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The Beast within

by Robyn Harris on 18th Aug 2018

Those of you who've been following this blog - or even who've just read last week's post - will be wondering what I meant by Dax's 'darker side'.  Let me start by saying that overall this boy is very sweet and he has a cheeky, playful, intelligent character, but as the weeks went by following his arrival here in Bristol he would occasionally show a 'grumpier' side, where he would suddenly turn round and threaten to nip.  This was usually more of a threat than anything else as he rarely made contact, let alone actually bite, but it made me wonder about what was going on inside his handsome head.

Then one day, one of the others at the yard, and her partner, were putting all the horses back out after we'd been putting up a track on the land.  (I'd had to leave a little before the work was finished and so I wasn't there to help with the turnout.)  Dax knows these people well as he sees them every day and up to this point there had never been a problem.  But that night, something was different. 

As the horses went down the lane and out into the field, Dax got separated from the others, so my friend went to gently steer him back towards the herd.  This guy is one of the nicest, quietest and most gentle guys I know, which made what happened next all the more upsetting when I heard about it later.  Dax suddenly spun round, ears flat against his head, teeth bared and started to charge.  Only the quick reactions of both people saved this lovely man from being attacked.

We have no idea what prompted this sudden - and frightening - shift, but it alerted us to the fact that this horse's behaviour can suddenly switch.  To me, it showed that he is still carrying scars from his past.  I didn't know what to do for the best.  People were advising me to send him back and my husband was afraid for my safety as, I have to admit, was I.  But at the same time I was worried for Dax.  I don't want him to be labelled as 'The Dangerous Horse' because I think that's often a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing fear in everyone and triggering the horse further.

I believe that our shadow side comes from our fears.  I therefore think that this sudden outburst from Dax came from fear, perhaps a triggered memory from his past.  We don't have much detail about his early life.  The stories are sketchy and uncertain but it seems that he was taken from his mother at 1 month of age and left to starve.  There was also a rumour of him being attacked with a hammer...

I also realised that it brought up my fear when I heard about what happened, and that I was bringing this feeling into our relationship and interactions.  This was only making Dax more unsettled and uneasy and I knew that things could spiral downwards from there.

My journal entry around the time said:

I think that generally Dax is troubled, confused, hurt, even angry at the changes that have happened in his life. Perhaps he was beginning to trust that he was in a stable place in his previous home, with [his owner] and his pair-bond horse, but we've changed all that...
I would love to just put him in a field with a herd, sit with him and observe him, to learn more about him and allow him the opportunity to explore and work things out for himself... but in a yard, there are routines and 'rules' which I don't think suit the place that he's in at the moment.
I feel that inside him is a beautiful, loving horse who wants to come out, but doesn't quite know how to trust enough to do that. I want to give him the space to find his way... but I'm worried that this might just be wishful thinking and I'm viewing him with rose-tinted glasses...

Others are suggesting things that just don't entirely resonate for me - moving of feet, dominance, that sort of thing. I've just finished reading Equus Lost and would love to interact with him as a cognitive, social, intelligent, sentient being. But I still need to keep myself safe, and also the others who interact with him (on the yard, plus of course farriers, dentists, vets etc.)
Using strong discipline, and 'dominance' theories, doesn't sit comfortably with me, but he definitely needs boundaries.  And perhaps this is a lesson he's come to show me, as I'll admit, my boundaries probably aren't as defined as they could be!

Following this, I made an effort to be more consistent with my boundaries around Dax, hoping that this would give him a structure that would help him to feel more settled and safe.  It helped a little, but I realised that I was still carrying quite a bit of fear and that this was getting in the way of our relationship. 

Fear is behind so many 'negative' emotions - the shadow side that we so often seek to hide from the world.

But what if we could view this another way and see our fears as needs that are not being met.  This would then allow us to explore ways to meet those needs, and would also allow us to develop greater awareness, compassion and empathy, both for ourselves and then for those around us, as we realise that any behaviour that we dislike in them is probably driven by their fear.

I decided to explore my fear to see what insight it might bring.  I wrote in my journal:

I think sometimes our wanting is so strong, and can have fear attached (of failure, or whatever) and this makes it difficult to see with clarity, perspective, balance and objectivity.  But we don't have to be perfect, or to do everything ourselves.  Animals bring us these lessons.  They push us to look into the dark, hidden, shadowy areas of our lives that we, as busy humans, often want to close our eyes to.  But in facing our fears and 'imperfections' we are set free.  This is the amazing gift that caring for animals offers us - to open our hearts, to liberate us and to teach us acceptance and unconditional love.

So my dilemma was, where should I go from here?

  • Is Dax really 'unsafe'? 
  • Can the ' beautiful, loving horse' within be encouraged to be brave enough to come out?
  • What would be the best way to work with him to give him boundaries while keeping myself safe and not feeding his fear?
  • How can I learn the lessons this is offering to be the best person for Dax that I can be?

I knew that one important step was to rule out pain from the equation as this can often be a cause of apparently 'angry' behaviour.  So I started by booking in a session with Helen Jacks-Hewett the McTimoney and Sports Massage therapist.

Next week I'll tell you what she found and how things have been progressing since then.