Thursday, May 27, 2010

Happy Tails: Popeye the Rescue Horse

I witnessed a truly inspiring and motivational sight last night that I wanted to share with fellow horse lovers. Horse rescue is not for the faint of heart. It can force a lamb to become lion once many horse industry "dirty little secrets" are exposed. Issues such as: unwanted horses, horse slaughter, over breeding, starvation, neglect, etc. With so much disturbing news that often comes with the equine advocacy territory, it's important to spread some happy "tails" too. An over abundance of "bad news" becomes depressing, overwhelming, and becomes a turn-off. We all need a little motivation and inspiration, so here's your equine feel-good boost for the week. I hope you realize its value as much as I have!

Last night, I was teaching a riding lesson to a fabulous new beginner riding student. An adult, who has always wanted to learn how to ride horses, and has decided it's about time to get with the program of tackling a dream! I've found a commonality working with training adults (both in the realm of horses, and corporate training), which is that adults bring all their "baggage" to the table with them in learning. Most of this junk is "trash" holding them back and hindering learning progress. A lot of this trash comes in the form of irrational fear. As a trainer- both horse instructor and corporate- my job is to help students constructively handle fear and know what trash to take out and what to salvage!
Kid's have considerably less emotional baggage in this respect and are often easier to teach because of this. But that's another post for another day, another topic. Last night, I introduced this new student to Popeye.

I've written of Popeye before- aka "Pops" and he never lets me down when it comes to inspiration! I'm very proud of this fellow because he proves what power strength of spirit can have! Pops came to us several years ago, an emaciated skeletal shell of a horse, with terrible open saddle sores, and covered in rain rot. Despite all of this, he had four shod feet- ironic. He'd been used in a riding camp, and for whatever reason, had been deemed no longer useful. He'd been starved- and was again emaciated. I'd like to emphasize that emaciation doesn't just happen overnight, it takes time. Long story short, Popeye was lucky, Popeye got a second chance at life.

One of the traits that has always struck me about this horse, is his persistence, his gentleness, his positive spirit. Despite the horrid condition this horse came to us in, and the blatant cruelty and suffering he'd endured, he wasn't jaded by it. The abuse he endured is enough to turn a human into a monster. Make one bitter, resentful, manipulative, obsessive, compulsive, angry, mad....but not Popeye. He instantly recognized and appreciated kindness when he'd found it again, and at that moment, forgave. He holds absolutely no anger, fear hang-ups, flashbacks.....most would. Popeye lives every single day, relishing in the simple joys of being a horse. He doesn't miss an opportunity to eat, sleep, poop, wander about the farm, stand in front of a fan, sneak up behind you and ask for a snuggle.... he's just happy and grateful.

Adults have fear. The fear of the "unknown" can cause paralysis. It can prevent fun, it can be irrational, it robs. I work very, very slowly with my students- especially timid ones. These are the one's who most need the self-confidence boost that riding a 1,000 lb animal in forward motion can provide. Give them the time and space they need to conquer their fears and before you know it, you've got a brave, enthusiastic, horseback riding machine on your hands! It's fun to see the transformation. Now this is where Pops comes back into the picture.

Back to the lesson. I used Popeye in this lesson with my new student because she needed the confidence boost that comes with riding different horses. Popeye is deceiving. To look at his droopy lip, his shut eyes, his now fat belly, you'd think he can't go faster than the speed of a shuffle. Popeye proves another point, that looks can be deceiving! Sit on Popeye's back and all of a sudden you've got a collected, forward moving, balanced, hunk of a horse- who may ride like an easy boy recliner due to his build, but trots with an impulsion that makes one RIDE! It's a workout, but it's 100% FUN and a glimpse to new students what riding a balanced, big-strided trot will be!

Because of what he was- he is now! Popeye, might I add, is nearly thirty years old! When I watched this enthusiastic, happy, willing horse come to life being ridden in this lesson yesterday, giving my beginner student a new ride, a new joy, a glimmer into what's to come, enthusiasm and a much needed self-confidence boost, I could see Popeye twenty five years ago. Boy oh boy, what a firecracker this boy must have been at age 5! But so happy to have this valuable horse around at nearly age 30 to still teach such valuable lessons to both his riding students and myself as instructor.

Learning is a double-edged sword, it happens for both teacher and student. If I could ask Popeye one question, and gain some knowledge from his "words of wisdom" it would be this: "So Popeye, what have you learned from humans over the years?" I can't help but wonder what his answer would be.... I'm sure it would make me smile and give him a big hug. But, I'm going to do that anyway! I hope that Pop's has learned something of value from me, Thanks Pops!

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