The eighth card in the Tarot deck is Strength. It’s a picture of a woman with a lion, closing his mouth with her bare hands. The card represents complete mindfulness. Being so aware, non-reactive and intentional that even a lion would do your bidding because of your clean, clear energy. Every action is thoughtful and peaceful with this card. It is one of the cards tacked above Tarot’s stall as a directive, a reminder. Patience, gentleness, self-awareness.
It will be two years this December since Tarot came to live on our farm. When he first arrived he was so fearful that he didn’t even want me to touch him. He wanted the food I was offering during training but he preferred if I didn’t reach for him. Here’s a short video during our first month of training that shows how cautious he was:
You can see how he froze, raised his head and then backed up if I left my hand on him too long. The funny thing is, I clearly remember thinking after this particular session “Wow! He did really well today!”
I have taken my time with him. I am fully aware that the things he needs to work on most, like foot handling, are the things he has had the most negative experiences with with every other human in his life. I knew he would need to find me different and our work interesting and enjoyable if we were ever going to trust one another. As of last summer I still did not feel like we had a real bond. I felt like he put up with me but that he did not trust or love me. I spent a lot of time hand grazing him and mulling over what true responsibility to him looked like. And then, one day, there was a shift. I don’t even remember what it was that signaled our new agreement. I just know that now he whinnies to me when he sees me, chortles, even. He will canter from the end of his pasture to meet me. He will leave grass to come and play the “clicker game.”
On June 12th I wrote: “Things are shaking loose in Tarot’s soul. Something has crossed over in him in just the past few days. He’s here. He’s actively engaged, interested in the process and starting to OPEN. Before there was only caution and varying degrees of fear. But now a whole horse is appearing. I begin to believe he will be happy, unconflicted and a true partner. The alchemy of the training is what I love most. Suddenly, this transformation. Joy.”
Here’s a video showing Tarot playing a mounting block game with me. He is at liberty and wearing no equipment. It’s all his choice:
I love this video because you can see how relaxed he’s become with touch. Moving past this horse’s jaw was something that took at least 4 months because he was so protective of his body. He would always back up so he could keep you directly in front of him. He did it so much that backing up became a punisher for me. But because I stayed patient, mindful and gentle – because I asked him to move forward a hundred thousand times and reinforced him each time, he has begun to trust me. Our work is far from over, I know, but we have entered a new realm. It is only now we are ready to start working on deeper issues like his back feet and strange smelling sprays that disturb him to his soul. There is a favorite quote of mine from Lilla Watson, an aboriginal woman, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” The mindfulness he teaches me, the wisdom of card number eight, is as healing for me as it is necessary for him. My liberation is bound with his, we are bound together.
Jen, YOU are the sweet love that helps to open the heart, soul and mind of a tortured being. I cannot imagine what Tarot has gone through. Once, a glorious mustang, free to run with your family your whole life, and then being captured, taken from all you know and love. Then, to be frightened and hurt by your captors. You are now bound by fences far from home, that will never allow you to escape back to the only life you know. Human after human even if well intentioned, deepens your fear and lack of trust. Shut down and aggression are your only coping mechanisms. Then, one more owner, just like the rest? But NO! She is the angel that has come to free you. SHE, has the tools and patience to stay at your side until you can knock down those walls of fear, until you open the shut away, wild, proud horse back to his once nobel self. It took a feather, not a sword for this mighty steed to raise his head again. Be proud beautiful Tarot, YOU are free to be a horse again!
He’s like a whole different horse now.
Good work, Jen, you have made a ton of progress with him!
Lovely work! Your approach to clicker training so resonates with me! To me, clicker training is part of my soul journey here on Earth just as much as it is for the horses I am privileged to share it with. Beautiful, inspiring, soulful work! Thank you for sharing it!