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Being a Child

by Jerry Finch, Founder and President of Habitat for Horses

Back a zillion years ago the “ranch” existed in my backyard. At one point we had around 30 horses behind the house, and about half that many volunteers on a daily basis. One of them was a teenager who insisted that her mom had dragged her here, screaming and crying, to control her life. Probably so, because the girl had tried to commit suicide the week before. She was so heavy into the Goth subculture that her personality was black, and that aura certainly did nothing for her ability to interact with the horses. She pouted, stompted her feet, plopped down on teh picnic tale and refused and communication with anyone, dead or alive.

Until she met Nichol.

Nichol is a black and white pony who has been with HfH forever. As a result of her former owner slamming her so hard that her hip shattered, then locking her in a stall to die, she hobbles around on three legs and projects both hate and fear of every two legged animal she sees. She truly hates to be touched, which is the reason many of the volunteers did a double-take when we saw the rebellious teenager grooming Nichol. We stayed away, but kept a close eye on them as she gently and carefully brushed Nichol’s mane. Nichol stood quietly, without any halter, eyes closed, absorbing whatever was happening between them.

The teenager cried, hugging Nichol’s neck. That’s when her Mom came to stand beside her, and the teenager stood up, wrapped her arms around her Mom, and bawled like a baby. It was the turning point for that young lady’s life. A horse did what no amount of drugs or therapy could do. It was, to me, a miracle, and only reconfirmed my belief in the healing power of horses.

Let me tell you about another little girl who passed through my life a year of so later when we had moved all the horses to the ranch.


Far up in the hay pile, hidden behind a wet and mud covered horse, stood a little girl. Lead rope in hand, she led the horse across the road and into his pen. Gently, she let go of one end of the rope and coaxed the horse through the gate, running her small hand down his side as he passed her.

“You need to eat, now,” she told him. “I’ll get the other horses. You wait here.”

She was about as tall as his leg, yet her passion for the horses made her fearless. The horses lower their heads for her, walk carefully beside her and listen to her every word. Her movements are in rhythm with the horse, her breathing matches theirs, she flows from one side of them to the other without hesitation as they move with her. They are communicating in images, in soft, spoken words, in ways that perhaps only little girls and horses can understand.

Later, the big people, the adults, were gathered around the feed room. The little girl found no interest in the adult conversation. Instead, she talked with the horses as they ate, visiting each one, watching and learning their mysterious ways.

Some people pay thousands of dollars to learn how to communicate with their horse, yet they never cross the barriers. They look on the horse in awe, fascinated with the majesty, wanting so much to be a part of its world, yet never achieving the natural ability of a little girl with blond hair and muddy shoes.

“Look at her for a minute,” I tell a volunteer. “Watch Sarah talk to the horses, “ I tell another. “Do you see what she’s doing? Do you see how natural she is?”

Two people were taking a horsemanship class. Another was trying to lift a hoof to clean it. Another was secretly giving snacks. We’re teaching, learning, trying to do horse stuff, wondering if there is a better way to let the horses understand that we’re there to help them. One horse is resisting the halter, another is refusing to lift his foot, and two horses are getting mouthy over the smell of candy.

And Sarah was in the hay stack, talking to the horses. Twenty mouths surround her, chomping hay, listening to her every word. If she were two feet taller, I have no doubt that she’d halter every horse we have, never seeing a turned head. If she weighed fifty pounds more, she could lift every hoof with total ease.

Perhaps that’s what we’re missing. By coming into the horse’s world with the analytical mind of an adult, we’re destroying the natural flow of expression between living things. There are those who return to the flow, like the Birdman of Alcatraz and Jane Goodall, people who become well known for their ability to communicate with animals. Perhaps it isn’t a returning, for they might have had the ability as a child and carried it into adulthood.

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things,” the Good Book says. But wait, for Sarah sees as a child, acts as a child, and holds a horse that normally doesn’t like children. She guides and caresses and talks and the horses listen to her every words. Perhaps we don’t need to put away all our childish things. We can learn a lot from the Good Book, but we can also learn a lot from watching little girls with horses, and one of them is to remember what being a child was all about.

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13 replies »

  1. This is so beautifully written. How do you do it! It also reminds me about the “energy” that Cesar Millan (The Dog Whisperer) is always talking about. Calm, assertive! The lack of doubt and fear can be very powerful. And I think the ponies and horses recognize that.

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  2. 12-12-2009 If only the professed horse “trainers”, BLM, Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) was able to see the LIGHT about America’s wild horses/burros, the world would indeed be in harmony with the little girls and “the horse we rod in on” (MUSTANG).

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  3. Truly lovely, Jerry, just like so many of the things you write. I agree with your idea that the childlike communication ability isn’t a returning, it’s a never-left.

    I have suffered from Major Depressive Disorder all my life that I can remember. Sometimes, I feel as if I am truly losing it. But, all I have to do is go out and be with my horses, and it all goes away. We share something that I have never shared with any other living being, even the humans I love most.

    People that have never had serious clinical depression can’t really understand the pain. Horses understand perfectly. And their understanding and non-judgmental acceptance bring me back to what is real. In all honesty, I owe my sanity – such as it is ;o) – to horses.

    By the way – anyone notice that it’s snowing…

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  4. This has remineded me of a story my mother used to tell of me when I was just a toddler –

    we lived on a cattle and horse ranch. I wandered out to the corral one day that held a new stallion, a big “mean” stallion. And as my mother screamed and ran out of the house, just as the stallion was charging toward me, she said I was laughing the whole time, and he just stopped and lowered his head and I petted him. Then he just quitely walked away and allowed my mother came in to get me. WOW! I had not thought of that in years!

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    • not that i dont beleive your story,but that was EXTREMELY similar to the story thatKaty McLaughlin told in the movie Flicka…….just to let you know….but that has happened to me once……it was very scary but i was 7 and didnt know much about horse safety.teehee.

      ❤ LAKODA ❤

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      • The original Flicka? Have not seen the new one. No, this story is from my Mother long before the first Flicka, I think. Would have occured 1949ish, I was just a toddler, so of course don’t remember the actual event.

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  5. I am really, really enjoying the sharing of so many touching stories, please, keep the hits a rollin!!!

    And yes, Suzanne, it IS snowing, isn’t it…the magic of the season is a reality.

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  6. I had a pony stallion charge me once, which was my stupidity. My brother-in-law raised a palomino QH stallion who was so gentle. I never tried to ride him, but I checked on him at the boarding stable after they moved and had to make arrangements to get them moved. I would brush him and hug his neck. He wouldn’t move, and I felt so much better.

    This is definitely my go-to blog when I need a good cry.

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  7. Sorry, I got distracted by a previous comment and forgot what I wanted to say. That was a really good point about forgetting what we knew naturally and spending thousands of dollars to get it back.

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  8. I feel like there is almost no other animal in the World as good as a horse for all kinds of benefits, including health and well-being…

    when I was about 1 I would sit on the broad back of a Big beautiful black an white Appaloosa named Buttons, holding his mane b4 i could even walk, so horses were a part of my life from the start!! I wish they still could be, because sharing my life with and having a horse for my best friend, until i was about 13, i’m sure helped save my life….i had some sexual abuse going on, a brother that was part of that and who also kicked my ass pretty often, just because he could, and a step-granpa messin w’me…anyways, with things like that happening, oh yeah, my parents seperated when i was 5ish too, i could never count on my mom anyway and things were crazy elsewhere obviously….
    but luckily i got to stay w’my Dad, And my horse, GloryBe, she was a pretty welsh pony…and i was gone on her riding the s.e. side of the city as often as possible! living a whole new existence, off in my own little world with only the characters i chose to include, and i got to write the ending….usually me riding my horse off into the sun-set, to some other place i could right any wrongs i could…and i’d want to go ahead an try another day, instead of ending it for good because it Didn’t seem fair!! those horrible kinds of things should Never happen to a little girl!!! saddly not every little girl can’t have a horse in her backyard….

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  9. Gonna bring me to tears, J.T.
    Thank you for this. That line about never really coming into the horse’s world really struck me. I surely am in awe of their majesty, desiring so much to have what my friend Drew naturally has with them.

    Perhaps, some merciful day in the future, I can get just a little taste of what that is like.

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