I'm standing in a lush green field 2,211 miles from home. Birds chirping, trees rustling, bugs buzzing, tails swishing, and I'm standing with my eyes closed, my body still registering the in-flight vibration of the plane that delivered me that morning. I can't believe this is my office! A retired Standardbred stallion in his 20s is standing at liberty beside me, while my hand gently holds a bulging neck muscle that's doing an impressive impersonation of a small boulder.
It's a neat trick, really, using pressure and warmth to jam the nociceptor communication to the brain. In the realm of neuron communication, heat and pressure trump pain, and I play that card every chance I get. Often it's used to distract the body while you have to do something uncomfortable, but in this case I'm just giving his body a rest from what I'm guessing has to be years of chronic pain. Some unfortunate combination of his time as a cart horse, mechanical restraints, stress, stallion posture and hormones had caused his neck muscles to lock and seemingly petrify into an immobile mass. I open my eyes and look at my new four-legged friend. His eyes are closed, lower lip trembling.
I feel like a jerk for not understanding him better from the start. Focused on another horse I was meant to work on, he had been interrupting my massage work bumping my arm with his head, crowding me and the horse I was working on. I turned and faced him. "Listen buddy, you're in my space bubble", I said gesturing my invisible bubble parameters and having no idea that his name is actually Buddy. "Step back! I promise, you'll have your friend back soon." I stepped into his space and backed him up a step or two. Not moving a single hoof from where I placed him, he stood there patiently for half an hour watching and waiting. When his friend was done and moved off to go graze he remained in place watching me expectantly. The light dawned. He was asking for help.
Buddy is a rescue. After serving for more than a decade as a celebrated breeding stud, living in isolation and earning the farm a lucrative living, his breeding days were over and he had been discarded, scheduled to be euthanized along with an older brood mare. Word was passed to one of his former caretakers, a seasoned and practical horsewoman who was heartsick at the unfairness.
Horses aren't tissues. You don't throw them away when you're done using them.
A life time in the horse world had already demonstrated to her that you can't interfere in other people's horse business, and sometimes that reality is harsh. Stiff upper lip firmly in place, she was doing her best to go on with her work day until a staff member noticed her distress and asked what was going on. Word traveled on to Beverly Chapman, her boss, who instructed her to hook up the trailer and "go get those horses". She reportedly set all-time land speed records that day.
Despite Buddy's years of isolation as a supposedly "dangerous stallion", he's now the leader of a diverse little herd and understands his job perfectly: to keep a watchful eye on his herd, ever vigilant, the protector who keeps everyone organized and safe. When I return a couple days later, Buddy meets me at the gate with a nicker and waits patiently as I make the rounds before I return to work on him, carefully monitoring my location, the horses in the next pasture, the driving cart that passes a field away, and the arrival of the farrier. A friend who is observing my session fills me in on some details of his celebrated past as his knots slowly melt under my hand. "Really!" I exclaim, and look with wonder at the old gentleman I'm standing next to. His jaw is set stoically and you can still see the marks in the soft tissue across his nose where the stud chain rubbed for years, but his wise eyes soften and he lifts his head proudly. It's an honor to work on such a noble creature. I swear he stands a little taller when I take my camera out to get a couple of shots.
Buddy is just one of 35 rescues currently in Beverly's care, and they all have stories to tell and new lives to look forward to. Healthy lives with horse friends, big pastures to move in, close attention to their physical well-being and a guardian who values them for their stories, their personalities, their heart. Unlike many rescues, new home placement isn't the goal, though some will move on to a carefully vetted home. Many of them have jobs in Beverly's Connecting with Horse classes, and others will return to sport competition, but the ultimate goal is to allow these horses to have a comfortable home where they can be at peace and live up to their potential.
It's a beautiful new life.