By Wilja Westerhof
In February 2009 I needed to buy our next pony or horse, because the ponies we had were too small for our 14-year-old daughter Caro to ride. In the buying process I used felt sensing all the way, and still do, in the process of living with the horse we bought. This is what happened.
I saw an advertisement on the internet with a picture of Lacos, a Spanish Crusado born in May 2004. Lacos had very sweet eyes and a trusting face yet looked very skinny. I phoned the woman who was selling, and went to see the horse. She told me this horse had come from Spain, had been travelling over Europe with a salesman and had been mistreated, beaten, hurt and not fed well.
I could see that Lacos was scared, mostly with me, less with my daughter. The bigger the person was, the more scared Lacos was. He would startle, turn away, try to get away, try to flee. I had a vet check him. She said there was nothing really wrong with him medically, but how he would develop characterwise, she could not say.
I talked to many people about this horse. People who knew the seller told me I should not trust her. She was just out to make money - and not honest. Other people told me I was in for trouble; a horse like that could be a problem for ever. So I was warned.
Yet each time I saw his pictures, and each time we went there and my daughter kind of rode him, I had a feeling inside that all could be well. I sensed that his core was fine. He had left Spain when he was 3 ½ years old, had been travelling and mistreated for 1 ½ years, yet, though it had frightened him, it did not change his core. It was as if he was looking for someone to trust again and feel safe with.
My daughter and I talked for a long time and both agreed in the end: we would take this chance, we would give Lacos and ourselves a chance to find out whether our feeling was right. She felt safe enough with him to start to really ride him (he had not been trained yet) and spend lots of time to gain his trust. I would just start to look after him, feed him, and gain his trust as well.
We started with putting on a saddle and getting on his back at our property. As soon as Caro would start to mount, he would turn away, scared of what might happen. We found ourselves a very good horse trainer to help us. The three of us would hold Lacos and calm him. Caro got up, quietly and quickly, and then all was well. He knew nothing bad would happen.
With every new thing Lacos needed to do, I could sense inside me his fear. When he would be free and Caro would go to fetch him, he would run away. She would have to mirror his movements and close him in, fetch him and caress him. In time he started to know that nothing bad will happen when we fetch him. He will have to work for my daughter, which he loves to do, or he will get nice food, or a dry place to be.
In the meantime, I got him all kinds of strengthening, delicious food. I had someone take off his ill-fitting horseshoes (their purpose had been to make him look bigger) and do his feet, a dentist for his teeth. and after half a year he looked just fine. He had his own meadow and he could share a bigger meadow with three other ponies.
I loved watching the way in which he found his place in that group. I could see him sensing what distance he had to take from the others, from the boss horse, moving away when he was bodily told to do so. Yet not making himself small. Standing his ground, yet sensing what space he was allowed to take. They accepted him in three days, since this was a feeling/sensing healthy horse. Now he can be very close to them, play with them, cuddling each other. He comes when we come, the others let him go. They all know their place and whom they belong too.
Caro started to ride without a bit and with a very light and easy-feeling saddle. He loved it. She mainly trained on bending flexibility and positioning and making him take weight on his back, and from there going forward. Learning to carry weight. When he began, his energy was high in his body, lifting his legs high from the ground, as if wanting to flee all the time.
Now he is relaxed most of the time, doing longer steps, not fleeing, wanting to learn and to work for Caro. He enjoys it. There is a big sense of trust on his face, and his eyes are even sweeter. His ears are moving forward, listening to Caro on his back. He is calm, looking and checking his environment.
We have started in April of this year to take him in the trailer to competitions. That was a new event and again he was kind of afraid. Especially after a longer time in the trailer, he was full of sweat, trembling and very high on his legs, making short steps again. Giving him time to adjust, being calm and friendly ourselves, now after having done this six times, it is easier on him.
Now after almost 1 ½ years we have a lovely, healthy horse. He loves the sun (who wouldn't, coming from Spain), loves being brushed, coiffured and caressed and has a mixture of happiness and willingness with a bit of alertness. (Alertness because one never knows when the bad guys are coming to steal him again. But it doesn't feel like fear now.) I'm so glad I trusted my feeling inside and took this chance. I'm committed to keep taking good care of him.
When I look at him in our meadow there is a warmth in my chest, loving, easy warmth. When I see Caro riding with Lacos together, this warmth gets accompanied with pride and thankfulness. They are a great team!