Injury, pardon, and restoration

Maggie & Quincy 12.22.18 AKW edited clean bill

Maggie and Quincy at Summit Equestrian Center, December 2018. (Photo by Allison Wheaton)

First came months of construction noise and upheaval at Summit Equestrian Center. Even the best improvements are a hard sell to our animal friends.

Then one night a fox breached the coop, taking a chicken and all but one duck. The coop was fortified against further invasion, but the survivors — two sheep, a handful of chickens, and Quincy, the last duck standing — were shaken.

As an animal Reiki practitioner and animal communicator, I sat with them, listened, and offered healing energy to help them recover in whatever way they needed. Quincy roamed around the enclosure eating, drinking, washing, shaking out her feathers, and nipping when a chicken got too close. She was determined to take care of things and find that “new normal.”

A few days later, she couldn’t walk.

Maggie, the sweet-faced black sheep who loved chin scratches, had grabbed hold of Quincy and pinned her to the ground. It was over quickly, but the result was a duck with a fracture. After her vet visit, Quincy was moved to a safe spot and given pain meds, some special supplements, plenty of Reiki, and even a little weekend “hydrotherapy” at the lake with director Allison Wheaton.

But we were mystified. The sheep, chickens, and ducks had all gotten along before, and sheep — especially female sheep with no lambs — aren’t generally aggressive. Why on earth would Maggie attack Quincy?

Gradually, I pieced together accounts from Allison and fellow volunteers with what Quincy and Maggie themselves relayed. In the heightened vigilance generated by the construction and then the fox incident, an anxious Quincy had gotten under the feet of an equally anxious Maggie. It startled Maggie so badly that a violent defense seemed like the only option.

You may not think a sheep could be appalled with herself, but I think this one was. I gently suggested she move carefully in the coop and, when the time was right, try to find a way forward with Quincy. As for Quincy — helping her heal was my first priority. Only when she recovered enough to return to the coop did I encourage her to consider working things out with Maggie … and then only when she was ready.

Though Maggie kept a respectful distance, Quincy was still nervous around her. Maggie also didn’t come to me for chin scratches as before, although she did share the Reiki energy I offered for short durations. She’d either stay where she was or move toward me, then walk away. She was reconsidering how to be and move about in her world, and I let her know that was OK.

We had been preparing for a major fall fundraiser at Summit Equestrian, and with that successful event behind us, things quieted down a bit. The construction moved closer to completion, and as the holidays approached, Quincy moved around with ease. Maggie, for her part, started venturing to the fence to say hello and accept a brief chin scratch.

One day as I shared Reiki with the inhabitants of the coop, I looked up and noticed Maggie and Quincy nose to bill just a few feet away from me. There was not a hint of confrontation in the stance of either. It could have been a “hey, didja smell that new feed the chickens got?” or a simple “Good morning.”

It was one of those animal moments you don’t want to spoil by so much as noticing, but Allison later confirmed the two had been hanging out.

How did they get to that point? When I asked them, Quincy and Maggie both showed me how each had moved toward the other a little bit at a time … sometimes a very little bit … rebuilding trust and parity in a way that worked for both of them.

A beautiful prayer traditionally attributed to St. Francis includes a line about bringing pardon where there is injury. It’s one thing to pardon, or forgive — to free oneself as much as possible from the effects of the injury. This can be done regardless of the injurer’s actions or attitude. It’s quite another for both parties to reconstruct what is broken so that it is better and stronger than before.

A duck and a sheep showed us how to do both.

 

Donkeys carry with care

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Diego, adopted a year ago from the Bureau of Land Management, gets ready for some Reiki at Summit Equestrian Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. (Photo by Nancy Crowe)

Picture it: You’re a young girl dealing with an unplanned pregnancy — one with major implications for the larger world — and a new husband who wasn’t quite on board at first. The kid’s coming any day now, but guess what? You’ve got to schlep to another city because some dude in power decided to take a census. Some help with these burdens sure would be nice.

Though the Gospels do not specify how the two got to Bethlehem, the image of Mary riding a donkey with Joseph walking alongside is part of Christmas culture. One can only hope it happened that way. It would have been a long, hard walk for a pregnant woman, maybe impossible if she went into labor en route. But even if Mary and Joseph didn’t have their own donkey for this trip, it’s not hard to imagine that one might have turned up on the road to Bethlehem and, having considered the matter carefully, volunteered for the job.

Donkeys have traditionally been beasts of burden, but they have a strong sense of self-preservation. I’ve learned they carry a lot more than us and our stuff … but they’re selective about what they take on, and when.

Diego, who is pictured above, came to Summit Equestrian Center last year from southwestern Arizona via the Bureau of Land Management. This previously wild burro was understandably overwhelmed when he arrived. The first time I offered to share Reiki — a non-invasive stress relief modality — with him, he declined and walked away. I told him that was completely OK, he was in a safe place, and I was not there to force anything on him. Central to the practice of animal Reiki is that participation is always up to the animal.

In the weeks that followed, he did agree to share Reiki for short intervals, each time moving a little closer to where I stood just outside his enclosure in the barn. One day, he gently bumped noses with me. Soon he decided he liked not only Reiki but head rubs.

Diego has his own sense of where he belongs and the proper way to relate to others. Throughout last winter, he stayed in the barn, often accompanied by Lakota, the mustang with whom he’d traveled from the BLM center. He watched with concern as Mildred the goat settled her arthritic limbs into a pile of hay, and she calmly returned his soft gaze.

Another day, Josie, Summit’s resident pig — who at the time was going through what I can only describe as porcine adolescence — approached the pen. Diego leaned down so that they were nose to snout. Josie, who perhaps had counted on being ignored by the equine newcomers, squealed insolently and trotted off. A confused Diego drew back.

“Don’t take it personally, Diego,” I told him. “You should hear some of the things she’s said to me.”

Spring flowers bloomed, and Diego still resisted going outside. Summit’s director, Allison Wheaton, read up on donkey training, gathered some ideas, and decided she needed more treats and more patience. On the next try, Diego walked right out and joined the others as if that was his intention all along. A natural introvert, he’s found his niche — often a donkey-sized space in the trees — but he joins the herd around the hay each day. When he wants Reiki, he makes himself available when I’m on my rounds.

As Allison pointed out, Diego challenged us to get beyond what we thought should happen and when, and instead to tap into our creativity and patience. That freed us to think in new ways and Diego to offer more of his authentic, kind self. From someone captured from the wild and moved from one holding area to another before being adopted, that is a precious gift indeed.

Rosie, a miniature donkey who was formerly part of the Summit herd, also had strong opinions about what should happen when. If breakfast was late, everyone heard about it, and she didn’t like it when the pony she habitually hung out with wasn’t close by. Once, when I arrived and went to check in with the sheep, ducks, and chickens first, Rosie hee-hawed from the pasture fence.

“I’ll get there,” I assured her. “You’re important, too.” She looked back at me, ears swiveling, and quieted down. She still wanted to be first, mind you, but she appreciated the acknowledgment. Rosie has since found a new family and is happily keeping her humans, horses, and cows in line.

A friend has a donkey she says is like a giant cleansing stone, soaking up her worries and processing them like a string of rosary, mandala, or misbaha beads. It’s a relationship of trust and mutual care. If a donkey shares your burdens, you can be sure that donkey finds them (and you) worth his or her while.

Today’s donkeys may not carry material possessions and riders like they did when Mary needed help on her journey. But if we treat them right, and let them lead us into new ways of thinking and being, we may find support beyond our wildest human expectations.