Updated: Apr 26, 2022
Read Part 4 of Darma’s Story here
Darma and Kim sharing a peaceful moment
I had made the decision to occasionally allow my mare Darma out of her paddock to wander freely in the back yard of our rental property, instead of hand walking her on a halter, as she was often tense and easily spooked. Looking back I realize that it was unrealistic to imagine this high spirited thoroughbred mare could be a “back yard” horse, but at the time I knew that Darma’s true happiness would be if we could be in a home environment together, something she had never had in her short life as a racehorse, and this was the home we had found so we tried to be creative.
Darma’s new freedom presented its own challenges. How was I to catch her without a halter when it was time to go in to her paddock? Grain was an attractive treat but it didn’t always work as a bribe. I learned to ask her to come in and then wait patiently until she made it her choice. Usually she did so in a matter of minutes. If she took longer, it was almost always a statement that I hadn’t let her be out long enough. It wasn’t her fault that I hadn’t set enough time aside when I chose to let her out. It was my responsibility to give her a fair amount of play time when there wasn’t a restriction involved.
I learned from animal communicators to give Darma choices and to never make her “wrong”. Her sensitivity was amazing and she was clearly always trying to do what she thought was the right thing. The more freedom I gave her, the less restricted she felt. Somehow this huge thoroughbred mare managed to trot daintily around our tiny back yard, with her goat friend Tess nearby, and nibble on grass and plants, and drink out of the little stone fountain by the deck, or out of the hose if we happened to be watering. If she got frisky she managed to avoid us, or Tess, or our aging dog Poika, doing pirouettes in place, and never kicking or doing anything dangerous. She was clearly happy, and our beautiful little rental house started to feel like home.
After over a year of allowing Darma out to graze and exercise, I thought things were working out beautifully until one day when the landlord drove up her adjoining driveway while Darma was peacefully grazing and stopped to “say hello” over the fence. I took a deep breath and greeted her. She had previously forbade me to allow Darma loose on the property, and I had disobeyed her rule. By now I knew she had realized that we were letting Darma out and she hadn’t commented, so I knew she would likely do so now. We chatted for a moment until Darma picked up her head, snorted, and approached at a brisk walk. At the fence she suddenly tensed, wheeled, and took off at a gallop around the house. “Oh Darma”, I thought, “this is the worst time to be doing that!” Just as I had predicted, the landlord said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea that you let Darma out loose, she will damage the lawn.” My heart sank to the pit of my stomach. I explained that we were in the process of restoring what little damage Darma did while building an extension to her existing paddock. In the meantime it was difficult to restrict her to the small paddock all of the time. I knew this wasn’t the ideal property for a horse, but Darma was a horse I couldn’t ride –and there was no where to ride safely anyway.
All this time Darma was galloping around the house. A few times she even ran up to the fence and reared. I didn’t understand her behavior but she was clearly upset. I excused myself, saying, “I need to calm her down, I don’t know what’s gotten into her.” As the landlord slamed her car door and drove away I experienced that sinking feeling of inevitability that comes when one knows there is no turning back. Darma ran to the edge of the fence and snorted again, and I suddenly realized that her behavior was protective and territorial rather than fearful. She felt my tension and had acted toward the landlord as an intruder.
Darma respecting the frail rope and wire fence
I realized at that moment that my frustrations with the landlord’s control was symbolic of the control I had attempted to have over Darma. Just as I had haltered Darma with an attitude of not trusting her, so my landlord restricted our use of the property with an attitude of not trusting us. If she had given us more freedom we would have stayed there for a long time and benefitted the environment immensely as we already had, but because of the tension it was now apparent that we were in the wrong place. After years of having Darma at boarding stables, and now a rental, I was tired and frustrated by the lack of freedom we felt.
I believe that life is full of lessons if we choose to take risks to achieve our dreams. I wanted to live a full life with Darma and my experiences with her were teaching me that she often acted as a metaphor for things that I needed to learn about myself. Concepts such as independence, freedom, and happiness were being reflected back to me by her presence in my life. In this case, Darma had made the issue of living under a controlling landlord clearly unbearable. In time I probably would have reached this conclusion on my own, because the issue with Darma wasn’t the only one we had faced. But now it was imperative, I didn’t want to live with that tension any longer. We all needed more freedom. We began to look for a new home.
Darma, Free Spirit
Read Part 6 of Darma’s Story here