Jenny Pearce

There’s been a lot of talk about horse trauma lately

There’s been a lot of talk about trauma and PTSD type symptoms in horses lately and I’d like to give you a bit of perspective and a lot of hope.

The subject reminds me of my own healing journey.  I had what most people would define as a fairly minor sexual abuse in my childhood. When it came up in a healing session, I cried and cried as I recognized the enormous impact and where this experience  had been responsible for all kinds of negative behaviors and reactions throughout my life.  (If you’re impacted by my words here, you can afford to be brave –  there’s a solution for you too. )  I remember being puzzled about the depth of the impact on me because it was “just” a seriously yucky experience.  I had sooo much less reason than other people I knew who had so much more cause to complain.

Gosh, that word “just” – “just a yucky experience” trivialises the enormous impact on my life.

The impact of trauma on your horse can have similar repercussions. What we think of as not such a big deal can have an enormous impact on the way that they react when they’re under any kind of pressure.  Something that we think of as “not a big deal” can even cause traumatic reactions and PTSD type symptoms.

Yeah yeah I know what some people will say ” Be careful not to anthropormorphize Jenny.”  See… the trouble is we NEED to anthropormorphize in this instance to have some empathy for the horses.  I’ll explain more.

PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in people causes uncontrollable reactions, flashbacks where someone can be triggered into re-living the experience over and over again, panic attacks.  Many, many horses exhibit symptoms that could easily be classified as PTSD.

Oliver’s PTSD type story

Oliver is an interesting example. Do you know, you can look at PTSD as some kind of victim thing or you can look at it like it was with Oliver – an opportunity for him to become the profoundly empathetic and sentient and loving horse that he is today – that he probably wouldn’t be without beating that experience in his background.

Here’s his story.  He used to flip out so suddenly and so hard, that one time that I remember vividly, he went from completely connected to me in a humming together kind of place, to a panic attack that took him smashing right over the top of me, flattening me to the ground in the tiniest fraction of a split second.  At first I was enraged, firstly because I got badly hurt, but mainly because there was no obvious reason for such a tiny thing to cause such an enormous reaction and we’d done such lovely work together for quite a while by then.

This hadn’t been the only time he ran right over the top of someone.   He’d run over the top of Michelle twice and then later Steve too, in similar unexplained ways.  Clearly there WAS a reason and it was one of the reasons such a valuable horse was given to me as dangerous.

It took some time for him to be ready to open up the vulnerable, scared part of him to show me the depths behind what was going on.  He may not have even KNOWN how to tell me this back at the beginning – I certainly haven’t known what was behind a lot of my own reactions until after I’ve had the understanding and released them.

From our earlier work around the stresses and tensions he had about simple things like being haltered, he at last gained enough confidence in me to show me what had happened to him to cause these incredibly dangerous “run over the top of you” reactions.   I’m telling you that – like my “minor” sexual abuse – most people wouldn’t have thought this was a big enough deal to cause an enormous trauma type reaction like that.

But that’s the point isn’t it?  it’s not what someone else thinks was traumatic – it’s what WE experienced as traumatic – it’s what OLIVER experienced as traumatic.

He showed me visions and impressions of his supported birth – he was an enormous foal that had to be pulled out.  The ligaments in his fetlocks collapsed and he went over “on his bumpers”  and had to be stabled.  He showed me that, as someone picked him up and carried him to the stable, he was struggling and panicking and I got the impression that they were panicking too, with this enormous foal struggling in their arms about to be dropped.   He was IMPRINTED with his own panic AND with the human’s panic at a very important ” imprint vulnerable”  time of his life. – so he was actually IMPRINTED with that panic.

Hmmm… how to help him release that?  With Steve and Sue next door’s help, we came up with our modified version of T Team bandaging, to help Oliver to release the trauma.  We were privileged to be able to film some of it and the lesson is in Oliver’s Diaries, which comes as a Fast Track bonus.

And Oliver instantly turned into a giant teddy bear.  In two simple and profound sessions all the PTSD type reactions were all gone, never to be seen again.  In fact, it’s been years now and in the frights he’s had since then, I could FEEL him feeling for where I was, making sure that he didn’t run over me, bless his little cotton socks.  I’m so freaking proud for him! 🙂

It was about Oliver’s active and willing participation in his own healing

Usually I’d put a lesson up to show you, but I’m not prepared to in this instance, because it’s less about the TECHNIQUE that we used and more about the FEEL and TIMING, with our incredibly close connection to Oliver at the foundation of all of it.  It was about listening and responding to his needs and above all,  it was about his active and willing participation in his own healing that came from his utter confidence in us that had developed over time.

The FOUNDATION principles behind Oliver’s trauma release, you’ll find them in the 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse.  I swear that some people dismiss those simple little lessons because they’re free.  And they ARE simple. And when they are used as a foundation for everything you do they can be profoundly healing too.

The key is FEEL.  Without FEEL you just can’t support your horse to achieve this kind of depth of release.  But thankfully, everyone has the capacity to have world class feel for their horse.

EVERYONE. 

I’ve never met anyone yet who wanted it that couldn’t find that kind of world class Feel.

The sad thing is that the tiniest fraction of ONE per cent of horse riders and handlers in the world use their Feel or use it with any kind of consistency to help their horse.

If I remember rightly, the first time Sunny had her feet trimmed at liberty was just after the trauma release in this story. This is a much more recent photo from this year, with Monica trimming. Every now and again Sunny needs the consideration you HAVE to take, to trim at liberty.

Sunny’s trauma

Sunny is another case of horse trauma caused by something that most people would consider no big deal.  She was quick to use her teeth and her feet for defending herself – a fight horse on the five f’s  (flight, fight, freeze, fidget and faint).

When I was working with her to let go of her tension around being haltered, she showed me that her first trauma was as a newborn foal being cornered in her stable and wrestled with to get the halter on.  It turned out that she actually wasn’t a born fight response horse at all – that tendency to fight first and think later was a trauma response from her first catching experience.

When she came to me, we also had serious problems trimming one foot safely.  She used to slam her near hind leg down so hard that if your arm or leg had been in the way, it would have been broken.  I don’t believe in putting my feet trimmer in danger, so this particular foot of Sunny’s had been trained but not trimmed for five months by this stage in the story.  Better to have a messy foot than a damaged feet trimmer.

We were working this day – again – on helping her to get better with holding her hind leg up for Cat to trim, when she showed us an image of a horse thrashing on the ground with it’s leg tied up, grinding its face and eye into the sand and the utter despair that she felt as she fought that rope until she thought she was dead.  This leg tying thing is a technique used by some trainers, designed to beat the horse’s fight response.

I might cry at the drop of a hat, but Cat sure as heck doesn’t and we both got the same vision, with same feelings of utter despair and both of us had tears pouring down our faces.   I found out later that that Sunny and her sister had gone of to the trainer to be started at the same time and that her sister came home blind in one eye, so the vision was of what happened to HER, not to Sunny.

Do you know, I just realized something as I was writing this.  For all these years I thought BOTH sisters had the same technique done to them.  But now I’m thinking that’s not necessarily the case and that maybe Sunny’s traumatic response came from WATCHING what happened to her sister, not physically experiencing it herself.

My point is, that the same PRINCIPLES that are in these same free little lessons the 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse, were  what we were using to get Sunny OK with that lethal leg.  It took her TIME and me helping her to release all kinds of other traumas that she had experienced – in her case around being caught and haltered – to develop the kind of confidence that she needed to bare her soul to us that day about what was behind her problems in holding that leg up for trimming.

My grandson Jayden is already starting to use his Feel for a horse in simple ways. That’s him pictured here giving Sunny her treat.

But above all, it takes FEEL for your horse and the TIMING of knowing when to keep going and when to back off and that comes from a deep and profound connection to them that EVERYONE has the ability to have and the tiniest portion of one percent of riders and handlers use and our BEGINNER riders here are learning how to use it from the beginning in our Fast Track program – and our KIDS  in this program learn it from childhood.

Starting to get my point here?  I could give you a hundred stories of horses traumatized to some degree and the ordinary people who have helped them solve that trauma.  These are horses that were suffering from PTSD type reactions and like my sexual abuse experience, some of these may seem like no big deal to those who have seen or suffered more, but they are damaging to THAT horse and causing reactions and problems and tensions that simply don’t need to exist.

…That simply don’t need to exist…

Look around you.  What are you observing in your horse – that you think is no big deal – that is in reality caused by an actual trauma that the horse has experienced?  Excessive spooking? Tie up problems? Feet picking up problems?  Bridling?  Saddling?  Separation anxiety? Caretaker horses that just can’t look after you any more and eventually explode?

If they “flip out” about ANYTHING that is a normal part of a horse’s life then they need help.

For the horse’s sake folks, are you going to be the problem or the solution?

Talk to me. 

If it’s your own trauma being raised again by talking about our horses, then hold on to Oliver’s experience. “You can look at PTSD as some kind of victim thing or you can look at it like it was with Oliver – an opportunity for him to become the profoundly empathetic and sentient and loving horse that he is today – that he probably wouldn’t be without beating that experience in his background.” And feel free to talk to me by email to see how we can support that shift in your experience. We have a variety of ways to support you, some of which are even free.

Talk to me by email or in the comment section about all the ways that all the different types of horses show you that there’s something they need help with.

p.s. Keep in mind that some horses require more skill and know-how than others (for example I wouldn’t have liked to see a beginner trying to help Oliver) – but ALL of them require the person to have Feel to help them…


 

5 Comments

  1. Susie 10/18/2018, 11:28 am Reply

    Another great explanation Jen! A few home hitters in there for me. The part about the horse having the trust and confidence in you to bare their soul 💗

    • jennyp 10/18/2018, 11:51 am Reply

      Yeah… like your guy did the other week. It took confidence to participate so actively in his healing.

  2. Great article which I have shared on my personal FB timeline to hopefully help some of my peeps who have problems with the equines in their care.

    • jennyp 10/14/2018, 7:15 pm Reply

      Thank you for sharing it Rayelene – understanding this could just change the lives of lots and LOTS of horses, hey?

  3. Malayna Nicolls 10/14/2018, 2:37 pm Reply

    I love this article so much. I have a 12 year old Morgan mare named Sunny. I bought her in the spring. She hates the bridal! I use a leather head stall and 5″ dogbone bit. Very gentle. Through months of patience, she would take the bit. Through months of consistent pressure/release, she didn’t hate it so much. I had her teeth floated a month ago. The first thing he asked me was if she bucks, kicks out. I said no, she has never bucked me. He said he would have expected her to buck, flail and kick out as her teeth were so overgrown. Any bit would have been excruciating for her! Totally a light bulb moment. Patience, kindness and consistent training and even a horse in pain will do her hardest to take care of her person.. Now, though she has gone from being great for the farrier, to not wanting to lift up one of her back legs?

    Some help would be appreciated as I have to get her hooves done soon and shoes removed….

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