Speaking up for neglected horses

This is one of 16 malnourished, neglected horses taken from a northeast Indiana property in January 2018. (Photo courtesy Friends of Ferdinand)

Sixteen horses — first 10, then another six — were rescued from a Wells County, Indiana property in January 2018. All were malnourished, and some had untreated infections and injuries.

A few, including two of the six horses I worked with, did not survive. Others returned to their previous owners or found new ones, but faced a long and difficult healing process.

The case was all the more disturbing because the person responsible was known and trusted by area horse owners and rescuers. Yet, according to the conversations that followed, there were previous signs that all was not well.

What can we pull from this to create a better outcome the next time something doesn’t seem quite right, but we don’t know what to ask or how to help? How can we get better at spotting signs of animal abuse and neglect, speaking up, listening, and following through?

As I write this, winter is coming. That’s when many of these heartbreaking situations come to light, and when it’s difficult to respond.

I’m not a veterinarian, horse handler, or law enforcement officer. My job with horses is to listen to them, and to the people who love and care for them, and offer a calm presence that allows healing. But as a journalist of many years, I also wanted to offer some quality information that might prove useful to those of us in northeast Indiana and beyond. Here’s what I found.

• These two articles were both sparked by the Wells County case: When to Speak Up: Red Flags & Warning Signs for Reporting Abuse in Horse Nation; and If you see something, say something by Carleigh Fedorka, a horse handler and postdoctoral researcher who was part of the same network as the neglected horses’ owner.

• Another, Neglected, abused and abandoned horses: How to help in Equus Magazine, was written earlier but includes helpful information on staying on the right side of the law in these situations.

• Also of note: Friends of Ferdinand, which played a key role in the rescue of the horses in the above case, received a Standing Ovation by Ovation Riding in 2018. This story talks about how other rescue organizations stepped in to help.

Creating a better world for horses (and everyone else) does, in fact, take all of us.

‘I get it. But I don’t like it.’

Image by sianbuckler from Pixabay

As an animal communicator, I occasionally hear or sense this from our four-legged and other friends.

Usually it’s because their human has asked me to help them understand an upcoming move, addition to the family, or other change. Or maybe he or she has hired me to help sort out a behavioral issue.

The animal understands the situation. He may understand what the human wants. But you’re not seeing the change you hoped for.

“I get it. But I don’t like it.”

So the animal keeps nipping, scorning the litter box, or refusing to load. The problem continues after the vet visit, the session with me, your efforts to help, or all of the above. What on earth can you do?

First of all, understand that I can make your wishes known to your animal, but there is no guarantee she will comply. Compliance isn’t the point anyway.

So back to the “what can you do” part:

Let it be. You want to do something — anything — to resolve this problem yesterday, but remember you’ve already planted the seeds for something better.

Some situations resolve themselves in ways understood only by the animal. The cat decides the new baby isn’t a hairless monster. The horse loads when another person tries. The dog feels better and eats the special diet more readily.

You may choose to do something else tomorrow. Today, let go and see what happens. The animal will feel the change in your energy.

Give the animal a choice. Offer an additional litter box. Try getting the donkey onto the trailer tomorrow rather than force him today. If your dog doesn’t want to be around your boyfriend, let her stay where she feels safe.

Letting the animal choose boosts her confidence in herself and in you. That can only improve your relationship and the situation.

Savor (and reward) the small victories. The new cat and the current cat come within three feet of each other without hissing. The dog stops barking the first time he’s asked. This is great! Pony up (so to speak) with praise, a treat, or a play session

Ask for more help. Your animal may be telling you she needs (if you’ll pardon a tired old job rejection phrase) to move in a different direction. If you are still struggling, I will do my best to refer you to a trainer, organization, business, veterinarian, another practitioner or communicator, or someone else through trusted sources. Or you can ask a trusted friend for referrals. It does take a village.

Similarly, don’t hesitate to (diplomatically) let your veterinarian know that you need some other ideas. He or she is on your side, and on your animal’s side.

Also remember every state has veterinary schools — Purdue, here in Indiana — whose mission it is to help people help animals.

There are ways to bridge the gap between understanding and integrating. As with us humans, it may take patience, creativity, and additional support.

Meditation with animals: Focus, refocus, repeat


2019 09.13 Gabby w Chaps & Emmie in bg

(Photo by Nancy Crowe)

When practiced with animals, Reiki is all about meditation. It creates a safe, peaceful space that promotes healing.

Until a dog barks, a truck beeps and backs up … what was that I was supposed to pick up today? I’ll have to avoid the construction at … aw, crud.

Anyone who has practiced (or tried) meditation will know what I mean. Many folks think they can’t meditate because they can’t sit still, quiet their minds, avoid distraction, or any of the other “supposed tos.” That’s the beauty of animal Reiki. While animals may call you on it if you’re not fully present, they’re all about second chances. 

That’s true even if the moment includes a pig screeching, which pierced a quiet session with some horses in a pasture. I turned from the fence and ran toward the sound, wondering if I’d have to call the police or a veterinarian, only to find said pig simply wanted out of her enclosure. Somebody else with thumbs had obliged by the time I got there.

I headed back to the pasture, taking a few deep breaths along the way. The horses looked at me not with reproach for the interruption, but empathy for reacting to a noise they probably endured often. We continued with the Reiki session. 

This ability to shift in and out of meditation was honed during my training in a sanctuary barn full of barking dogs, restless horses, and other anxious animals. We learned to hold peaceful space by adapting — moving around as needed, responding to interruptions — and refocusing. Dropping our expectations of what was supposed to happen allowed the energy to work … even when a rat ran across the floor and got the dogs barking again! 

At the end of our three days at the barn, our teacher, Kathleen Prasad, pointed out how much quieter and calmer the animals were. (You can see and hear the before and after.) We could hear the rustle of hay and the chirping of birds in the rafters. The place felt lighter.

Occasionally, especially in this season of pandemic and protest, it’s my own thoughts that pierce the peace. As soon as I notice this, I gently steer myself back to the present moment and the “Just for today” Reiki precepts. Or I’ll listen to Gregorian chant, which the animals also like. They don’t mind that it’s in Latin. Neither do I. 

We are 21st-century humans dealing with crazy stuff. Interruptions and distractions happen, but they don’t have to throw us off. Meditation with animals, especially rescue or working animals, is a perfect opportunity for flexibility and compassion. This includes self compassion. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it can make better.

If you don’t have time for what you think is a meditation practice, try sitting, standing, or walking with your animal friend and taking 10 (or five, or three) deep breaths. Focus on the peace you have, or seek, with and for your beloved friend. If something else floats through your mind instead, notice it and return to peace. If your cat leaves the room or your dog barks at the UPS man, let them and return to peace.

Congratulations; you can meditate.

Whether we are practitioners or pet parents, I’m convinced that our ability to adapt to what is happening in the moment can only help the animals. Anything I have learned about mindfulness advises us not to judge the distractions, our “monkey minds,” or ourselves, but to acknowledge our humanness and try again.

It’s not about perfection. It’s about showing up, wandering off, coming back, and being there — sometimes all in the same breath.