PTSD in Horses is Real!

Some people still today don't believe that animals have emotions, although how a sensible person could doubt this is beyond me, anyway.  Those of us who are in tune with our animals know that they experience all the same emotions as we do except from an animals point of view.  For instance, a human will not get as excited about going for a walk or a new bone as a dog will.  

Animals give unconditional love, and when their trust is broken, they are broken, as they don't understand why a person would do the things they do, as to an animal, it's inconceivable.  The greatest thing  I have learned from animals is how to see the world from a different perspective.  That's essential to being able to help them.  For instance, when I worked with heroin and cocaine addicted ex-racehorses years ago, I had to learn to accept their reactions without taking it personally. The horse is just doing what they are doing, they are not doing it to YOU!

Animals have no filters, how they feel is how they act.  So you have to figure out why they are doing what they are doing, and not just react to the outside behavior. That's how they keep you in the present, you have to focus on the NOW, as the animals are always in the moment.   The horse in this photo, Pete was a classic case of PTSD.  

Here's Pete's story.  I had a friend who at the the time was volunteering at the Riding for the Disabled.  Pete had some lameness that the vets couldn't find and they were considering putting him down.  I went to do a massage on him and couldn't find much wrong apart from the fact that the horse was emotionally shut down and expressionless.  I offered them 2 weeks of free therapy at my Wit's End Equine Rehab center as I really did not want to see this gorgeous animal lose his life for no good reason.

Pete came home with me and I turned him in a field, where he proceeded to gallop around!  A few days later my ex husband was working on his shoulder when it cracked so loudly I heard the noise at the other end of the barn.  I asked him what it was, and he said "that was Pete's shoulder".  OMG!  It was obviously calcification being broken down and Pete never took an lame step after that.  

However, he did have trauma.  When we brought him into the cross ties to groom him, this horse would foam white at the mouth and it would drop on the floor from anxiety.  He had been used for dying children from Sick Kids Hospital and severely disabled people.  Being a healing horse, Pete had gone into depression because he couldn't do anything to help the people who rode him.  He just soaked up all their anxiety, pain and fear and he just couldn't cope any more.  The first time an able bodied person rode him in our arena, he cantered around and even did a baby buck, because he was so happy to have someone who could enjoy riding instead of knowing they were going to die.

The emotional toll on therapy horses is huge, especially if they never go on a trail ride or go for a good gallop in a field.  They need to be ridden by some ordinary people sometimes so they can recover from the emotional burden placed on them by people they cannot help.  These horses love their work, but they need to recharge their batteries just like any counselor.  Pete lived with us for about 5 years and was very happy, he stopped being depressed and the drooling stopped also.  He went on trail rides up the mountain with a kid riding him bareback. We went for snow rides in winter, and he carried my grandson like a precious cargo.  We even did exhibition rides with me wearing a Baroque riding costume and practiced our piaffe and beautiful extensions.  It was a joy to me to see how he recovered emotionally.  

He lived to about 30 and then his hind end gave out and he no longer could get up so we had to put him down.  It was a sad day as always, but this horse gave so much to so many that I am  grateful and honoured to have owned him, and he taught us all so much.  Blessed are the beasts, for they bring us unconditional love and teach us how to be better people.  


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