Hoof Prints within my Heart

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I have not always been a horse-person.  As a little girl growing up, my dreams were not filled with horses.  My sister had a horse when we were in our teenage years and I have to admit to having a fear of that horse.  Her horse never did anything to me to cause me to be afraid.  My fear was just there.  My interests were in drawing, painting, photography, going fishing with Dad, and so on.  If I wasn’t in the black and white darkroom in our basement, I was on a fishing trip with my Dad.  Typical of time, the days and years started to slip on by.  As irony would have it, my sister married a fisherman and I married a horseman…

Even married to a horseman and having horses on our property still did not compel me to become a horse-person.  Oh sure, they were pretty and fun to watch.  But there was still a fear lurking within me around these large animals.

While at an art show, I saw a photographer’s images of wild horses.  His art was the inspiration to start my own quest to find and photograph wild horses.  There was something about wild horses that just stirred something deep within me.  Funny how the domestic horses did not affect me in this way…

I have spent years following and photographing a herd of wild horses in Montana.  They have completely entwined themselves within my heart.   When the opportunity arose to adopt a couple of the wild horses from this herd that I had completely fallen in love with, we went for it.  I wanted to be the major part of working with these mustangs to help them settle in to their new home with us.  I had started to learn more about natural horsemanship training methods soon after we first brought them home.

The road has been a rocky one: filled with joy and a lot of love, along with frustrations.  But it takes more than love to build a relationship.  I can love them all I want to, but if I don’t understand their language, this love will never grow.  If this love I have for them does not grow because I have not learned their language, I will never be a leader to them.  I knew I must learn more about their language if I were to build our relationship.

In this series of photos you will see Ember getting too close to Abi’s space. Abi is quick to send the message to Ember to get her to move. Ember moves off. Notice that Abi has barely moved forward. It is Ember who moves away first. Abi has just shown Ember her authority and dominance.

By studying their every move, their every twitch of the ear, the way they carry themselves is the answer to understanding them.  The very way they interact with each other is key to their language.

It takes time to understand the depth of their language.  And it takes a real ‘want-to’ attitude to learn it.  And I hope that I will show myself worthy to be the kind of leader they will want to willingly follow……  Traveling down this road is taking me a long time, but it is time well spent.

Image when he was just a month old

Image came to us very needy.  He craved our attention.  I have heard from many people who had seen him on his mountain home in the wild and also at the holding pens at Britton Springs that Image was always curious and the first to come up to people to greet them.  In some ways he has been very easy to gentle.  He can be a bit on the lazy side and he loves to have fun.  He also loves to snuggle and give kisses.  I find it hard to stay on task with him when we are training, just because he is so adorable.  I have also found that when he locks all four hooves, he is not going anywhere….

Ember with her mom Firestorm when she was a month old

Ember is the complete opposite.  From the moment we brought her home, she has always wanted to do things her way.  It has taken a bit longer to earn her trust.  And I have to admit that it has been a bit of a bumpy road with her.  But within Ember lies my deepest understanding.  I have learned to turn my frustrations into a want to learn more about her language and what makes her tick.  I have to look at her differently than Image and find a way to reach her.  She has a tremendous amount of energy.  And in that energy, when she gets nervous or anxious, her feet start to fly and she dances around.  Not in a very safe way…. for me anyways!

When my dear friend Ginger Kathrens was going to be in our “neck of the woods” working on a project, I asked her if she could come down to our place and watch me work with Image and Ember.  I wanted her to give me some pointers.  I was stuck.  I was not getting anywhere with Image or Ember in what I was doing.  After watching me work with them both, she summed it up quite well:  I was being too soft on them both, but in different ways.  I needed to keep to task with Image and follow through in what I was asking him to do.  He and I needed to wait until the end of our session for hugs and kisses.  Both Image and I just lowered our heads and sighed with resignation, knowing deep down that she was right.  And by following through with what I was asking him to do, he actually started to do what I was asking!

Image responds to my lightest touch, when askin him to lower his head

With Ember, I was not correcting her fast enough to make my corrections effective.  Ember has a tremendous amount of energy.  I needed to bring my own energy level up not only to match Ember’s but to exceed hers.  I had to really dig deep inside of myself to do this.  But what I found was amazing.  By quickly correcting Embers movements, I found that she started to pay more attention to what I was asking of her.  She really wanted to do what I asked.  I had just been giving her direction too late for either of us to make any sense out of it.

Ember responds beautifully to me asking her to bend her head

Ember responds to my lightest ask

Ember starts t ofind comfort in our quiet moments together

Image and I can still get a bit distracted, but we are better about keeping on track

It has been Ember who now typically follows me around the barnyard while I am doing the routine poop-scooping.   Image will come over as well.  But I am starting to think that he is only coming over because he fears his is ‘missing’ something.  We still have a long way to go, but this rocky road has been one that I would not trade for anything.

Ember is realizing that I can help her settle down

I can’t help but see the parallels in my walk with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I find that if I am not learning His language by studying His Word, I am missing out on having a deeper relationship with Him.  By reading His Word and keeping a dialog open with Him, the path He has chosen for me becomes much clearer.  I never want to lose that relationship I have with Him.

Image is waiting for his kisses

Does all of this make me a ‘horse-person’?  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that these horses have made many trails of hoof prints deep within my heart.