Gloria and her husband Marc have been adopting dogs who came from difficult circumstances for a number of years, including livestock guardian dogs (LGD) — but their love of animals is not confined to canines. On their farm they also have 16 sheep, poultry, an ox — as well as dogs and cats. Because they live in a very rural part of Washington state, the need for a guardian for their animals is critical due to the local predator population.
Tony, their LGD, was getting near to retirement age. Tony is a Maremma, an LGD breed similar to the Great Pyrenees, but taller and less bulky. Tony is a wonderful dog and when Gloria and Marc heard that there was a 7 month old female Maremma in need of a home, they eagerly offered to make her part of their animal family.
Not being beginners at adopting rescues, Gloria and Marc thought they would be able to help their new Maremma adjust easily. However, after 3 months things were not going as well as they had hoped, so they reached out to me. Their wanted to understand their new furry family member better and help her understood them better too. So we got an appointment scheduled to talk to their new dog, who they named Emmy Lou.
The first thing Emmy Lou told us was, “This is my home. I live here now.” Marc and Gloria were thrilled to hear this, since this was exactly what they’d been telling Emmy since the day she arrived.
They wanted to be sure that Emmy Lou liked her name. She said she did like it and that she was happy to have a name because she never had one before. She showed me that she’d been called “the dog” or “that dog” but didn’t have an actual name for the seven months prior to coming to live with Marc and Gloria — at least no name she recognized. Emmy said, “I know they [Marc and Gloria] love me because people name the things they love.”
We asked Emmy Lou about her work on the farm. She told me/showed me that she totally understood her job and was very proud of this fact. She knew she was responsible for guarding/observing and supervising all the animals who lived outside — they were all her flock — and she took her responsibility for them very seriously. Gloria asked me to let Emmy know that if she had any questions or wasn’t sure about something regarding her work, she could check with their retired guardian dog, Tony. Emmy quickly to pointed out, “I don’t really think he would have anything to teach me. I am an excellent guardian dog and I have a very good bark!” Gloria and Marc confirmed that Emmy’s bark was loud and effective. They were very happy that Emmy was so confident in her work.
Emmy’s observational skills are strong and she had opinions about other animals on the farm too . . .
Emmy Lou felt that Tony, the retired LGD, was sad. Gloria and Marc were not surprised to hear this, since Tony’s soulmate dog companion had crossed to Spirit 6 months before.
Regarding Rocky, Marc and Gloria’s 12 year old Yorkshire Terrier, Emmy told us, “he doesn’t have a job. He just lives in the house and has to have people take care of him.” I could feel Emmy’s pride in knowing that she took care of herself outside and did not need pampering. Marc and Gloria couldn’t stop laughing when they heard this assessment of Rocky. In his younger days, Rocky was constantly on rodent patrol at the farm, but when they acquired cats, Rocky turned the messy job of rodent control over to the cats. Since then, he has indeed become a pampered house dog.
We asked about the animals that Emmy Lou was responsible for — the sheep and goats. Emmy did not think the sheep were particularly smart, which is why they needed her to guard them. The two goats were a different story. Emmy showed me that anytime people were around, the goats were constantly trying to hog all the attention. The only human word I could find for Emmy’s feeling about their attention seeking behavior was “shameless” — and so undignified, in Emmy’s opinion, to seek attention like that! Gloria and Marc completely agreed with Emmy’s assessment — the goats were indeed “shameless” in their attention seeking!
Gloria and Marc were curious about what Emmy thought about the neighbor’s dogs. With a distinct air of superiority, Emmy told me immediately that the neighbor’s dogs were “bad dogs” because they bark — a LOT. She felt they were very poorly trained and that their behavior was rude. Gloria and Marc though this was hilarious because the neighbor dogs do, in fact, bark — a LOT. Livestock guardian dogs only bark when they need to scare away predators or when there is a problem — so you can see why Emmy would feel the neighbor’s dogs were behaving badly.
One issue that we’ve talked to Emmy Lou about several times is the way she avoids and fears human touch. It was clear to me that this behavior was not personal to Marc and Gloria — it was related to what Emmy had experienced at her previous home. Hearing this was a great relief to Marc and Gloria — because they had been taking her avoidance personally and couldn’t figure out why Emmy avoided their touch. When I asked Emmy Lou what has happened to her before coming to Marc and Gloria, Emmy showed me only quick flashes of things, because she couldn’t bear to think about it. She showed me being grabbed by her collar and jerked/dragged from place to place — not just once, but all the time. That was her only experience of touch by humans. It felt to me like she was treated like an object, a tool to be used, not as a being with feelings. When I explained this to Marc and Gloria, they were heart broken to understand what Emmy had experienced. But this just made them more determined than ever to be patient and loving so Emmy could know that touch was positive and enjoyable.
Progress on touching Emmy Lou has been slow, but she’s trying to overcome her fears. Talking to Emmy has helped Marc and Gloria too. “Our behavior and attitudes are so much more relaxed now that we understand Emmy better,” Gloria stated. She and Marc are prepared to do whatever it takes to continue to help Emmy with this issue — including scheduling communication sessions as needed, since she shows progress each time we talk to her.
Recently Gloria and Marc contacted me because of a change in Emmy Lou’s behavior. For several nights, Emmy had been making an odd yelping, yapping bark which was totally different from her normal alert bark for predators. The yelping started around 11 PM and would continue for a while every couple hours until about 4 AM. Marc said he’d gone out to check for predators or other disturbance, but couldn’t see or hear anything and trying to comfort and calm Emmy Lou only helped until he went back in the house. They were at wit’s end, since all the yelping was keeping them awake and upsetting Emmy Lou. They were at a loss to figure out what the problem was and were getting more and more sleep deprived as a result.
When I asked Emmy about the cause of the yelping, it was completely clear that she heard/saw something unusual — but it was gong to take some detective work to figure it out.
I asked Emmy Lou if predators were causing her odd barking. Emmy was very clear the trigger was NOT predators — but there was something! She showed me a sound, but trying to translate dog audible sound to human audible was a challenge, believe me! Initially I thought the sound was like a short metallic screech — high pitched and unpleasant — but I knew it wasn’t actually metallic. The sound was very irritating to Emmy — like fingernails on a chalk board would be irritating to a human. I asked Emmy to show me more. She showed me looking up . . .
I had my suspicions, so I asked Marc and Gloria if they thought it was possible that Emmy was seeing/hearing bats hunting in the air above the field.
They both agreed that there were bats in the area, in fact there had been a real uptick in the numbers lately, and the timing made sense too, including the intervals between yelping sessions as the bats flew to other areas and came back. So my suspicions were correct — Emmy Lou was seeing/hearing bats flying above the fields catching insects stirred up by her and the animals. Marc and Gloria were thrilled to finally know what the issue was!
Of course, now we needed to figure out a way to help Emmy Lou understand that the bats were not a threat. With Marc and Gloria’s permission, I told/showed Emmy Lou what bats were and why they make the high pitched sounds. I told/showed her that the bats were actually helping her flock by eating the bugs that bother the flock and Emmy Lou — so they were actually helping to take care of the flock. I told her that the more bugs the bats ate, the safer the animals would be. I told her/showed her that just as Emmy Lou takes care of the flock on the ground, the bats take care of the flock in the air — so the bats were part of the flock too. Emmy Lou still didn’t like the sound the bats made, so I suggested that she move a bit away from the area where the bats were, so she could still watch the flock, but not be in direct line with the bat sounds.
I went over all of this several times, reinforcing that the bats were part of Emmy Lou’s flock and that they protected the flock just like Emmy Lou does. Emmy Lou, who always needs to think things through, considered what I’d said. Finally she said, “OK. They are part of my flock.”
There are never any guarantees about behavior issues, but I was optimistic that Emmy Lou would be able to stop barking at the bats. But only time would tell . . .
The next day, Gloria emailed with an exciting update, “You hit a home run with that communication! Emmy Lou barked only a couple of times last night — brief and annoyed, but not the wacky, yelping bark she was doing before you talked to her. Your deduction that the bats squeaking was upsetting her and your explanation to her that they were doing good things made a HUGE difference!”
I got further feed back from Gloria the following day — “No barking last night! Again, I am amazed! The bat deduction basically turned off her barking which had been keeping us awake for nights on end!” There has been no yelping barking since.
After a bit of detective work, finding an explanation that made sense and coming up with a plan for dealing with the issue — Marc and Gloria can get a good night’s sleep again and Emmy can supervise her ground and air flock without distress!
“Here’s the big thing . . . We thought Emmy’s weird barking was a deep behavioral or psychological problem on her part. What we learned, after Sky talked to Emmy was that her behavior was entirely appropriate! Emmy had a problem and she was responding to it the best she could. It was us who didn’t understand the problem.
So Sky to the rescue! With Sky’s help and ability to interpret Emmy’s information, we learned what was happening. This gave us real empathy for her response and now we know how to support her. Emmy learned what was causing the noise and was willing to have a higher tolerance. We all Win!! How cool is that?” — Gloria and Marc F., WA.
I met Mary and Simon at a metaphysical fair in the UK. We talked to their cats, both at fairs and by phone, several times. Recently, the cats were having health issues that we needed to talk to them about. At the end of the session, Mary also wanted to talk to her tortoise, Henry.
Mary told me that Henry was allowed to roam free in the garden. The garden (that’s the back yard, for you folks in the US) has a low wall around it, so they hadn’t had any concern that Henry would escape. Mary said that Henry would disappear occasionally, but would always reappear in a few hours, so she didn’t get concerned about his disappearing act.
One day the week before we talked, they couldn’t find Henry when they looked for him. They weren’t too concerned until the next day when Henry still hadn’t shown himself. At that point, they got really worried and searched everywhere, but there was no sign of Henry.
A few hours later, Mary received a call from a friend who said that she’d seen a post on Facebook from a local school saying that some kids had found a tortoise and brought it to school. The school posted on Facebook about it, hoping to find the tortoise’s owner. Mary knew immediately that this was Henry and went to pick him up. Henry was safe again in the garden at home.
Mary wanted to know how Henry got out of the garden. As soon as I connected to Henry, I felt he was very intelligent and like to experiment, try things out and he showed me that he especially liked to climb on things. Mary confirmed that all this was true — Henry was not your typical tortoise!
Henry showed me that the day he’d escaped, he’d been having his usual wander in the garden and came upon something that he could climb upwards on. He was intensely curious and excited to investigate where this would lead him! Henry’s intent was not to escape, just to see where his investigation would take him. Henry has an adventurous spirit for sure! Mary confirmed that Henry had always been amazingly curious and interested in investigating new things he came across.
Henry showed me climbing up to the top of the wall. It took some figuring on Henry’s part to see how to do this, but Henry persisted and figured it out. I asked Mary if this was possible — she said, a bit ruefully, “It is.” Henry showed me that when he got to the top of the wall, he over balanced to the outside of the wall. As his weight tipped, he showed me pulling his head and legs into his shell for protection. Mary said she’s seen Henry do exactly that other times when Henry was exploring and climbing.
Henry showed me that once he’d recovered from falling over, he looked around and then started off very enthusiastically for parts unknown. That may sound silly, but that’s exactly what he showed me! Henry was eager for his adventure and felt safe and very brave. He showed me striding through the grass — or what could be considered striding through the grass if you are a tortoise. He showed me he felt he was walked for a long time and went a very long way.
Mary said that Henry had indeed gone a long way — the kids found Henry two fields away from Mary and Simon’s house!
Mary asked if the kids had mistreated Henry. He showed me that the kids “were disrespectful,” poking him so he’d withdraw his head/legs and tapping his shell — but they didn’t hurt him. Henry said that he was grateful that the kids found him, because they got him back to Mary and Simon — not that he was ever really worried that he wouldn’t get back safely, of course. Henry is a very confident tortoise!
Mary was concerned that Henry would try to wander again. He said, “I enjoyed my adventure, but home is best.” He showed me feeling very content and happy to be home. Henry told me he had no intention of wandering again . . . but I encouraged Mary and Simon to really “tortoise-proof” the garden just in case. They said they definitely would do that.
There was one more question on Mary’s mind . . . When Henry is in the garden and they can’t find him, where does he hide? When I asked about this, I could feel Henry smiling. Henry showed me that his hiding place was a dark, hidden place that he went to. He said, with pride and self satisfaction, “But where that hiding place is, is my secret.” My impression was that when Henry went to his hiding place, he felt he was invisible — and it was fun for him to be “invisible” and watch Mary and Simon looking for him. Clearly, tortoises have senses of humor just like everyone else!
A Year Plus Later . . .
I hadn’t seem Mary or Simon for quite a while, but they came to see me at a recent fair in the UK. The first thing they told me was that Henry had “done a runner” in July — escaping from their back garden yet again. Of course they wanted to talk to him about it.
Mary said they’d done their best to “tortoise proof” the back garden, but still Henry escaped. When I asked Henry how he got out, he showed me a back corner of the garden, where two walls came together — it seemed to me to be on the right side of the yard at the back. Mary and Simon confirmed that it was possible he got out there. I asked Henry to show/tell me how he got over the wall. With as much pride as a tortoise can show, Henry said, “I’m not telling ALL my secrets!” From what Henry showed me, it looked to me like this was the opposite side of the garden from where he escaped the last time. Mary confirmed that this was true.
Mary said that Henry went through a field, across a neighbor’s garden and was walking down the side of a road when a kind man stopped his vehicle and picked Henry up. The man took Henry home and told a friend he’d found a lost tortoise. The friend had another friend post a notice on FaceBook about the lost tortoise. As happened the first time, a friend of Mary and Simon’s saw the post and alerted Mary that someone had found Henry.
Mary set out as soon as possible to retrieve Henry, but on the way her friend notified her that someone else had also lost their tortoise and was going to see if the “found” tortoise was theirs. Mary realized she would now have to provide proof of identification that the lost tortoise was Henry. After a moment of panic, Mary remembered that Henry had a distinctive orange marking on his shell. The man who found Henry verified that the “found” tortoise had the distinctive orange marking on his shell and Henry was reunited with Mary.
We told Henry that Mary and Simon were very worried about him and that it was very, very dangerous to wander off like that. Henry said, with supreme confidence, “I know they were worried, but [not his words, but the feeling of “I had everything well in hand”] — and besides, I was on my way home.”
Mary and Simon told me that since the latest escape, Henry has been grounded. They made him a pen outside, that they are sure he can’t escape from, but allows him time in his beloved outdoors. I asked Henry about the pen. He said he would like it to be bigger and he wanted some things that he could climb on inside the pen. Mary said they could take care of both of those requests. Henry was happy to hear it and, at least for now, is happy to stay in him pen.
“Thank you for talking to our animals, Sky — it makes all the difference!” — Mary D., UK.
When I was doing horse massage full time in New Jersey, I worked for a while for a client who had four quarter horse studs staying at his barn. He asked me to work on them, so we rotated which two of the four horses would get massage every couple weeks. The studs were young and a bit obstreperous, but not more than I could handle — and they were fun to work with.
In addition to the horses, my client had a young Jersey Cow calf. This seemed odd to me, since my client was a western rider and Jersey cows are milk cows — not the kind of cow you’d use for western roping competitions. I asked my client one day why he’d gotten the calf. He looked embarrassed and said that he’d lived in New Jersey all his life — and had always wanted a Jersey cow. What did he name the calf? He named her Jersey, of course! He then added, a bit sheepishly, “and they are really cute too”.
I didn’t let him catch me smiling — I didn’t want to embarrass him — but I thought this was so sweet!
After I finished the massages, I’d sit at the picnic table outside the riding arena writing my notes about the massages. Jersey was always in the arena while I was writing my notes. She was adorable! I always talked to her out loud through the arena fence and after a few visits, she started coming over to me on her own when she’d see me. I’d give Jersey face rubs and scratches on whatever part of her body she pointed me to, which she totally enjoyed. She was adorable! Although I didn’t have a formal conversation with Jersey, it was clear that we’d connected and that she like me — the feeling was mutual!
One day after I put the last horse away, I started chatting with Jess, the woman who did the barn chores. She was clearly not happy — actually she was angry — and when I asked her about it, she told me how frustrated she was with Jersey. Jess said, “The stupid calf won’t let me put the halter on her and she won’t walk with me on the lead line. She needs to go outside and play, but if I can’t take her out, she won’t be able to go. She’s driving me crazy because it takes too much time and effort to get her out to the arena and back in the barn. I have a lot of work to do and I can’t spend all my time fighting with the stupid calf! I was hired to work with horses, not stupid cows!”
I felt badly for both Jess and Jersey, who clearly were not understanding each other at all. I offered to talk to the calf to see if I could work things out between them. Jess said she was willing to try anything to get the calf to cooperate. Normally, I don’t talk to animals without their person’s permission, but this was a very specific issue and I thought it was OK. I felt that talking things over would really help, since Jess and Jersey were not communicating well.
I talked to Jersey. I asked her what she usually did when Jess tried to put the halter on. She showed me throwing her head around so Jess couldn’t put the halter on. Jess confirmed that this was what the calf did. I told Jersey that Jess needed her to accept getting the halter put on so she could take the calf to the arena to play. Jersey told me/showed me, “She doesn’t like me. She is too rough with me [when she puts the halter on] and pulls it too tight. She pulls on the rope too much when she walks me. I don’t like her either!”
It felt like I was talking to a two year old whose nanny was trying to get her to put on a sweater so she could be taken to the park. I told Jess what Jersey said. Jess got defensive. She said, “If Jersey was more cooperative, I could be more gentle!” Talk about the irresistible force was meeting the immovable object!
I told Jess that I’d work on getting Jersey to cooperate more, but I needed Jess’ help and cooperation too.
We talked about putting on Jersey’s halter. I told Jess that it was important not to pull the buckles on the harness too tight because that really bothered Jersey and made her less cooperative. Jess was a bit embarrassed that Jersey told me that. She said she was sorry and that she just did it out of frustration. I told her it was OK, but she shouldn’t do that in the future. Jess said she would remember. I told Jess that if she could try to be more light hearted/positive when she worked with Jersey, that it would really help too. She said she would try. I encouraged Jess to try to time things so she wasn’t in so much of a rush — that would help Jess be calmer — and Jess being calmer would help the calf be calmer too. All of this made sense to Jess and she said, “OK, I’ll really try. I don’t really hate Jersey — she’s really cute. I’ve just been so frustrated with her!”
I talked to Jersey. I explained what I’d talked to Jess about. I told Jersey that Jess would really work on being calmer and more positive when she put the halter on and would’t pull it too tight. I told Jersey that her part in this was to be more cooperative and let Jess put the halter on. I told/showed Jersey that if she could be as still as possible when Jess put the halter on [I showed her being still like a statue], then it would be over and done with and she could get more time playing in the arena. Jersey thought about it and said she would try to be more cooperative. She definitely wanted as much time out as possible!
I told Jess that my feeling was that Jersey would really try— but I thought that she might also test Jess now and then, regarding getting the halter put on and walking on the lead line. I encouraged Jess to ignore anything uncooperative that Jersey did — to just be calm and steady and to not take any evasive behavior seriously — to laugh it off and calmly remind Jersey to be still like a statue. Jess said she was sorry she had been getting so upset — “I can see that it didn’t help.” She said she would do her best to be calm.
Next I talked to Jess about the issue of walking Jersey on the lead line to and from the barn. Jess said, “She just won’t go! She fights me all the way — whether I’m taking her out or bringing her in. It makes me crazy!” I asked Jersey about it. She showed me resisting, pulling back from the pressure of the rope until it basically became a tug of war. I asked Jersey if she wanted to go out to the arena. She said, “Of course I do! But she shouldn’t pull on me. But I definitely don’t want to go back to the barn!” It was no fun for her to be stuck in the barn.
I asked Jess how often during the day the calf was allowed out in the arena. She told me that she was supposed to take the calf out between the times the horses were in the arena, which meant 3 or 4 times a day for at least an hour each time, sometimes more. Sadly, there were no paddocks at this farm, only the riding arenas for turn out.
I suggested to Jess that she try taking a playful, fun attitude toward leading Jersey in and out. I suggested she remind Jersey that when she came in, she’d be going out again soon. I encouraged Jess not to let the lead line go tight, to leave slack in the rope when she walked Jersey, so Jersey had nothing to pull against — to just go with Jersey if she pulled and not pull against her. I pointed out to Jess that pulling the lead line tight led to a “game” of tug-of-war — and no one was going to win it. Jess was able to see the wisdom of this and said she would try to be more gentle, not get frustrated and would not let the lead line time turn into a tug-of-war. Jess said, “If Jersey would be more cooperative, it would be a lot easier to make this a fun experience — but I”ll try.”
I talked to Jersey. I told her I understood that she wanted to be out all the time, but the horses needed to go out too and they had to share the space. I let her know that she would always go out 3-4 times a day, so the next time outside wasn’t really that far away. Jersey asked me, “When I come in, I’ll always go out again later?” I confirmed that this was true, except for the last turn out of the day — but then she’d be out again in the morning. Knowing that for sure, made Jersey feel a lot better about coming in. I asked Jersey if fighting Jess on the lead line ever got her longer time out. She admitted it didn’t. I told her that if she could be more cooperative — I showed her walking calmly and quietly out to the arena and back to the barn — she would actually have more time out, because Jess could leave her out until the last minute, then bring her in. Jersey thought that was a good idea and said she would try — “but she has to be nice to me.” I told Jersey that if she could cooperate, Jess would be a LOT nicer.
I told Jess what Jersey had said. Jess sighed and said, “OK, I guess if we both try it will work out.” At least both of them were willing to try!
The next time I was at the barn, Jess told me that things were going MUCH better with Jersey. She said that Jersey was cooperating well both with haltering and walking on the lead line. She told me that, “Jersey tests me sometimes to see if I’ll play tug-of-war with her on the lead line. But I just move with her and keep slack in the line and she gives up pretty quickly. She’s even letting me put the halter on her with a minimum of fuss.” Jess confirmed she was being careful about not making the halter straps too tight. Jess was so much happier and admitted that she was actually getting to like Jersey and said, “She’s actually kind of fun!”
That day after I finished with the massages and writing my notes, I went over to the arena fence to give Jersey the face rubs and scratches she was looking for. Jess came out to the arena and needed to bring Jersey in to the barn. She said a friend of my client was coming over with their horse and needed to use the arena, so Jersey had to come in early. I was collecting my things and getting ready to leave when Jess came over to my car. She was clearly frustrated and upset. She said, “Jersey won’t let me catch her and come into the barn! People are coming and I have to get her out of there or I’m going to be in trouble. Can you help me?”
I went over to the fence and called Jersey over. I told her she needed to let Jess take her back to the barn. Jersey told me, “It’s too early. I’m not going.” [Her attitude reminded me of a two year old being told that she needed to leave the playground earlier than usual.] I told Jersey that people and horses were coming, so she had to come in early. She was less than thrilled and wanted to know if she’d get to go out again later. I checked with Jess and Jess said that Jersey would get extra time out later, since the horses would get more time now. I told Jersey and she was very happy to hear that! I asked her if she’d race me to the gate, then go into the barn. She was very excited and said, “YES!” I started running along the fence line toward the gate — Jersey was right next to me the whole way. Everything about her energy and movement said “happy”. The only word to describe what she was doing was “gambolling” . The dictionary definition of that word is “running and jumping playfully” — that’s exactly what Jersey was doing! We got to the gate at the same time and Jess was able to hook on the lead line and take Jersey into the barn without any fussing from Jersey. Jess was stunned that Jersey was so cooperative. I again encouraged Jess to be more playful with Jersey. She said, “That worked great and took much less time than I expected — I will definitely try it!”
I continued to work at that farm for about 6 more months, until my client sold the horses I’d been working on. At the end of each of my visits Jersey got her face rubs and scratches through the fence when I finished with the horses. Jersey and I both looked forward to our time at the fence. When I stopped coming, I’m sure that Jersey missed seeing me as much as I missed her.
Jess reported that Jersey was getting easier to work with and more cooperative as time went on. She admitted that she was actually having fun with Jersey — and clearly she and Jersey were becoming friends.
The irresistible force had become friendship, rather than frustration!
Samantha contacted me about her horse, Honey, who is a beautiful chestnut colored Saddlebred mare. Honey had been with Samantha for 5 months at that point — and things were not going well. Samantha reported that Honey was not warming up to her the way Samantha expected. In fact, even after 5 months, Samantha couldn’t touch Honey’s face and in her stall, Honey would bite and kick with no warning, making going into Honey’s stall risky. Catching Honey outside was impossible too. Added to that, Honey wouldn’t canter in the indoor arena and had reared straight up in the air one time when asked to canter indoors.
Samantha wondered what she’d gotten herself into, but she was determined to figure out what was going on with Honey. She sent me a photo of Honey — the photo on the left above. You can see the tension in her wide eyes and in her body language clearly. Samantha said this was Honey’s “normal” appearance — tense and on guard.
The first time I talked to Honey, Samantha was at the barn with her. When I connected to Honey, my initial impression was of mental chaos, like she was spinning. Honey said she wished she could calm down and relax. Samantha told me that at that moment, Honey had just been spooked by something outside and was in fact, spinning in her stall. We gave Honey a couple minutes to calm down, then continued the conversation.
I felt a tremendous amount of mental and physical tension from Honey — this seemed to me to be Honey’s normal state, not related to the spooking. Samantha confirmed that Honey never relaxed. Samantha wondered if pain in her body was a cause of Honey’s tension. Honey showed me that her teeth were painful and were rubbing on the inside of her cheeks. It felt to me like she needed to have her teeth seen to by the vet or equine dentist. Honey showed me that she also had pain in her poll, withers and sacroiliac joint and her left stifle. She showed me having a lot of muscle pain too — related both to the areas of pain she had mentioned and also from the tension she was carrying in her body. Basically, she was sore all over. Samantha said she would have Honey’s teeth looked at and also would have the vet do a lameness exam and chiropractic.
Samantha wanted to see if we could find out why Honey got so upset when asked to canter in the indoor. Honey showed me that a previous rider [not Samantha] had pushed her to the point that she felt she was incapable of doing what she was being asked to do. From what Honey showed me, the previous rider was trying to get Honey to “gait”. Saddlebreds are known for being five gaited horses — they have two additional gaits besides the walk, trot and canter. But not all Saddlebreds are five gaited. Honey showed me that she did her best to show this person that she couldn’t do what was being asked, but the person didn’t listen. Finally, Honey had no choice but to say “NO” in the loudest possible way — by rearing. Even thought Samantha was not pushing Honey to do anything but a simple canter, she was panicking and reacting out of fear. When I told Samantha this, she confirmed that Honey was not five gaited and understood why Honey was so frustrated by being asked to do something she wasn’t physically capable of doing.
Samantha said she did not want Honey to have fear when being ridden. We assured Honey that Samantha would always listen and would never ask her to do anything that she wasn’t capable of doing. Samantha agreed that if Honey was ever uncomfortable in the arena, she could bob her head and swish her tail and Samantha would immediately take her out of the arena, no questions asked. Honey thought this was a brilliant plan. She was so relieved that Samantha would listen and she said she would try to be brave and follow the plan. I also suggested that Samantha try walking Honey into the indoor arena, walk a circle, trot a circle if Honey was OK, then walk out and ride outdoors — slowly increasing the time working indoors as Honey learned it was safe. Samantha agreed completely with this plan and so did Honey.
Finding out what kind of work Honey wanted to do was very important to Samantha. To find out, I needed to know what the options were for Honey. Samantha said that Honey could continue to the specialized saddleseat work that she’d been doing before she came to Samantha or she could try dressage, trail riding or jumping. I showed/told Honey all the options. Honey was very clear that she did not want to do the saddleseat work ever again. But she was very excited and interested in jumping! She showed me that she thought she jumped beautifully and was really good at it. Samantha said that she’d tried Honey over jumps a few times and she did really well. Its pretty unusual for a Saddlebred to jump, but clearly, that was what Honey wanted to do and Samantha was excited to find work that Honey would love. I asked about trail riding and Honey liked that too. Honey wasn’t too sure about dressage, but when I told her it would help her get strong and fit, she said OK to that too — “but mostly jumping and trail riding” — Honey knew what she wanted!
Finally, we needed to talk to Honey about her behavior in her stall — the biting and kicking. Honey seemed reluctant to talk about this but finally said that she didn’t know if she could trust Samantha. It was very sad for Samantha to hear this, but it was clear to me that this lack of trust was not because of anything Samantha had done. When I asked Honey if she felt she had a relationship with Samantha, she showed me that she didn’t. In fact, she actually didn’t have any idea what it meant to be in a close relationship with a person. She showed me that she had always been treated like “a thing” — like a piece of equipment — by her previous owners. She was never given any affection and was only touched as much as was necessary before and after working. This made her feel unsupported, isolated and distrustful.
I assured Honey that Samantha loved her and wanted to be her friend. Honey admitted that Samantha never did anything to hurt her. I reminded Honey that Samantha made sure she had good food, a safe stall, turn out and was a kind rider because Samantha loved her and wanted to have a close relationship with her. Honey showed definite interest in the idea of a close relationship with Samantha. I suggested that, rather than biting and kicking, it would be better if Honey was nice to Samantha and showed her affection. Honey thought about that for a minute and said, “How?” She truly did not have a clue about how to be affectionate with Samantha! I told/showed Honey that when she heard Samantha’s voice, she could look for her and come toward Samantha when she came to her stall or pasture. I showed/told Honey she could touch Samantha gently with her nose, lower her head and relax. I felt Honey sigh in relief when I showed her these things. She said she really wanted to try! I asked Honey how she liked to be brushed. She showed me that she preferred the softest of the brushes and would like to be rubbed at the base of her neck/withers area.
I told Samantha what Honey had said and she was eager to try to bridge the gap so she and Honey could be friends. Samantha admitted that she was anxious when she interacted with Honey in her stall, due to the biting and kicking. I assured her that was totally understandable, but reminded her that Honey would read that anxiety as fear, which would only make Honey more fearful herself. I encouraged Samantha to approach Honey with an open heart — with nonjudgmental, positive energy — the same way she approached other horses. Samantha was eager to try.
Samantha and Honey were both ready to start the next phase in their relationship!
About an hour after the communication session finished, I received an email from Samantha with a new photo and this note: “I took this photo [the photo on the right, above] just after we finished talking to Honey. The difference in her whole expression is astounding! For the first time, Honey reached out and touched me with her nose and put her head down so I could stroke her face. I nearly cried. Thank you so much for the huge difference you’ve already made!”
I received an update from Samantha again, a few months later. She said she’d had Honey’s teeth taken care of. “They were in rough shape”, Samantha reported – but afterwards Honey was much more comfortable in her bridle and more relaxed through her jaw. Honey also got chiropractic and the chiropractor found “everything was either out or sore, just like you said.” Honey needed adjustments at the poll, withers and sacroiliac joints — exactly the areas she’d told us were painful. Honey also had a lameness exam and the vet found Honey’s left stifle “was in pretty bad shape”. But with a good quality joint supplement, an herbal calming product to help with anxiety and plenty of love and support from Samantha, Honey’s fear of the arena have completely disappeared!
The relationship between Samantha and Honey has also continued to change for the better. Samantha said that Honey now likes getting scratched and getting her face brushed and “she’s constantly searching me for treats!” Honey has also gotten very protective of Samantha and has even “guarded” Samantha from other horses, even Honey’s best horse friend.
Samantha reported that Honey is not doing any saddleseat work any more and “is having a blast with jumping!” Samantha said it was clear to her that Honey was “born to jump”, taking to it naturally with no awkwardness. “She never touches a fence rail and is the most powerful jumper I’ve ever ridden,” Samantha said.
Honey and Samantha have developed a trusting, loving and happy relationship and a bright future together.
“Honey is 100% a new horse, thanks to Sky! Honey is one of the bravest, most willing and most athletic horses on the farm and I can’t thank Sky enough for helping us get to where we are now.” — Samantha C, KY.
Everyone who lives with an animal knows that they each have their own special personality. Some are serious, some are healers, some are leaders, some are followers — and everything in between. Then there are animals like Sookie — who was quirky, funny and fun loving — no matter what was happening in her life.
The photo above is the photo Catie, Sookie’s person, gave me the first time we talked to Sookie. When I was getting ready to write this blog post, I asked Catie if she wanted me to use a different photo. She said, “No, this photo really shows Sookie’s character” — and so it does! Catie and I talked to Sookie regularly for five years or more. No matter what we were talking to Sookie about, even life threatening issues, Sookie always left us laughing because she never let anything get her down.
I first met Catie at one of the metaphysical fairs in Colorado. Without telling me anything in advance, Catie asked what I could feel in Sookie’s body. I felt pressure in her chest, but it didn’t feel like her lungs or heart — closer to the surface than that. It felt contained — like it was encapsulated, rather than spread out and was fairly large. Catie told me that the vet had diagnosed Sookie with having a tumor in her chest that was cancerous and terminal. Catie wanted to know if Sookie was ready to cross to Spirit as the vet has suggested. Sookie told us that other than the pressure from the “tumor” she felt fine and she was NOT ready to cross to Spirit. Catie asked if Sookie wanted the “tumor” removed surgically, but Sookie didn’t want that either. She told us we should just wait and see what happened with the “tumor” and in the mean time she was going to enjoy every day of life that she had. We told her that the “tumor” might end her life early, but she still didn’t want surgery. Her attitude was amazing and she was very clear and strong about her opinion on this. Catie said she didn’t want to put Sookie through surgery if she didn’t want it, so she agreed to wait and see.
We continued to check in on Sookie periodically and she continued to say she didn’t want surgery and was not ready to cross to Spirit. Catie honored her request.
A few months later, Catie told me that the tumor burst on it’s own and “It was a very bloody mess.” At that point, there was no option but to do surgery. The area was heavily infected and the vet tech said she never saw a dog who was that sick get up and move so quickly after surgery. The biopsy taken during surgery showed that there had been a foreign object in Sookie’s chest but they couldn’t find it. The vet thought that the object must have left her body when the “tumor” ruptured. Through it all, Sookie was her usual upbeat, funny self, enjoying her life to the fullest.
For the next few years we continued to talk to Sookie regularly about non-life threatening issues. These are some of the conversations that Catie remembers best . . .
Catie told me that Sookie always ate her breakfast quickly during the week, finishing before Catie left the house for work. Weekends were different and Sookie was content to eat later in the day and in a more leisurely manner — even though she was fed at the same time as during the week. Catie wanted to see if we could get Sookie to eat in a more leisurely way during the week, since that would mean that she’d have less time to wait before being let out when Catie came home from work. Sookie didn’t see the logic of this. She said, “I’m going to have to [go potty] whether I eat fast or slow, so it doesn’t matter when I eat.” I asked her why she ate fast during the week, but not on the weekend and she said, “If she [Catie] is in a hurry, then I’m in a hurry.” Catie confirmed that she was always in a hurry in the morning on work days, but not on the weekend, so she knew exactly what Sookie meant. Catie reported later that Sookie continued her pattern of eating fast on Catie’s work days and slower on weekends after our chat. As always, Sookie did things her way!
In an effort to give Sookie something fun to do, Catie bought a “treat ball” toy. The idea is that you put a few treats/kibble pieces in the plastic ball that has a small opening that the treats to come out of. To get the treats out, the dog has to roll the ball until the treats fall out. Catie gave Sookie the treat ball and showed her how it worked. Sookie was not impressed and ignored it. Catie wanted to find out why Sookie didn’t like the treat ball. Sookie told us that she thought it was “just stupid” and “I shouldn’t have to go through all that effort to get the treats.” That was the end of the treat ball!
In addition to Sookie, Catie also had a cat and after a time and got a second cat as company for the first cat. Sookie was chasing the new cat, which of course is not good. When we talked to her about this, I asked Sookie if she liked the new cat. She said, “YES! I love playing the ‘not allowed game,’ with the cat!” She showed me a picture of her chasing the new cat and Catie yelling, “you’re not allowed to chase the cat!”. To Sookie, the whole thing — the chasing and the yelling — was all fun and she called it the “not allowed game”. I explained to Sookie that it was not fun for Catie or the new cat when this happened and that Sookie was the only one who thought of it as a game. I encouraged her to find a toy when she was thinking about chasing the cat and to play with her toy instead of the cat. Sookie agreed to the plan, although she really couldn’t understand why Catie and the cat didn’t enjoy the “not allowed” game as much as she did. Catie told me Sookie didn’t chase the cat any more after that.
Catie started taking Sookie with her when she went running. Sookie loved the runs and looked forward to them. But as the years went by, Catie realized that the long runs were becoming too much for Sookie after about a mile. Catie asked me to see if Sookie would be willing to slow down and just walk when she got tired. Sookie was reluctant to do this. She finally admitted to me that she didn’t want to let Catie down. I also felt Sookie was embarrassed that she couldn’t keep up as well as she used to. Catie admired Sookie’s determination but was very concerned that she’d over do it and exhaust herself. After some thought, I came up with a different way to go at the issue. With Catie’s permission, I told Sookie that maybe the reason Catie wanted Sookie to walk more was because Catie actually needed to slow down and take it easier on the runs. Sookie agreed that since it would be better for Catie to walk more, she would walk when she was tired . . . and that’s exactly what she did from then on!
Sookie’s started having health issues again a few years after our first conversation and Catie again asked me to check on her. I felt pressure in Sookie’s upper abdomen. Catie told me that Sookie had been diagnosed with an enlarged spleen — which explained the pressure I felt. Sookie was slowing down but was still enjoying her life. The vet felt things were stable and they continued to monitor Snookie.
Unfortunately, about 6 months later, Sookie started to feel much worse. The pressure I’d felt in her upper abdomen had increased and she was starting to have pain in the area. The vet determined that she had two large tumors on her spleen and suggested surgery to remove the spleen. We talked to Sookie about the surgery. She wanted to know if the surgery would help her feel better. We told her that if she didn’t have the surgery, she would be crossing to Spirit very soon. If she did have the surgery, she would have more time and would feel better, but we didn’t know for how long. She said she wanted the surgery “because I can’t go on like this and I want to feel good again.”
Sookie had her surgery in March. The vet removed a 7.5 pound tumor from her spleen. Catie reported that after Sookie recovered from the surgery, “she ran around like a puppy!” Catie was so happy that Sookie was back to normal and Sookie was thrilled . . . but sadly, it didn’t last. After a few weeks, Sookie’s health started to decline very quickly. The vet suggested steroids to help prolong her life, but when we offered this as an option to Sookie, she didn’t want to take them. She said she was very glad to have had a few more weeks of feeling good, but now she was ready to cross to Spirit. She felt that those weeks of feeling good were a gift — but now it was time to go.
Catie asked if Sookie could hold on for a few more days — Catie had to work and Catie wanted to spend as much time with her as possible before Sookie crossed over. Sookie said that she knew that Catie’s job was important, that it “put food in my bowl” [we’d talked about that previously] and she was content to have a few more days to be with Catie. I explained to Sookie what would happen when Catie took her to the vet so they could help her cross to Spirit. Sookie showed me that she wanted to lie on the floor and have Catie “spoon” with her and wanted Catie’s hands on Sookie’s chest, over her heart, while she crossed to Spirit.
Catie and Sookie enjoyed their last few days together on earth. On the appointed day, Catie took Sookie to the vet’s office and did exactly as Sookie requested. Sookie crossed to Spirit peacefully and Catie sent her to Spirit with all the love in her heart.
A few months later we talked to Sookie in Spirit. She had a lot to say! She showed herself to me as looking about 3-4 years old, coat shiny and glossy and in perfect health. The most significant thing, however, was the big goofy smile on her face! Catie laughed when I told her that and said, “That is so Sookie!” Sookie showed me that she was running, jumping and playing in Spirit. She showed me she had lots of animal friends in Spirit and that she’d even made friends with cats! Catie said that, based on her behavior with Catie’s cats when Sookie was alive, that was hard to believe. I told that to Sookie and she said, “I know — I can hardly believe it myself!” Sookie then got serious and said that she was grateful that Catie didn’t let her suffer at the end and that she didn’t think anyone else would have tried so hard to keep her healthy and alive for so long.
Now that she was in Spirit, Sookie said that she would be helping Catie with strengthening her intuition when Catie was sleeping. The picture Sookie showed me of how she was going to do this made me laugh out loud . . . Sookie showed me Catie lying in her bed and Sookie standing over her, with Sookie’s nose pointing at Catie’s nose and Catie lying between Sookie’s legs. Sookie was not a small dog — she’s 100 pounds of dog that looks like a wolf. When I described this to Catie, she also laughed out loud and said it would be SO like Sookie to come up with that! We both thought it might be tough for Catie to sleep if Sookie was standing over her like that, so I suggested it might work better if Sookie lay down next to Catie instead. Sookie still thought standing was better, but agreed to the plan.
Catie told me that when she hears wind chimes when there is no wind, she knows that Sookie is visiting with her.
We’ve talked to Sookie a several times since she crossed over. Each time Catie wanted to know what Sookie was doing.
The first time we talked to Sookie in Spirit, she told us that she was “teaching other dogs how to be funny.” This wasn’t an official “job” — it was just what Sookie was choosing to do — and she was enjoying every minute of it. Later Sookie told us this was her official “job” in Spirit and she showed me that she had a pack of dogs around her that she was teaching “dog jokes” — things that the dogs could do to make their people laugh. Since Sookie had such a great sense of fun, this was the perfect job for her!
Sookie also showed me that she’d found a fantastic new game to play. She was stealing wing feathers off of the Angels! It was clear from what she showed me that the Angels were totally in on the game — that they saved feathers and tucked them in so that Sookie could steal them, then acted shocked when she stole the feathers — which filled Sookie with delight! Catie said it was SO like Sookie to do this.
Another time, Catie told Sookie that all the vets and the vet office staff always talk about Sookie when Catie visited the office with her cats. Catie said that the office staff people were very sad that Sookie didn’t live longer after surgery . . . but Sookie was just thrilled that people besides Catie still remembered her! Her comment was, “I’m famous!” — which made Catie laugh — she thought this was adorable.
The last time we talked to Sookie she told Catie that she didn’t think that Catie was ready for another dog yet, but when the time was right, Sookie would help her find the right dog. Catie asked me to tell Sookie that “no one would be able to replace her.” Showing me her big, goofy grin, Sookie replied, “I know!”
Catie had this to add . . . “Sookie was a larger than life dog. People were constantly asking me if Sookie was part wolf, but she was just my large, lovable, goofy, furry soul sister. Her amber eyes could scare away a predator or melt your heart with love. I always admired her spirit of longing to run free and enjoy every moment. Knowing that we will have a new generation of goofy dogs coming back to us on Earth because of Sookie’s work in heaven makes me laugh each time I think about it. She will always be in my heart and a part of me. I have a feeling that she is enjoying this blog post more than me, since it gives her another chance to be famous!
When I first met Sky at a psychic fair I knew she was the real deal from the start. When Sky spoke to Sookie, she told me the very unique way my roommate greeted Sookie each day. It was something a stranger would never be able to guess. Over the course of the years even more proof of her authenticity and compassion showed through the communication sessions I did with Sky. When Sookie got sick it was devastating to me. I wanted to do everything I could for her. But allowing Sookie to decide for herself what she wanted to do in her final days with me is a priceless gift I will forever cherish. It helped me deal with the mourning in a positive way. I am absolutely grateful for all Sky has done for me over the years, and I know my furry ones are grateful as well. Any person or animal that has the opportunity to work with Sky is truly blessed.” — Catie G., CO.
Jen fell in love with Ben, a very handsome Oldenburg horse. Ben had a great personality and Jen bought him with the intent that he would be her “safe” dressage horse. Ben had been trained in dressage, so Jen didn’t think she’d be starting from scratch. Jen knew that retraining would be needed to develop his muscles correctly, but she was willing to put in the time.
Sometimes what you see is what you get and other times — not so much.
After Jen purchased Ben in July 2017, Ben had a long trailer ride from a southern state, where he had been living, to a state far to the north, where Jen lived. Jen reported that Ben was frantic when he got off the trailer — very stressed and upset. However, he settled in quickly at Jen’s trainer’s barn.
Jen and her trainer gave Ben a few days to relax and acclimatize, then she started riding him. He was fine — absolutely fine — for several days. But later that first week when Jen got on Ben to ride, he had a bucking fit and Jen was bucked off. As often happens with riders, her confidence in her “safe” horse was shaken to the core — which is completely understandable. In Jen’s words, “After coming off of him that first week, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to ride him again.”
But Jen couldn’t give up on Ben.
Jen and her trainer felt that Ben’s reaction the day he dumped Jen was probably related to emotional overload and possibly saddle fit issues. The change of ownership, the trailer ride, being in a new place, all seemed too much for him. After being sure the saddle fit well, Jen’s trainer rode Ben and Jen sat on the sidelines and observed.
Ben was doing OK under saddle for a few weeks, then began to slowly deteriorate. It was clear that Ben was becoming more and more uncomfortable under saddle — and more and more unwilling to be ridden. By October, Ben was almost unrideable, even by Jen’s trainer.
While Ben was dangerous under saddle, he was sweet, loving and adorable when Jen wasn’t riding him. She just couldn’t give up on him — she couldn’t stop hoping that the sweet horse Ben was on the ground could find a way to get past his uncooperative behavior under-saddle.
Jen called in her vet to examine Ben. X-rays showed nothing helpful. In December movement analysis was done and intensive e-stimulation treatments were done for Ben’s back, which they’d finally determined was the source of the problem. Jen and her trainer also did long lining and ground work with Ben for months to encourage him to bond with them and to help Ben heal physically and emotionally.
Finally in April, Jen’s trainer felt it was time to try Ben under saddle again. The trainer would ride and Jen would watch. In Jen’s words, “we had limited success.” Jen felt that they were missing something — something that would help Ben move forward. She didn’t know what else to do, so she contacted me about animal communication, hoping that would give her the answers that were needed. We had our first communication session with Ben in Mid-April.
Initially, Jen wanted to know how Ben was feeling, physically and emotionally. It was clear to Jen that something had gone terribly wrong on the trailer ride from Florida, but she didn’t know what. When I asked Ben about this, I was hit with an intense flood of feelings/images — panic, fear, confusion and confusing images that were terrifying to Ben. I couldn’t get a clear picture of what happened, but to Ben it was very, very bad. My impression was that whatever happened, tweaked something in Ben’s back that ended up causing him a great deal of pain. The pain was not an issue most of the time — only under saddle, which is why his behavior deteriorated under saddle. This made sense to Jen because the area in his back that Ben showed me was painful was the area where he’d been receiving e-stimulation treatments from the vet. Ben said/showed me that his back was better, but his muscles were still very tight and would spasm at times. The pressure of the saddle made everything worse. But it was improving, slowly, he felt.
For the first session, all we were able to do was allow Ben to express and release his feelings, but each session he was able to listen and let go more of the emotional energy. Ben had a lot to say and express. He felt no one had been listening to him for a very long time. This was nothing personal to Jen or her trainer — the “not listening” had started long before Ben came to Jen.
Jen was concerned that Ben wasn’t happy with her and didn’t actually like her. Ben was shocked that she would think this. He showed me that he was very affectionate with her when Jen was on the ground. Jen confirmed that this was true — “But why is he so different under saddle?” Ben showed me that when he was in pain or frustrated, he had to take care of himself “because no one else would.” He did not trust his riders to look out for his welfare because no one had done so in the past.
Jen asked about his previous riders. He showed me that previous riders “forced” him into the correct body/neck position — know as being “in frame” — but he showed me that they did not bother to fully develop his muscles so he could hold the correct position comfortably. Ben knew that his previous riders would not take no for an answer, so he complied to the best of his ability. But by the time he got to Jen, he had had enough — he was taking care of himself, since the humans weren’t going to take care of him.
Most horses do not want to behave badly or hurt their riders. But when no one listens, when the rider doesn’t allow the horse to express himself or doesn’t listen when the horse says there is a problem — some horses feel they have no choice but to escalate their level of complaint. Unfortunately, often if a horse feels no one listens, his first reaction isn’t saying, “Hey, there is a problem here”. Instead they go right to the loudest way to complain. Because no one listened when they complained quietly, they feel the only option is to “shout”. This can mean bucking or even rearing about the smallest problem — which to the human looks like it’s happening for no reason at all.
Ben was not a bad horse — he was a very good, kind horse who no one listened to. But that was all going to change!
When we talked to Ben the second time, he had opened up enough emotionally that he could listen and hear. I told Ben that we understood his frustration about not being heard. I assured him — with Jen agreement — that both Jen and her trainer would listen to him. I told Ben that it was very important for him to really know and believe that Jen and her trainer would listen to him. They would never ask him to do more than he was capable of doing. I assured Ben that they would work with him to build up his muscles so he would be strong and beautiful (which was something he wanted) and that Jen would continue to take care of his back issues to be sure he was comfortable.
I told Ben that his part of the partnership would be to think before he acted. I told him that when something was uncomfortable, he needed to let Jen’s trainer know. He thought about this and suggested that he could shake his head if something was too hard or he was uncomfortable. This was an acceptable signal and Jen said she would let the trainer know — she promised the trainer would listen. Ben said / showed me that if he shook his head it meant that he needed to stop what he was doing or that he was really having problems. He said he was willing to try communicating this way. I again promised him that Jen’s trainer would listen.
The following month, Jen told me that her trainer had been skeptical that Ben would actually give her the head shaking signal if there was a problem. When he actually did it during the trainer’s next ride, the trainer was pleasantly surprised and stopped as Ben had requested so he could regroup. Ben shook his head several times on each ride, but recovered more quickly each time — and as time went on, did less and less head shaking!
Jen reported that both she and her trainer are very intentional about everything they did with Ben on the ground and under saddle. This has helped Ben relax more and become more confident in himself, in Jen and her trainer. In communication sessions, we reminded Ben that the trainer would only ask Ben to do things she knew that he could do and remind him that he could shake his head if needed.
After a few months of communication sessions, it was evident that Ben had gained confidence and was being cooperative and willing when riden by Jen’s trainer. Now it was time for Jen to deal with her own challenge — her own confidence in riding Ben. Jen had been sitting on the sidelines watching her trainer ride Ben since Ben bucked her off the first week he was with her. Jen was able to see the improvement in Ben and the trainer felt it was time for Jen to ride Ben again. If you’ve never been bucked off a horse, it may be hard to understand the challenge in this. I know from personal experience how hard that is. But Ben was ready and wanted her to try.
Each lesson, Jen and the trainer would work Ben from the ground, then the trainer would ride him. Jen started sitting on Ben, walking him for a few minutes after the trainer finished. When I asked Ben about this, he said that Jen was very tentative and “blocked” — in other words, her fear was keeping her from connecting to Ben. He found this very irritating. I told him about Jen’s fear and that he needed to help her with it by showing her that he knew what he was doing. He said he needed her to help him too, but he would try. The great thing was that Ben really wanted this to work! Soon things were going better and Jen was able to walk and trot Ben. She was still nervous, but at least they were working together.
In August, we talked to Ben again and this time her trainer listened in on the session. Jen reported that Ben was really doing well with his dressage work. I asked him how he was feeling. He showed me that he felt fit, strong and beautiful — “like a real horse!” I asked about how things were going with Jen riding him. He showed me that she had been leaning forward, which unbalanced both him and her and made his job more difficult. Jen’s trainer confirmed that Jen was doing this. Ben said he was really being good and wasn’t doing anything wrong, even though Jen was leaning forward. The trainer confirmed this too.
Ben wanted Jen to trust him and position her body correctly so they could both be balanced. Ben wanted to show her how good he felt — he wanted to canter with her. Jen was still afraid. Ben promised he would be good for her — but Jen had to do her part and be balanced. I could hear Jen take a big breath and she said, “I’ll try.”
Later that day I got an email from Jen. She wrote, “After we talked to you, Ben and I cantered today for the first time in over a year! I put my big girl pants on and kept balanced without leaning forward. Ben met me half way and did his part. It was super exciting!” What a victory for both Ben and Jen!
We’ve continued to talk to Ben once a month or so. New issues have come up, but each time we talk our way through it. Jen believed in Ben and didn’t give up on him and Ben continues to try to be a good partner for her.
“After coming off Ben the first week. I shut down. I had to do a lot of work on myself to deal with that fear. Then it took having Sky open up the lines of communication with Ben to build trust under saddle for both me and Ben. We’ve still got a long road to go, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. With ongoing training, rehab treatments and communication with Sky, I’m hopeful that Ben and I will be reaching out potential as a team.” — Jen, USA.
I met Janet many years ago at a “Hags and Nags” get together. The group was for women who rode horses — and they definitely did not take themselves seriously! I had been invited to the gathering to do animal communication. I talked to many of the women and their animals, including Janet. She was fascinated by the communication session I did for her horse and when she found out that I also did massage for horses, she couldn’t wait to schedule an appointment with me to massage her horse.
I did equine massage for Janet’s horse, an off the track Thoroughbred named Amtrack, for the next 15 years or so. We did animal communication with Amtrack too and we also talked to Janet’s other animals — dogs, cats and her bird, Pasquale, a Green Cheeked Sun Conure — many times over the years.
Green Cheeked Sun Conures are beautiful birds and Pasquale was no exception. But Pasquale was a one woman bird — and that woman was Janet! Janet told me that when she had her own business with a shop location, she would bring Pasquale to work. He would happily sit on her shoulder, climb on her and generally supervise. But if anyone came into the shop, Janet had to put Pasquale back in his cage because he would be come very protective of her.
When I moved from NJ to CO, Janet was kind enough to let me stay at their house so I could see my clients that were located north of her more easily. As a result we got to spend a lot of time together and we became close friends. Janet would often let Pasquale out of his cage when we sat at the kitchen table talking. Janet always warned me not to touch Pasquale and to keep my hands/arms out of his reach because he was likely to bite. I followed her rules with Pasquale to the letter and was very respectful of his space. It was interesting to see an animal that only weighed about 4 oz. so clearly dominate the space he was in — and his personal space was very large for his size! Despite being as respectful as possible, I always felt that Pasquale was giving me “the stink eye” and daring me to challenge him. Needless to say, I never did!
Janet developed cancer and gradually had to decrease her activity level and give up riding — but she still wanted Amtrack to have his massages. I continued to stay with her when I was in NJ during this time, watching TV and chatting with Janet (because that was all she had the strength for as the disease progressed) and giving her what emotional support I could. Janet’s body may have been weak, but her spirit was strong and she fought her disease process as hard as she could with a positive attitude. Pasquale, whose cage was in the kitchen, was witness to these ongoing visits with Janet and our close friendship.
The last weekend I spent with Janet, she was very weak but funny, positive and cheerful as ever. When I got back to their house after a day of massaging horses, I found Janet sitting on the couch with Pasquale, who was having a wonderful time climbing around on Janet. I offered to sit on the other couch, so I didn’t bother Pasquale, but Janet said she thought it would be OK for me to sit with them — so I did.
After I got settled, Pasquale walked across the cushions toward me. His energy was different from before — he seems to be friendly and interested, rather than protective and threatening. Initially, Janet moved Pasquale away from me several times, but he was persistent in wanting to come near me. I suggest that Janet just let him come to me if he wanted. I promised to keep my fingers out of his way — but I really didn’t feel like he would try to bite.
It was at that point that what felt to me like a miracle happened. Pasquale walked across the couch, pulled himself up on my leg by grabbing my jeans with his beak and feet and started walking down my leg to my fuzzy slippers! He then cuddled himself up on my slippers and looked like he was napping. He snuggled there for about 5 minutes. Then he walked back down my leg to my lap and started rubbing against the back of my hand — clearly he wanted some pets! I stuck out a finger and he rubbed his head against my finger and then let me pet him. I had never petted a bird before — it was a magical feeling having this tiny feather being trust me enough to let me pet him! As I petted Pasquale, he closed his eyes in pleasure. I wasn’t sure which one of us was enjoying the petting more. When he had enough pets, he climbed around on me for a while, got some more pets — then gently nipped my finger, but did not bite hard. Janet said that meant that he was tired and wanted to go back to his cage, so she put him back in his cage. Both of us were a bit stunned with Pasquale’s display of trust and affection — for my part, I was speechless! I have been given many gifts by animals over the years and the gift of trust that Pasquale gave me that day is one I will always treasure.
Not long after that Janet lost her battle with cancer. It was a very, very sad day for me and everyone who knew her. I was able to go to the gathering that Janet’s family organized in her honor. The house was full of people — she touched so many lives! The occasion was sad, but it was also a celebration of the light, positivity and laughter that was Janet.
At one point, I was standing in the kitchen alone and felt that Pasquale’s energy was focused on me. When I turned to look, Pasquale was indeed staring at me intently. Normally I don’t talk to people’s animals without permission, but I felt strongly that Janet would want me to talk to Pasquale, so I did.
When I connected to Pasquale, he became very still and continued to stare at me. He seemed to be worried and concerned. The first thing Pasquale said was, “Do you know she [meaning Janet] is in Spirit?” I assured him that I did. He told me that Janet had visited him and told him she was fine and that he would be OK. He showed me that Janet looked beautiful — young, healthy and happy when she visited him from Spirit. He wanted to know what all the people were doing at the house. I told hm that they were all there to honor Janet’s memory and share the connection that they had with her. I felt Pasquale was very pleased that so many people would do that.
He then said, “What is going to happen to me?” I assured Pasquale that Janet’s husband would find a good home for him. He said, “Can’t I come home with you?” This was completely unexpected and my heart hurt when I heard it. The feeling I got from Pasquale was that he wanted to be with someone who would understand him. Feeling Pasquale’s sadness at loosing Janet and not knowing who would care for him brought tears to my eyes. With regret, I told Pasquale that, much as I would love to take him home, it was not going to be possible. Pasquale said he understood and accepted my decision. I assured him that Janet’s husband would take very good care of Pasquale until he could find a very nice person for him to live with who would take care of him, love him and respect him. Pasquale cheered up a bit at that point and said he trusted Janet’s husband would do that — for Janet and for him. I thanked him for honoring me with his desire to come home with me and thanked him for the trust he showed in me.
When I disconnected from Pasquale, he stopped staring at me and went about his business in his cage.
After things had settled for Janet’s family, her husband was able to find a loving, forever home for both Janet’s elderly horse, Amtrack and for Pasquale.
I will always hold my dear friend Janet in my heart and will always be grateful for the time I spent with her and her beloved animals — and for the gift of trust that Pasquale gave me.
There are few things that are more frustrating than trying to get a message across to someone who isn’t listening. If the message is that something really hurts and no one listens it’s even worse. What would you, as a person, do? Talk louder, try to get the person to pay attention and maybe even yell? Animals are often faced with that kind of situation and for them, “yelling” may take the form of behavior that can be dangerous to humans.
Buster is an adorable quarter horse pony that was saved from the kill pens at a horse auction in a western state in 2015 by staff from an equine rescue. He was emaciated and needed 3 months of rehabilitation before he became healthy enough to be adopted. Buster was adopted by a family as a children’s riding horse, but after only 6 months, he was returned to the rescue because he had started bucking under saddle.
The rescue worked with Buster for 6 weeks and he received chiropractic treatments. The rescue staff felt he’d gotten past the bucking behavior and Buster was adopted by a second family. The family was fully informed about Buster’s bucking behavior and his need for chiropractic care. Buster was ridden by two of the children in the family. He did so well, that they began riding him in horse shows. The children then began riding Buster in gymkhanas. [A gymkhana is a riding competition with a variety of events that involve agility and speed on horseback.]
Sadly, Buster’s bucking behavior returned. He was adjusted by a chiropractor and the bucking behavior stopped, but only for a short while. Very soon he became “ring sour” [not wanting to enter the riding ring] and would start bucking as soon as he got in the ring. Buster was again returned to the rescue, having lived with his second family only 10 months.
That’s when Buster met Kelly. Kelly is one of four people who evaluate and train horses that come to the rescue in the hope that the horses can be rehabilitated and go to new homes. The rescue works with horses with all kinds of issues and have had good success with re-homing them.
Kelly found Buster to be very sweet and friendly. She knew that if they could resolve the bucking issue, he would again be a great children’s horse. Kelly and the other trainers worked with Buster for three weeks, but Buster continued to have problems. Kelly and the rest of the trainers had no idea what to try next to help Buster. They needed to find a way to get Buster to stop bucking or there was a real chance that Buster would be put down because he was too dangerous.
Then Kelly remembered that I’d talked her beloved horse Calliope in 2012, when Calliope was nearing the end of her life. Kelly thought that if we could talk to Buster and figure out why he was bucking, maybe we could figure out a way to help him. Kelly talked to the staff at the rescue about scheduling a communication session for Buster and they agreed to try it — they didn’t know what else to do to help him.
As soon as I connected to Buster, I felt that he was very, very sad. He said he felt that he was “no good — but I want to be good!” The feeling I got from him was that people kept discarding him, giving up on him, like he was trash. He said he loved people, especially children and wanted to be a good horse for children again. I assured Buster that he WAS a good horse and always had been. I told him it was not his fault that people didn’t understand what he was trying to tell them.
I told Buster that we wanted to try to figure out how to help him so he could find a new family and children who would love him and that he could love. I could feel Buster perk up — he was more than happy to talk, now that someone would listen!
My feeling was that the bucking was related to a physical issue, so I asked Buster how his body felt. He showed me that his back hurt — and it hurt even worse under saddle. He showed me that sometimes his back was fine, even under saddle, but other times it would start to hurt and then get really painful, especially when he was being ridden. He said, “I try to warn the rider that it hurts, but they don’t listen to me.” He showed me that if they didn’t get off and the pain got really bad, “I have to make them stop!” That’s when he would buck.
Kelly wanted to see if the type of saddle Buster was ridden in was a factor in causing him pain. When I asked Buster about different types of saddles (by showing him mental pictures), he was very clear about what he liked and what he didn’t. Buster showed me that large western saddles with long skirts that extended too far toward his hips/lower back were very uncomfortable. He showed me that the back part of the saddle and the long part of the skirt pressed against a spot in his lower back that could become very painful with the pressure. When I checked that part of his spine, it felt like he had a physical issue with that part of the bones of his spine. He showed me that he’d been ridden at some point in a western saddle that did not fit well and put pressure on both his withers area and lower back. Buster was concerned that whoever rode him should be sure that the saddle was back far enough so that his shoulder could move freely — previously, he’d had the experience of saddle that sat too far forward and impinged on both his withers and shoulders. He showed me that who ever saddled him shouldn’t throw the saddle on so it dropped hard on his back — that really hurt!
Next we asked about what type of saddles would feel good to Buster. He showed me that he was comfortable in English saddles and shorter western saddles with short skirts. Kelly confirmed that Buster had been ridden in both of these types of saddles at the rescue and that he did well with both. Buster showed me that he liked more padding under the saddle and that it was important that the saddle fit correctly to prevent pressure on his back.
We asked if there was anything else that the people at the rescue needed to know about his body so he could be more comfortable. Buster showed me that he wanted people to be careful when they brushed his back, because of the spinal issue. He showed me that he liked a soft brush on his back, not a hard or spikey brush.
When I looked through Buster’s body, I also felt that his muscles were tight in the withers area and back. I suggested that he could uses chiropractic and massage, possibly acupuncture. Kelly said he’d had chiropractic already, but she would pass on the suggestion that he get a few more session of chiropractic and add massage and possibly acupuncture too.
I asked Buster if there was anything about his under saddle work that made him more uncomfortable. He showed me that he didn’t like doing lots of circles or making tight turns, which made sense due to his back issue since he would need to do more bending for those exercises — and for the gymkhanas.
Since we couldn’t completely resolve his back issues, I asked Buster if he could show us how he would tell someone that his back is bothering him. I told him that we would be sure to tell the people who rode him what to watch for, so he could tell them quietly, rather than loudly, by bucking. Buster was thrilled that people would finally listen to him — he didn’t like to buck! Buster showed me that he would put his ears back, he would crinkle up his nose/upper lip and would look back at the person riding him. He said that if he did that under saddle, the rider should “GET OFF!” He said that he wanted to be a good riding horse, but some days he really hurt, so the people should watch for those signs when they were brushing/saddling him too.
Kelly confirmed that she would pass everything Buster had told us on to the folks at the rescue, as well as to Buster’s new family if they could re-home him. Kelly was very committed to making this work for Buster. I told Buster that everyone who worked with him would know all the things he’d told us and that they would all do their best to listen and help him. Buster was happy, relieved and hopeful that things could be better for him — and so grateful that someone finally listened!
About a month later, I heard from Kelly again. She said she had shared everything that Buster told us with the staff at the rescue. Kelly said that the staff was very receptive to the information and wanted to do whatever they could to help Buster. It was a relief for the staff to finally understand the cause of Buster’s bucking behavior! Buster got two more sessions of chiropractic and massage therapy and he was put on an anti-inflammatory medication by the vet. Buster was ridden in a round skirt western barrel saddle (which didn’t interfere with his lower back/hips) and an English saddle. He worked happily and without discomfort in both and never flattened his ears once!
Buster was adopted by a family a few weeks after we talked to him. The family was given all the notes from our chat with Buster, so they would know what to watch for, what worked best for Buster and how to care for his back. The family was very happy to adopt Buster and was willing to continue the therapies as needed — and, most importantly, to listen if Buster said he was hurting! Kelly and the rest of the staff at the rescue were thrilled to have such a happy new start for Buster as a trail and pleasure horse for the family’s children. They are hopeful that Buster will have finally found his forever home with people who understand his needs.
“Thanks to Sky, Buster can be a safe pony, free of discomfort. He is another wonderful pony saved from an uncertain future. All of us at the rescue wish him a long, happy life with children to love again!” — Kelly H.
Update March 2018:
“Buster continues to do well with his new family, no bucking issues at all. He loves his kids and they love him very much. Thanks so much for your help with him. I am so glad we were able to help him and get him a great family.”
— Kelly H.
Imagine starting your life basically alone and helpless. This is the fate of feral or abandoned animals everywhere. Now imagine, at the age of four months, experiencing physical trauma so severe that both your hind legs were severely damaged.
That was how Roadie, a beautiful long haired kitten, started his life.
Fortunately, a kind person brought Roadie to the Austin Pets Alive! [APA!] rescue in Texas –
and he was able to receive the medical care he so desperately needed. However, despite the efforts of the medical team, Roadie’s right hind leg needed to be amputated and his left hind leg was bandaged and splinted so it would have time to heal.
This is when Kathleen came into Roadie’s life. Kathleen had fostered several neonatal litters of cats (aged 8 weeks old or less) during the summer for APA!. In October, she found out that Roadie’s foster person needed someone to babysit him while she traveled at the end of October. Kathleen was happy to volunteer to take Roadie into her home temporarily. By then, Roadie’s amputation was completely healed and the bandages were off his left hind leg. As soon as Kathleen met Roadie, she was captivated!
Kathleen kept telling herself that she would only keep Roadie temporarily. She kept in contact with Roadie foster person while she was away, sending photos and emails about how Roadie was doing. Even though Roadie was only with Kathleen for six short days, it was clear to Roadie’s foster person that Kathleen had fallen in love with Roadie. When his foster person suggested that Kathleen take over as Roadie’s foster person, Kathleen jumped at the chance to be Roadie’s official foster.
Kathleen’s only concern was her 13 year old cat Tex, who she’d adopted in January of that year. Tex and three other cats had been taken to APA! in December when their person had crossed to Spirit. Tex had been despondent when Kathleen first met him, but on the second visit, purred when Kathleen petted him. Kathleen felt/saw something in Tex and knew he was the cat for her. As soon as she got him home, Tex blossomed and became the wonderful, loving cat that he truly was. Kathleen has a very special bond with Tex — and she wanted to be sure it was OK with Tex to have Roadie stay with them.
Kathleen contacted me in mid-November to talk to Roadie and Tex.
Kathleen asked that we talk to Tex first, since his feelings about Roadie would help her decide if Roadie should stay — perhaps forever — as part of their family.
As soon as I connected to Tex, I felt a strong sense of what a calm, grounded, warm hearted and loving cat he was. There was a feeling of dignity — but also a fun side to him. It was also clear that Tex knew he was an extraordinarily handsome cat and he made a point of showing me how well he took care of his beautiful, long coat. Kathleen said that was Tex to a “T”!
I asked Tex how he felt about Roadie. He said that Roadie could be a pest [my sense was that this meant that Roadie pestered Tex to play with him at times] but that Roadie was not a bad cat. Tex felt that Roadie had a “sweetness in his soul” and lots of love to give.
Tex said that his main issue with Roadie was that Roadie had a LOT more energy and need to play than Tex did. Roadie also played rough sometimes, which Tex didn’t like. Tex showed me that he tried to be very clear with Roadie when he felt Roadie crossed the line and became too much. Tex showed me putting his foot firmly on to Roadie and holding him down as a way to say “enough!” Tex said he liked Roadie a lot — the feeling was that Tex felt like he was Roadie’s older brother. Tex said he tried very hard to show Roadie how to act “but he doesn’t seem to get it.” Tex said he especially liked Roadie when he was quiet and relaxed. He showed me snuggling with Roadie — it felt like this was a comfort to both of them. I assured Tex we’d talked to Roadie about being more gentle in his play. Kathleen confirmed what Tex had told me about his behavior with Roadie.
Tex said that even though Kathleen pays attention to Roadie, Tex knows he is #1 cat with Kathleen and Roadie is #2. Tex felt that he could help guide Roadie and that he and Kathleen could help Roadie become a good, brave cat.
Then it was time to talk to Roadie . . . as soon as I connected to Roadie, he said, “Am I staying here?” My feeling was that Roadie was hoping the answer would be “yes.” There was an awkward pause from Kathleen when I told her this. She said she wasn’t sure yet. She felt she might want to adopt Roadie, but she wanted didn’t want him to be unhappy. I told Roadie that he’d be staying with Kathleen and Tex for now and he seemed to be OK with that answer.
Kathleen was concerned because Roadie seemed so afraid of her. Roadie said he was “afraid of all people.” He showed me that he would run from Kathleen and spent much of his time in a hiding spot in the house. It was clear to me that this was related to his past, not his present, so we next asked about what happened to Roadie before he came to APA!
Roadie showed me how he got injured. He showed me being thrown against a hard surface [like a wall], impacting the hard surface with his hind quarters. He then showed me a person standing over him and, it appeared to me, that the person stepped on Roadie’s hind legs. [Animals who have been abused often show me horrible things — this made me want to throw up!] The person left Roadie there, but a kind person found him and took him to APA! I asked Roadie if he could tell me anything about his life before the accident. He didn’t show me anything specific, but my feeling was that he either hadn’t lived with people, or that he was left outside with his litter mates at a very young age. He didn’t know what happened to his litter mates or his mother. Roadie said he survived by avoiding people.
It was clear to me that Roadie’s fear of people was how he protected himself when he lived outside. That fear — which kept him alive at the time — was no longer useful or appropriate behavior. Yet it persisted. Roadie was exhibiting PTSD-type behavior, which is very common in rescued animals. I told Kathleen that she needed to remember that Roadie’s fear was not personal to her. If she could remember this, be patient and encourage Roadie to be brave while “loving him through it,” Roadie could get past his fearful behavior. Kathleen said she was completely committed to helping Roadie learn to be brave again. I encouraged Kathleen to be happy and positive in all her interactions with Roadie. If she was worried or took his fear personally, Roadie would interpret those feelings as Kathleen being upset with him — he would not understand what she was really feeling. Kathleen said she understood.
I asked Roadie how he felt about Kathleen. He said he liked her very much. He said he knew that she loved him and would never hurt him. But he showed me again that he often ran from her or hid. He said, “I can’t help it!” I told him that it was OK and not to worry. I asked if anything bad had happened to him since he came to Kathleen. He said, “No — she takes VERY good care of me!” Kathleen said that she had noticed that when she makes eye contact with Roadie — especially when she is standing up — he would run away. When I asked Roadie about this, he showed me that he sees eye contact as a threat. I encouraged Kathleen not to make eye contact with Roadie, except when she was sitting down, when she and Roadie were both relaxed — blinking [“cat kisses”], were a good idea! I told Roadie about the limited eye contact plan and encouraged him to be brave when he comes into rooms. He said it would help if Kathleen didn’t come toward him when he came toward her. Kathleen agreed to implement the above behavior suggestions.
Kathleen wanted to know how Roadie was feeling physically. Roadie showed me that he feels good and strong. He showed me that he does have some phantom limb syndrome issues and sometimes forgets that he is missing his right hind leg — he showed me that he gets wobbly when this happens — but he feels he can get around just fine. Kathleen said that this makes sense based on what she observes. We asked how Roadie likes living with Kathleen and Tex. Roadie said, “It’s very nice here.” He said he likes the food and LOVES the huge, really clean litter box! Roadie said he really likes it when Kathleen sits next to him, talks to him softly and strokes him. He said this helps him relax — “I was never able to relax and feel safe before!”
It was important to Kathleen to find out how Roadie felt about Tex. Roadie said he absolutely adores Tex, “He’s the best big brother ever!” He said that Tex was very smart and “knew everything!” I encouraged Roadie to follow Tex’s lead in everything — if Tex wasn’t afraid or worried, then Roadie didn’t need to be either. I encouraged Roadie to be brave and confident like Tex. Roadie said he would try. I told Roadie that Tex liked him a lot, but because Tex was older, Roadie needed to play more gently with Tex. Roadie showed me that when he gets really excited, he pounces on Tex. Roadie said he knew Tex didn’t like it, but he didn’t know what to do with his energy. I told Roadie that he could play next to Tex, play around Tex or offer to play with toys with Tex, but he need to stay OFF of Tex — all four feet on the floor. Roadie said he would try, but it felt like Roadie had a LOT of energy. I encouraged Kathleen to try playing with Roadie more, especially if she sees Roadie’s energy revving up — to try to head Roadie off before he goes after Tex. I encouraged Kathleen to try to find more active toys for Roadie, things that Roadie could use to entertain himself.
I told Kathleen that she needed to remind Roadie — by talking to him and making pictures in her head —of the behavior plans we’d talked about. I told her that it was important to always tell animals what we WANT them to do — not what we DON’T want them to do. Kathleen said she would make sure to follow through with all the suggestions.
Kathleen had one main question at the end of the session, “Should I get another kitten so Roadie has someone to play with?” I was still in connection with the cats when she said this and Tex immediately piped up and said, “No — we don’t need another kitten! One is enough!” After Kathleen and I stopped laughing, she agreed that one kitten was probably enough for everyone!
After we finished talking to the cats, Kathleen told me that she was seriously thinking of adopting Roadie. She was concerned that he might end up with someone who wouldn’t understand him and wouldn’t work to help him with his issues as well as she could. She was afraid that, if someone adopted him but didn’t understand him, that they would give up on him and returned to the APA! — which would traumatize Roadie further. “It sounds like Tex and I are the perfect partners to help him,” Kathleen said. Kathleen said that she hoped Roadie and Tex would show her that it was right to make Roadie part of their family.
Two days after our first chat, Kathleen emailed me. She reported that Roadie had already made amazing progress! He was bravely walking into rooms where she was sitting or even standing, climbing up on the couch to sit within hands reach of Kathleen and happily accepting pets — while purring like crazy! Roadie has continued to become more relaxed and is showing how happy he is to live with Kathleen and Tex. Roadie still has over exuberant moments with Tex — that is a work in progress. But when Tex is at the end of his tether, he lets Roadie know he has to stop — and Roadie listens.
We talked to Roadie and Tex again a couple weeks after our first chat. Kathleen wanted to talk to Tex first to find out how he felt about Roadie at that point. Tex said that he thought he was being a good teacher for Roadie. Kathleen said that it was obvious to her that Tex was teaching Roadie how to live in a house and be with people — “He even taught Roadie how to meow!”
Kathleen said that she was concerned because Roadie was still playing rough with Tex. Tex had started giving Roadie a paw smack to tell him that Tex had enough. Tex showed me that he was not angry when he did this, it was just the best way to get the point across to Roadie. Tex showed me he walks away after the paw smack — and Roadie leaves him alone. Kathleen confirmed that was exactly what happened.
Kathleen asked Tex if he wanted Roadie to live with them permanently. Tex said, “Of course! She needs to stop worrying about this. We both know he’s staying.” Kathleen laughed in surprise — but we still needed to talk to Roadie about staying.
When I connected to Roadie, he was very excited to tell me, “I’m learning new things every day!” He said he “adored” Tex and loved Kathleen. I asked about Tex giving him paw smacks when Roadie played too rough. Roadie showed me that he still didn’t have that much self control with his energy when playing. He said, “Tex makes me stop — and I listen.” He assured Kathleen that Tex never hurt him with the smacks and that he understood why Tex did it. I encouraged Roadie to try to be more aware of when his energy was really starting to build while playing and to disengage with Tex and to run or play with toys until his energy came back down. He said he would try, but he was grateful that Tex told him to stop — “I would never hurt Tex, he’s my best friend.”
Finally, we asked Roadie if he wanted Tex and Kathleen’s house to be his forever home. Roadie seemed surprised and said, “Tex already told me I was staying.” Kathleen again laughed in surprise and said, “I guess that settles it. Roadie is staying!”
No doubt there will be things to talk to both Roadie and Tex about in the future, but the most important question has been settled. Roadie has his forever home with Tex and Kathleen!
“Sky has such a wondrous gift for communicating with animals and helping them and their people! The change in Roadie is nothing short of miraculous. To hear this formerly terrified little creature purring in pleasure brings tears of joy to my eyes. Sky, you’ve made such a difference in Roadie’s life and in mine. I am eternally grateful for your help and I look forward to talking to you and my kitties again! God Bless you!!” — Kathleen K., TX
Eventing is a very challenging equestrian sport. For those of you not familiar with the horse world, eventing is an equestrian event where a horse and rider are required to show their skills in three different areas:
— Stadium Jumping (where the horse jumps fences in a riding ring),
— Cross Country (an endurance test where a horse jumps unusual “fences” made of unusual materials and shapes, ditches and water. Jumps are widely separated and horses must gallop between them) and
— Dressage (what people often think of as “dancing”).
These three events are usually done over the course of three days. Eventing is an endurance test for both the rider and the horse, who not only have to remain strong and brave through the competition, but also accurate and skilled in all three events.
Handsome was an event horse and his person was Valerie. She competed with Handsome and works professionally as a trainer and riding instructor. Valerie knew that Handsome had everything it took to be a great event horse — courage, stamina, skill and desire to compete . . . but he had one issue that she hadn’t been able to work out. When Handsome was doing cross country jumping, anything that caught his eye would cause him to spook. This can be a disastrous thing for both the horse and rider. Valerie is a very experienced rider and was able to handle Handsome’s spooks, but the problem was that Handsome would become rattled after a spook and would be difficult for Valerie to get him to refocus again.
Valerie knew she and Handsome needed help with this and asked me to talk to him. I asked Handsome how he felt about his work as an event horse. He told me that he loved his work and took it very seriously. He showed me that he was very focused, especially when he was doing the cross country jumping. In fact, it was almost like he got tunnel vision — he was so focused on what was ahead of him, that things he saw out of the corner of his eye seemed to “come out of nowhere” at him. This inevitably startled him and caused him to spook.
I asked Handsome how Valerie could help him with this. Handsome gave me the image of coming up to a jump and being distracted by something in his peripheral vision. He next showed me his reaction to the distraction — raising his head and slowing his momentum — what horse people call “sucking back”. He told me that this was his way of asking Valerie, “Is it [the distraction] OK? Should we go on?”
When I told Valerie this, she laughed. She said Handsome had done exactly that coming up to a jump at their last show. At the time, she didn’t understand that he was asking her a question. She thought he was going to stop in front of the jump. I asked Handsome what Valerie should do when he “sucked back”. He showed me that, if the distraction was nothing to worry about, she should tell him, “It’s OK — keep going!” I suggested that she so this out loud, as well as thinking the words and feeling the “OK” part. Valerie said she could definitely do that and would do exactly that.
Valerie was also concerned because Handsome would get upset when the horse that came to the show/event with him in the trailer would leave for his/her turn to compete. When I asked Handsome about this, he said, “Sometimes they don’t come back.” I asked Valerie if Handsome had ever been at events when other horses had been injured and had not returned home. She said he had, although this had never happened to a horse Handsome trailer with. She said he had seen horses injured though, which explained why he was worried. I suggested to Handsome that the best thing he could do for his horse friend while his buddy was competing was to be calm and watch for him/her to return to the trailer.
The day after our conversation, Valerie took Handsome on a challenging ride to a hiking area with plenty of distractions and limited vision ahead on the trails. Handsome had lots of opportunities to practice asking, “Is it OK? Should we go on?” Valerie did what we discussed, saying, “It’s OK! Keep going!” Handsome did just that every time.
Valerie said the first time this happened was the best . . . They were trotting up a steep hill with bicycles, strollers and people on both sides at the top of the hill. That could have been a complete disaster and likely to rattle any horse. Valerie told me, “Handsome trotted boldly half way up the hill — then raised his head, sucked back and clearly asked, ‘Is it OK? Should we go on?’ I laughed out loud in surprise, told Handsome he was a good boy and “Yes, it’s OK — let’s go!” And they did!
Valerie reported that Handsome had no trouble using the same technique at the next show and the “pause” when he sucked back got shorter and shorter as the communication process about the distractions improved. Also, when his trailering buddy left to compete, Handsome watched her go and stood alertly, but quietly, until she returned.
“Thanks Sky — Handsome and I are getting better all the time!” — Valerie, CO.