does. Tell her to trust her instincts always where I'm concerned. I will do my best to be sure that she gets the ride of her life [meaning a true committed partnership with an equine], that she will never regret having stepped up to the plate and made this agreement to partner with me.
Janice has found her perfect equine partner, and I know that she and Spartacus will have many happy, interesting and heart-expanding years together. It's so true that 'the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a [wo]man', and even more true that what's at the heart of our equine friends is a living spirit that helps us find our joy, confidence, inner strength and our deepest hearts.
I asked Janice to share her story with others, and here's what she had to say.
Horses were always special for me. Like many people, I had the "perfect picture" of the "perfect horse" for me. Gentle, not too big, a quarter horse paint, utterly devoted to me...
At age 53, I began volunteering at the Azizi Horse Rescue in Palm City, Florida. I first saw "him" standing alone in his paddock. A Standardbred bay, Spartacus stood 17+ hands. I thought he was magnificent. He obviously did not think that I was. As I went over to him, he pinned his ears back as if they were velcroed in place and proceeded to snap at me. I learned he had been sent to the rescue three times. His most recent home had been with a mounted police unit. He lasted about a week there. If we were going to have any kind of truce, I figured I had better do some quick self-education.
I started reading everything I could get my hands on regarding working with challenging horses. The "Natural Horsemanship" theories held the most intrigue for me. I tried putting some of the things I read about into practice - all from the safety of the field outside the paddock. I would approach and retreat, drive the horse away from me, invite him back in. Eventually I noticed he would recognize my car approaching and he would come over to the fence to greet me. His ears were always pinned but he did not bite. Spartacus would let me touch him but never on his face. I did not have the nerve to enter his paddock as I had no desire to be charged. Just as important, I did not want him to know that I was intimidated. We went on like this for quite a while.
One day I noticed the woman at the riding school next door walking her young filly. She was swinging a stick with a plastic bag on it. As a matter of fact, her barn had recently been blooming with all kinds of bags. They were on fences, on the round pens, on sticks...The light went on. She seemed to be putting into practice what I had been reading about. I introduced myself to her that very day.
Nancy DeSisto runs Foxgrove Farms in Palm City, Florida. A woman of many talents, she is also an accomplished horsewoman. As I took lessons and attended her clinics, my world subtly changed. My original goal was to get to know Spartacus and remain safe and in one piece. As Nancy helped me learn how to communicate with horses, I found myself having to look internally at myself. As I see it, natural horsemanship differs from the traditional methods of training. By blending knowledge, communication, confidence, leadership and respect, natural horsemanship methods encourage a true willing partnership between equine and human. "Willing" being the key piece. The horse has choices and chooses to partner with the human, and both enjoy their partnership. The communication is MUTUAL and both horse and human have responsibilities to self and each other. As I learned the concepts and put them into practice, my goal changed. I now envisioned "partnering" with Spartacus. With Nancy's help my knowledge and confidence were taking root. But, Spartacus seemed sooooo big. Would I be a suitable partner for him? Nancy referred me to someone who has helped her in the past.
Enter Kat Berard, an Animal Communicator. I was learning "Equus" so there was no stretch for me to think Spartacus could understand my language. I just needed someone who could help us bridge our language barrier. Kat had helped several others at Foxgrove Farms and she has the ability to do distance communication (she lives in Texas, we're in Florida). I had several questions for Spartacus. My biggest concern was whether I could trust this magnificent creature. After all, I was a novice at this.
We set up our first communication session for a night that I would be working at the Rescue. The session was arranged for a time just after Spartacus's evening feeding. His behavior that evening was different than usual. He generally ate and then "hung out" with me at his stall door. This particular night he went off in a corner and seemed to doze. After a while, he stirred, walked over to me and lowered his head to meet me eye to eye. I felt he was searching into my soul and telling me we would be fine. Kat's synopsis of her reading confirmed this and gave me so much more to consider in the way of expectations and challenges.
Four months after our initial session with Kat, Spartacus and I really are partners. I officially adopted him. We continue to take our lessons from Nancy using natural horsemanship methods. We go to the beach, take walks together, ride in state parks, and continue on our journey getting to know and to respect one another. We also have fun. Kat continues to interpret from time to time, but Spartacus and I are on a pretty good wavelength ourselves these days. We have both learned to trust, to relax, and to enjoy life's ride! What a great trip!