IF WE LET THEM
When I first laid eyes on Dorian, he was lying in a pasture, surveying the world on a cool, gray, early spring afternoon. I glanced his way, but didn’t pay much attention, to be honest. He was just another another chestnut with a blaze, and we had plenty of those at the rescue, handling off-the-track Thoroughbreds.
That day, like most others, I had a lot of work to do, helping feed, water, and train the early 60 horses we were preparing for a new life. And, besides, I wasn’t looking for a horse of my own.
And yet, I remember how I’d smile when potential adopters came to the ranch clearly focused on what sort of horse they wanted. They’d likely end up with a little gray mare or some other horse that looked nothing like the big black gelding with a small star the person had come to find. It happened time after time.
So it was with me and Dorian.
Our relationship happened the year he dropped a lot of weight and had a bad case of rain rot. I babied him through that, trying senior feed, then soaked alfalfa pellets, and a host of other “put weight on” remedies. His coat got scrubbed with any number of rain rot treatments.
He was basically healthy, the veterinarian said, so I just kept at
it and by summer, he started looking better. In fact, he got a
I noticed that folks coming to the ranch looking for potential
adoptions, never looked at Dorian. He’s a big boned, big-bodied
gelding, and people seemed to be looking for more typical
racehorses—sleek and long-legged.
He has an odd mane, too—there’s a swirl in the middle
so the front part of his mane grows forward. He has wispy tail,
as well, not the long, full swinging, lustrous tail of the breed.
I felt bad for him. I’d gotten to know him nursing him through
his issues, and came to appreciate his bright, intelligent eye.
He’s a little stubborn, to boot (just like a redhead, my friend,
Anita says), which I felt was ok. I like a horse who has an
But he was enormously spooky.
In the end, I think that’s what brought us together. We started spending a lot of time in the round pen—longeing, grooming sessions, talking things over, hanging out, . . . and he was fine.
But when I started riding him, it seemed the whole world scared him. And why not? All he’d known as a racehorse was the stall, his training track, a horse trailer, the starting gate . . . there are no terrifying falling leaves or rotting devil logs in that life!
Many times we’d be trotting along in a straight line and in the blink of an eye—literally--he’d jumped three feet to the left. Sometimes I had no idea what had scared him. My heart went out to him—how awful to live a life where everything terrifies you.
It was very hard to get him to try anything new, go anywhere he’d never been before on the property. So we took it moment by moment. The whole world slowed down when we were together, and that was hard for me.
If he made the slightest effort to do what I asked, the pressure came off and we’d pause. Silence and just standing there in quiet union became our routine and by incremental steps he gained confidence in himself and in me.
For once, my focus wasn’t on my fast-paced life, but on his life. And he needed patience from me.
It took a long, long time for Dorian to get over his continual bout with the willies. But he’s a different horse now.
No, I take that back. He’s regained himself now. And in the process, he’s helped me find myself, too.
People say the horse is the teacher, not the owner or trainer. I’ve found that to be true. I’m not a patient person. I want my own way, and I can be just as stubborn as Dorian. I’m a bit high-strung, and my mind tends to go a hundred miles a minute pretty much all the time. Or it did.
Working with Dorian helped me find a path to a deep authenticity and centeredness I didn’t know I possessed. We talk together all the time, but neither of us says anything out loud.
I can be in the worst possible mood, but going out to the pasture and being with Dorian allows me to find a place inside where a deep serenity resides.
But as my good friend Glenn says “The slow way is the fast way with horses,” and I’ve found that to also be true. What formed through Dorian and my groundwork, our communing time, our rides, is a partnership, a bond that I don’t think there are words to completely articulate. Anyone who has a deep relationship with a horse will know exactly what I’m referring to—it’s a relationship that resides at the level of “being,” not at the level of “thinking.”
In a profound sense, I haven’t really taught him anything. I’ve known for him and with him that he has everything he needs to be simply and perfectly himself, and we’ve gone forward from that.
We ride trails together all the time and now he might stop at something new, but he’s able to work through his fear and, trusting me and trusting himself, walk on by. We’ve traversed obstacles, waded into streams, trotted and cantered and galloped through woods, jumped a few Xs, and had a staring contest with deer in the deep woods.
I would love to know what he was thinking that early spring day so many years ago as he lie there, legs tucked under him, surveying his domain. I wonder if he knew we’d become what we have—it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if that were true.
Along the way, somehow Dorian has restored me. That’s part of their power, I think—horses help us reclaim ourselves . . . if we let them.
It’s as simple, and sometimes as difficult to do, as that.