I woke just now from a fitful sleep like so often lately, but this time it was a nice dream. I was riding a massive brown horse, walking slowly as I patted his neck and watched the ears. Taking my time to know this gentle giant, and he was granting me respect.
In my dream, riding this horse, all my worries vanished. My senses were filled with the steady squeak of saddle leathers, rhythm of hoof-beats, flicker of ears, wave of mane and smell of horse. I love the smell of horses, and I woke up from this short but vivid dream with that light aroma still in my senses. I felt happy. How incredibly therapeutic, even if only enjoyed while sleeping.
I have been lucky throughout my life to be gifted with animals, something that comes easily due to my inherent respect for them. It’s as if animals notice this about me and are relieved to interact with a human who values their intelligence.
One of the many aspects of horse-care I’ve always adored is grooming. I believe in its value as a training aid, even if only for building trust. I find that horses enjoy human hands along their necks, chests and saddle-areas as much as we enjoy offering the attention. I choose to stroke with my hands and use brushes that are comfortable to horses. No unforgiving metal brushes for me. Regular grooming teaches horses to be at ease with hands all over them. Building a memory of safety allows a horse to remain calm around those frequently alarming things like flapping bags, bicycles, honking horns and banging sounds. A quality riding horse is one that feels secure and trustful. It trusts its environment and its humans. These invaluable horses are unflappable and unafraid of surprises.
I interact with all animals this way, and my cat of a dozen years is calm, friendly and playful. One summer day a few years ago I was chatting casually with my neighbours over the fence as I hose-watered my garden. Suddenly the wife voiced how she was astounded that my cat was just laying in the sun as I watered around it. Myself, I was not surprised. My cat has no fear since she has never been abused. I wouldn’t dream of sprinkling water on my cat.
When a person decides to use force or cruel behavior with an animal, they lose its trust and respect. Unfortunately, most abused animals learn to mistrust all humans. Anyone who has met and worked with a head-shy horse knows how entrenched those old hurts are. Anyone who has adopted an abused rescue dog knows how some of those emotional scars never heal.
My beloved rescue dog has been my constant companion for years, but her first years of life in an abusive environment permanently affected her. In her past she learned that humans are unpredictable and dangerous. Her life with me is the opposite of that tragic past but the damage is done. She does lavish me with the loyalty of her constantly loving presence, but during those moments in our family life with loud boisterous laughter or unexpected movements, she still lowers her head and looks worried. Trust is fragile and once damaged is often lost forever.
Respect and trust are too precious to risk damaging with poor behavior. Just as in our personal relationships, once these hard-earned qualities of trust and respect are betrayed they are practically impossible to regain.
© March 2009 ~ Gina’s Professions