I have a horse named DaVinci who is recovering from what seems to be Post Traumatic Stress. I’ve had him for almost two years now and an outsider looking in might tell me to get rid of him and tell me he’s useless. Just when I thought he may have irreparable damage and I was considering the thought he may have a mental illness, wondering if he’s even worth keeping, I received an unexpected phone call from a wonderful woman in California, named Roxanne, who works with Mustangs.
Roxanne and I had never met before, but I felt like we had known each other for years, I think because we share the same passion, trying to reach the heart of difficult horses. I asked her what she thought about horses having a mental illness, and she replied very thoughtfully that she thinks those horses are not mentally ill, but emotionally fractured. As soon as I heard those words, my heart just about broke in two. Emotionally fractured, implying that he’s suffered, and needs to be pieced back together. (P.S. Roxanne, I’d love for you to share more about this!)
DaVinci is always the first to greet me. He’s the first to utter those low, motor boat nickers. Yet he’s the first to run away if I’m wearing my fuzzy bathrobe, or if my lip gloss smells funny, or if I’m wearing my wrist brace, or if I’m carrying a different bucket than usual.
When I first got him, he was untouchable. He wouldn’t lower his head to eat until the last human had disappeared. I was totally up for the challenge, but two years later, he still has serious trust issues. One veterinarian commented that he’s never seen anything like him. Well, except for a wild zebra they’re constantly tranquilizing.
(To read installments and watch videos from The Diary of DaVinci, an ongoing journal of my experiences with this special horse, visit paintinghorse.com/artist.htm.)
The veterinarian couldn’t understand that DaVinci couldn’t understand that he wasn’t going to hurt him. He said even the wild horses he’s worked with eventually calm down once they understand they won’t be hurt. Again, my heart broke in two.
DaVinci, like an agoraphobic, appears to be afraid of being afraid, afraid of being hurt, afraid of the unknown, of open spaces, of my lip gloss! Not a day goes by where I wonder What happened to you?
So in these two years, I can trim his hooves while he’s unhaltered, I can worm him, he can be tacked up, bridled. It appears he’s had some rope work, as he responds with the blink of my eye. He is the very best of all the horses at crossing the teeter totter, spinning on his pedestal, climbing on his four-foot-high wooden spool, and he loves to dance with me.
But, and it’s a big but, he’s so very far from being normal. His panic factor is off the charts. I think this is what the veterinarian was seeing. Two years ago I would have thought I’d be riding him by now.
In the time I’ve had him, I’ve also been starting a young Clydesdale named Raleigh. If it weren’t for this super willing wonder horse, I’d seriously question my abilities with DaVinci. All of my hopes and dreams for DaVinci are being filled with this Clyde that lives to be at my side.
So here’s my pressure, after two years where is DaVinci? On the surface he’s another mouth to feed. He’s not earning his keep. I can’t say if he’ll ever be normal. Is he worth it? Should I keep him? Is he dangerous? The vet seemed to think so.
(These deep thoughts always come to me when I’m heaving a heaping pile of manure into my wheelbarrow.)
Then my heart broke in four pieces. I began thinking of all the horses that have been cast off simply because they weren’t usable anymore. Most of us have dogs and cats without expecting them to perform a service. Why are horses singled out for having to earn their keep in this era?
I wish I’d never heard the term pasture ornament. Doesn’t the horse have the right to exist, just because? As I looked into DaVinci’s deep brown eyes set within his wide white blaze, I thought, I will keep you as long as it takes, or until you show me otherwise. I will not pressure you to conform to any standard except the ones you and I decide.
For now, I have three horses that invite me to be carried on their backs. These two years DaVinci has invited me into so many parts of his life that were previously unreachable, that I will not be pressured to do anything other than keep listening for his invitations.