Updated: Apr 26, 2022
Darma Part 2 – The Chosen Path – 1997
Read Darma Part 1 here
Who are you? Darma and Kim at Boarding Stable, 1997
When one has experienced love at first sight, you would think that they would live happily ever after. What I didn’t realize is that spontaneous love means you have found a potential soul mate. It also means you have to get to know each other before that love can grow.
When my new horse arrived at the boarding stable I had arranged for her, I awaited her emergence from the trailer with great anticipation. When she refused to travel down the steep wooden ramp the reality of my situation started to dawn on me. My dream horse was a three-year old racehorse I knew nothing about who had just traveled three days nonstop across the country with strangers to become a pleasure horse three thousand miles from her home. Suddenly she was no longer an idealistic fantasy, but a frightened and exhausted thousand pound animal. After fifteen minutes of shoving she decided to leap off the ramp from three feet in the air, landing on all four of her stiff legs. This is how Darma made her entrance into my life.
Darma arrives stressed and underweight, February 1997
In the first few months I spent as much time as I could with her. I groomed her and led her around to graze and explore. I watched her trot alone and uncertain in the covered arena. She was well mannered and occasionally curious about her surroundings, but she spooked easily and often resisted my gentle training techniques. Her injured knee gave her a limp and at times pained her so I was busy with vets and farriers. The vet said she might not recover enough to be ridden. My concern was only that she be comfortable and happy.
All this time I was trying to learn about horse care and behavior but I was pretty much on my own. People at the barn would offer brief advice but I also got the feeling that I was alienated from them because of my inexperience and their judgment that I had no business owning an ex-racehorse. They were probably right, but their looks of disapproval only served to make me feel like an outsider when I really needed their support.
Darma running in arena, 1997
One day, I was trying to teach Darma to lunge calmly in a circle without spooking and dragging me across the arena. Whenever she got scared I would ask her to whoa and let her come in to me to calm her down. My trainer promptly informed me that in dressage “we don’t allow the horse to come in to the handler”. I have since realized that this trainer was just short sighted, but I began to associate traditional forms of training as limiting my hopes with restrictions rather than giving me tools.
I learned that she didn’t need to be led with a chain over her nose, which was how she was led as a racehorse. This only increased her anxiety. She was definitely stall bound, and didn’t know how to make friends with other horses. But likewise she was terrified of being alone and in an unfamiliar environment. This meant that being at a boarding stable was an unhappy place for her.
Darma trying to make friends
Six months after acquiring Darma we had just begun to get to know each other and she was beginning to get used to the routine, when we had an accident. I was allowing her to run in the outdoor paddock which was the only space where she was allowed at liberty. She was cantering towards me when her injured knee buckled under her and she went down on both front knees. I was so shocked and concerned I couldn’t think to react when suddenly she recovered her balance, but unfortunately the momentum of her continued motion brought her right to where I was standing in the corner of the arena. She tried to swerve to avoid me but her shoulder clipped me and I flipped backwards head over heels and landed on on my hands and knees. My first thought was that my head hurt, but when I tried to stand I realized my foot was even worse. I had fractured four bones in my foot. Darma came over to me, wide eyed and frightened. I tried to tell her it wasn’t her fault.
This event changed our experience in both good and challenging ways. On crutches for three months, I couldn’t lead her so I had to depend on the barn staff to let her in and out. I couldn’t balance on one leg and groom her in case she knocked me over. Scratching and petting her was one of the few things that we mutually enjoyed and I couldn’t even really do that. We were both frustrated. One day I stood at hear stall door and I told her verbally that I couldn’t be in her stall with her to scratch her, and if she wanted me to scratch her tail she was going to have to turn around and back up to the door so I could reach her. She didn’t skip a beat and promptly executed this complicated maneuver! This was the first moment it began to dawn on me that she understood what I was saying.
Darma with my mother Kay, who Darma adored
Several months went by and I thought I was getting somewhat used to being a horse owner when Darma started reacting to everything in extreme ways. She would rear when I went to retrieve her from the paddock she shared with another horse. She seemed to be in heat constantly and was very uptight. (I found out later from a racing trainer that mares off the track typically exhibit this type of behavior months later as their bodies release the toxins from all of the hormones they’ve been on.) I also discovered to my dismay that the barn trainer had been leading Darma in from her paddock with the stud chain without informing me. I was upset and in the wrong place, and I knew I needed help.
The worried look, 1997
I began to consult with a few different animal communicators. Animal communicators are intuitive who work with animals usually non-locally, to interpret and resolve behavioral issues. Each one gave me a piece of the puzzle. One woman named Sharon Callahan asked if I was having any life challenges at the time. She explained that horses can often reflect their person’s life issues. When I shared that Darma would spook and freeze in her tracks, she asked me if I was having any issues in my own life where I was afraid of moving forward. I admitted that I was going through a lot of personal challenges We began working on balancing this in Darma and myself using flower essences.
In time Darma began to settle down a little. I still didn’t know how to be safe with her when she was anxious, but I began trying to work around those times and I tried to figure out what was triggering them. I spent as much time as I could with her, and during those summer months, we had some rare times of peace when no one else was at the barn and I could just be with her without doing anything. I would hand graze her around the property, or let her wander around in the outdoor arena. In those private moments I began to dream of what it would be like to have a property of our own. Little did I know that Darma had every intention of leading us to our future home.
A rare and still moment, 1997
Read Darma part 3 here