When our big old man Diego came to us he was looking for a quiet retirement home where he could just roam the pasture, munch on grass or hay and simply enjoy the comfort of herd life. For most of his life Diego had been a competitive jumper, living in a stable in Beverly Hills (yes California) and travelling to jumping shows. It must have been quite a shock moving to Northern BC. He competed until he was about 14 years old and did quite well from what I am told. He moved to Canada to be used as a beginner jumping lesson horse when he was 17 or so. Diego knew his job and did it well. Anyone can ride this old boy, he is safe and will take care of even the most beginner rider.
Diego sometimes forgets he is an older gentleman and gets playing around in the paddock. One day, when he was 18, he got goofing around with the younger horses and injured a suspensory ligament in his hoof/pastern joint. This injury would ultimately end his jumping days. It also required a lot of extra care and months of stall rest to heal. No longer able to teach beginners to jump, he joined us here to become a reliable equine facilitated learning horse and welcome member of the Summersend Herd.
A few months after arriving here at Summersend Farm, Diego sustained a scratch to one of his eyes. As with many equine injuries, what exactly happened will forever remain a mystery. We worked to heal his eye with rinses, antibiotics and other healing drops. We were successful in healing the injured cornea, but the scratch went much deeper into the eye than even our wonderful vet suspected. Unfortunately, Diego developed an infection in the eye and we were left with only one option; to have the eye removed.
While the surgery healed, Diego again had to be kept in his own small pen, while the rest of the herd was free to run in the pasture. One day I had him out for a walk, the other horses had not had any close contact with him for at least a week. I was curious to see how he would react to them now that he had lost his sight on one side. The most amazing thing happened!
As I let Diego graze the other horses slowly inched their way closer to him. The first one to approach was Bullseye, Diego’s best friend and pasture companion. Bullseye approached us slowly, nibbling on the hay around us. He made his way closer and closer on Diego’s now blind side. Once Bullseye was close enough he gently nuzzled Diego’s muzzle. They continued eating together. Bullseye then lifted his head and ever so softly touched Diego where his eye had been with the tip of his nose, and then wandered off back to the herd. One by one each of the other horses did exactly the same thing. Slowly worked their way up to Diego, let him know they were there, brushed the spot where his eye had been and then went back to their own activities. It was as if they were saying it was ok, they would take care of him. Truly one of the most amazing experiences I have had with the herd.
The compassion shown by the herd that day is exactly the reason why I have chosen the path of Equine Facilitated Learning. Everyday we are faced with challenges in our lives, not everyone is understanding of where were are at that moment in time. The horses offer a safe place to share struggles, build skills to overcome the struggles and become more mindful of how to deal with struggles in our lives. The more mindful we become of how our thoughts and actions affect ourselves and those around us, the more we can develop compassion and acceptance for ourselves and for others. The confidence we gain in ourselves, once we know who we are is incredible. What Diego experienced that day was true acceptance by the herd. They offer the same, no strings attached, acceptance for you and I as well. Summersend Equestrian and Wellness aims to provide a program that is accepting and accessible to all who would benefit from it, and the unconditional care the herd offers.
Diego has recovered remarkably well from his surgery. Within two weeks he was back with his buddy Bullseye in the pasture. At first he experienced some anxiety in the larger pasture, but Bullseye was happy to show him the way. The two are inseparable, where Bullseye goes so does Diego. It took about six weeks for Diego to adjust to the new way of seeing things. He will tilt his head to bring his right eye forward so he can see things more clearly and he occasionally trips moving up or down a hill as his distance perception is different. We make sure he knows we are approaching on his blind side, but honestly he is often more aware of that side then he is of his sighted side. The big guy settled right back into the herd and is still the old man that runs the show just as he always has. With his large size, 17 hands, and being the oldest in the herd at 20, not many horses will try to question his authority. He takes us on short trail rides now and then, and holds a special place in my own heart. I like to think he loves his retirement home.