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A Horse Called Hendrix

Finding a Lost Horse 


I first heard about a stray horse on our farm on a weekend when we were out of town. My partner (Emily) and I were 4 hours away in a town known for it’s casinos called Tunica, Mississippi. Our farm is located 45 minutes from Nashville, Tennessee and it’s called Avalon Farms.

We had left for a weekend to eat big buffets and mindlessly push buttons on a slot machine. I was in total grief after making the decision to have my beloved gelding Sirocco, put down. He was suffering from a severe case of laminitis complicated by EPM. After almost a month of trying to save him, I knew I couldn’t put him through anymore. I called the vet and waited while I held his head in my lap and said goodbye.

We left town on Friday after burying him down near the creek and it was the next morning when a boarder called to tell me that there was a horse running around the hay field that wasn’t one of ours. Trail riding that day, she had said, they came through Johnson Creek into the hay field and there was a horse running around.

Hendrix on his first day in captivity.

Hendrix on his first day in captivity.

We came home the next day and I went over to the hay field with a bucket of grain to see if it was still there. I didn’t see any sign of it but left a pan with horse feed by the creek. The next morning when I returned I noticed the feed dish was empty. I put some more feed in it, and across the field, a dark-colored horse stepped out of the tree line. He was hundreds of feet away from me but as I took a few steps in his direction he turned the other way.
I left and went back to the barn to hatch a plan. It was obvious he was not going to let me anywhere near him so how could I catch him? I put the forks on the tractor’s front-end loader and hauled a dozen coral panels over to the hay field. The feed pan was right where I had left it and it was empty again. I spent the next hour setting up a 50’ round pen along the creek. I opened two panels and set the feed dish inside. I went for more feed and this time when I put feed in it, the horse came out of the tree line and walked toward me. He stopped about 50 yards away. I left and went back to the barn. On the 3rd day, I filled the feed pan and stood off to the side waiting for him to come closer. Slowly he made his way all the way inside the pen and began to eat. With the help of a friend I had brought along, we each quickly shut the open panels and secured them. This is the story of happened next…

Where Did He Come From?

I was very happy we had successfully penned him. Thank you, Gwendy for helping me put up the pen and close him in. If I tried to than small cuts and
scrapes he looked ok. He was very thin and his mane was full of burrs. He was intact and though still a yearling…fully capable of approaching the sides of the panels, he ran circles high on adrenalin. I eventually used an approach and retreat just to fix the water bucket to the panels and put feed and salt block in there. He acted as if he had never been handled. I figured he was born in a pasture somewhere nearby and no one handled him. I took his picture for a “found horse” sign and called Dickson County Animal Control to see if anyone had reported a missing horse.

I put a flyer up at the Ridge Market and the feed store, left my number with animal control and posted on craigslist. I talked to my 80-year-old neighbor whose land butts up to ours. He said he didn’t know anything about a missing horse. I never heard from anyone from the flyers or internet post.

I put a flyer up at the Ridge Market and the feed store, left my number with animal control and posted on craigslist. I talked to my 80-year-old neighbor whose land butts up to ours. He said he didn’t know anything about a missing horse. I never heard from anyone from the flyers or internet post.

NoteAfter Hendrix had been with us for about a month, I ran into that neighbor again and mentioned the horse. He admitted that yes it was on his farm and some guy had sold two horses for a dollar each. They had dumped them in with my neighbor’s cows. He said the other one was missing too. I’m guessing it was Hendrix’s mother but I never found her. They must have broken through his fences and wondered onto our farm. My neighbor said, “you want him?” I said, “No! I have mares and he’s a stallion…”
“Well, call animal control then…” and he walked away.

Hendrix eating

This was taken in the hay field just before Gwendy and I built the round pen to catch him. I put food out for 2 or 3 days and Johnson Creek is wide enough that he didn’t want to cross it. The other horses were across the creek and about 1/2 mile away so he stayed in the hay field. Our farm is not near any roads and other houses and surrounded by hills so it was a great set up to keep him there until I could pen

I brought the water and I brought the feed. That soon became a big plus in my favor. He started to look for me and walked toward me although not quite close enough to touch. The draw of eating and drinking was too strong in the end and he finished his meals with me sitting 2’ away.


Before I could touch Hendrix I had to build his confidence and trust.
I have been a student of Parelli Natural Hosemanship (currently finishing level 3) and I knew I needed some more information. Pat had just released a colt starting DVD which turned out to be very helpful. During the taming process there were days when I’d watch a segment on the dvd and then go out to the hay field to try it out. I also bought a dvd by Ray Hunt. I spent hours online searching colt starting, taming wild mustangs etc.
I took some duct tape…(that works for everything doesn't it?) and wadded up a ball of it and taped it on the end of a long cane pole (non-sticky side out). That became one of my “tools.” The 22’ line was useful too and the first thing I took with me when I stepped inside the round pen with

Consistency Was Key

One of the things I learned from
the colt starting dvd’s and my research, was been consistent was really
important. I think it was key. Almost every day for the next year I spent at
least one hour out of my day with Hendrix.
But, back to that first hour…
When I walked in I walked toward
the center holding my 22’ line. Hendrix paced nervously and pressed toward a
panel. I backed further away to take the pressure off and turned my body so i
wasn't facing right at him. After awhile, I started to swing the rope above my
head and he took off running around me and looking toward the outside. As soon
as he put his eye on me… I quit swinging the rope and turned my back to him. As
soon as he turned away or started looking outside the pen…I raised my arm and
started swinging it again above my head. He would run again and as he tired he
turned his head toward me and I quit.

Hauling water to Hendrix in the hay field. 

When I turned away from him and
started to walk away, he took a step toward me. I knew something was happening.
He was figuring out how to get me to stop swinging the rope! This was our first
communication and to this day I can walk into the arena, a paddock or the pasture
and swing my lead line and he will turn and walk over to me.
I took the cane pole with the wad
of duct tape on the end and used it to touch his withers from some distance
away. I used approach and retreat and between that and drawing him in with the
swinging the rope mentioned earlier…He finally sniffed the back of my hand and
allowed me to touch him. I was elated that day….
This was a big step when he stood still and let me touch him all over with my carrot stick. This is also the best picture I have that shows his body condition. By this time I had accessed that he was under 2 year old because his teeth still looked like baby teeth. He also 
was indeed still a stallion. Winter was approaching and he wasn’t anywhere near
ready for a vet to come geld him….

Red Alert…Flood!

Before I had a chance to halter Hendrix, I learned of a hurricane in the gulf that was predicted to come inland and eventually bring lots of rain to Tennessee. Hendrix’s roundpen was right next to Johnson Creek and it always came out of its banks and flooded half the hay field when we had over 4” of rain. I had to either move him or let him go.
There was no way I could get him haltered and lead him to safer ground. I guess you could say I was in a quandary…
We have this friend, Vickie, who is
able to simplify things. She’s very practical. Always good to have someone that sees things this way. When we told her the dilemma she said “why not move the pen with him in it?” I said, “But Vickie it’s 12 panels…it’s a 50’ round pen…” and she asked the most brilliant question of all…”well, can’t you make it smaller?”
I called in the troops and 5 of us moved Hendrix inside a 5
panel pen across the hay field to higher…dry ground. Emily, Lynn, Deb and
Brenda and I each took a panel. We herded him to one side of the larger pen and closed him in to the small enclosure. Once we started walking with it, he
turned in circles inside and when we set it down to rest, he would start to
graze. I knew it was going to work… we got him all the way across the field
next to the tree line on the other side and up on a rise. He was on dry ground. He had no cover though and I knew once the river flooded I wouldn't be able to get to him until it came back down which could be days….I had more work to do to prepare…
I stayed with Hendrix while the others went back to get the rest of the panels and move them with the Tractor.
So now he was set up on dry ground
and I put a round bale in the pen for him and moved in a larger water trough so
he could have plenty of hay and water for days in case I couldn't get back to
him for awhile. I could see the pen from the other side of the creek so I would
be able to at least check him and see that he was up if I couldn't cross. In an
emergency, there is a back entrance to the farm but it involves trailering a 4
wheeler about 5 miles and then driving it through some horse trails…or trailering
a horse and riding down the ridge. Hopefully, that wouldn't be needed. If I
could set him up right, he’d have everything he needed to wait out the storm.
Now, my mind turned to how to get him some kind of shelter to get under and out
of the wind and rain. It had to be strong enough to hold up in the bad weather
headed our way.
It was cool to see the bond getting
stronger. He came to the gate when I drove up. I brought a second water trough
so he would have plenty of water to last. The rain would help keep them full
I brought the horse trailer over
the creek to his pen and lashed the panels on either side really good. I
blocked both wheels on each side. I filled the inside with fresh hay and opened
it up. He went in on his own within a few hours. He also ate the padding on the
butt bar but that’s another story :-)
Mission accomplished for now…we
went back to preparing the rest of the farm for the storm. We did indeed have a
flood and it was 3 or 4 days before I could cross the creek and get back to
Hendrix. When I drove up he stuck his head out of the horse trailer and jumped
out. He trotted over to the gate to meet me and happily ate the grain I had

Preparing For The Halter

After the weather calmed down and I
could drive through Johnson Creek, I filled the car with training tools and
took them to the hay field. I brought a tarp , my Parelli big green ball, a
plastic barrel, a pillow case full of aluminum cans, a tarp, a cooling blanket,
more traffic cones, my 45’ line and a big beach towel. I also brought a green
rope halter and 12’ lead line. I put them all inside the front tack room of the
horse trailer.
Fall was here and the leaves were
changing color. I wanted to get him gelded and The vet said he didn’t want to
lay him down if it was colder than 50 degrees. The nights were already dipping
down to freezing and it was in the 50’s & 60’s in the day. I knew we were
running out of time. I had to get him haltered and calm enough to give him a
shot in the neck.
After the flood it took days for
things to dry out. I needed a second round pen to play with him in as his was a
Since I already had to make a new
pen to play with him in…and I had enough panels…why not make a 3rd pen and
bring a friend over for him? I brought my quarter horse Grayson over and set
him up in a pen right next to Hendrix. Since Hendrix was still a stallion they
were separated but they could play over the tops of the panels and touch noses.
Horses are herd animals and it’s worrisome to have one alone.
So with 3 roundpens, one horse had
turnout into 2 pens 12 hours a day and then the other. Whoever had access to
both roundpens, had access to the horse trailer for shelter. I needed to find a
way to get them both shelter all the time before winter arrived.
Another picture from the storm that
kept me from getting to Hendrix. this is Johnson Creek out of it’s banks and
too high to drive through. The hay field he was in is on the other side.
A satellite image from google earth of the farm, showing the
hay field and the three roundpens where Hendrix and Grayson spent those first
months. Johnson Creek is on the far right side of the frame.
My daily sessions with Hendrix were
paying off and this day was so special. It was the first time he let me pet
him. How it happened was I walked toward his hindquarters which made him turn
and face me. I turned my back to him and took a few steps away. I stood there
while he took a step toward me and then another. I reached my hand behind me
and he sniffed it. I turned 1/2 way around so I wasn't facing right at him and
offered the back of my hand again. He started rubbing his lips on my hand kind
of weaving his head back and forth. When he stopped I moved my hand to his
shoulder. He stood still. I inched my way to his withers and rubbed lightly. I
turned and walked away. He followed me around the pen.
We did this a few more times and
then I just reached up and touched his neck and his jaw. He stayed each time
and looked at me. I think he held his breath but he didn’t leave. I walked
toward his tail and he turned and faced again. I walked off…he followed.
Something changed in him that day. I felt like this is what I hear natural
trainers call “Join up.” I didn't push or pull…I drew him in. Draw is very
I remembered Pat Parelli talking
about how a foal mirrors the mother and does what she does at her side. I
“suggested” that he follow me and he did. There was a limit to how long he
could stay “with” me and he’d run off to the other side of the pen…but we were
making progress and each time he took off I would fall in line directly behind
him until he turned to look at me. As soon as he did I stopped, turned and
walked away. Soon he’d be following me again.
not only did he stay for this…he
let me take a picture of it with my cell phone


Preparing For Winter

Winter was beginning to show signs
that it was on the way. The leaves were off the trees and a few light frosts
had killed off most of the grasses. My garden was a distant memory. I had to
build more shelter for Hendrix and Grayson.
I took my jump poles which were 4”
PVC pipes 12’ long and rope and tarps from an old 10x20 tent that was in the
barn. I lashed the poles to the coral panels and then tied cross pipes up top
to help hold the roof tarp up. Then I draped the 20’ piece over the top and
tied it down to the panels with baling twine. It lasted through 2 or 3 storms
and held until I was able to move both horses across the creek. It wasn't too
pretty but it did the job.


Unbeknownst to me, a few fence
lines in the gelding pasture came down when the flood happened. Three of the
geldings found it and got loose. They crossed the creek and went into the hay
field. There they found Grayson and Hendrix. I threw some hay out for them and
let them hang out for a while before putting them up and fixing the fence.
Hendrix had great fun playing with them over the panels.

Diet & Weight Gain

Good food and regular feeding time were beginning to pay
off. Hendrix was beginning to fill out and his coat had a healthier sheen to
it. I had managed to cut some of his mane off that had been so full of burs and
tangled. I started very slowly with a 12% mixed grain from the co-op and
gradually added a second afternoon feeding. I added a multivitamin supplement.
Later I switched him over to Purina Stategy which he is still on.

Introducing The Halter

I was wanting to move forward with
his training because I was still hoping to get him gelded before the dead of
winter set in. The flood had set me back and trying to build some shelter too.
My goal was to spend an hour with him every day and to introduce one new thing
to him each day. That last part was a challenge. Many times I went back to my
Parelli DVD’s and youtube to get ideas.
I first used the halter as a
rubbing tool. I wadded it up in my hands and rubbed him all over with it. Then
I draped in on his neck, back, head and hung it off his ears. I pretended to
put it on his butt and he turned and faced me…I gave him a treat and held it
open near his face.
We played put your nose in
here…until he did and then I massaged his face with in and walked away. I was
still using draw with him alot and narrowing it down to just his head…
I would stand on his left side and
back toward his hind end holding the halter open until he tilted his head
toward me. I would praise and stop when he did. Today he flexes really good and
I think this exercise helped. I also started massaging his mane and inching my
fingers up to his pole. The second he dropped his head I took my hand away. My
end goal was not just to put a halter on him but to have him lower and turn his
head to me whenever I touched his neck up near the top (his pole).
The last thing he needed to know
about haltering was giving to pressure. He needed to feel that lead line
pulling on his head. I was nervous to attach the 45’ line to him because of my
inexperience. Instead I used the 12’ line and draped it over his neck without
tieing. I used it to teach him to flex his head when he felt the pressure.
Inches counted. If he moved a hair I rewarded it. It was time to put the halter
Hendrix Haltered for the first time

Baby Steps

Once I was haltering him for a few
days it was time to attach a lead line. I had him following a feel both
directions with just the lead draped over his neck. Would he transfer it to my
pulling on his head through the lead line or panic? Time to find out…
I hooked the 12’ line on him and
turned to walk away. I slowed so he wouldn't feel pressure right away on the
line. He followed behind me. So far so good but he didn't know “we were
attached” yet. I was hoping I didn't get a “learn burn” because I didn't want
to wear gloves. We went all the way around the pen. I turned and started back
the other way. The lead went tight. He froze. Ah this is different!
I could see his wheels turning by
his expression. I held the back of my hand out and gave him a rub. I walked out
to the end of the rope and walked sideways so he would have to take a step to
the right. He took a forward step. Yes! I walked back and practiced flexing
which he already understood. Good boy! I took the halter off and gave him a
The first days were baby steps like
this. Ask…allow and praise…then go back to something he knows and quit on a
good note. These were the building blocks.
 Big Green Ball
 lead line and cones
Grooming time became a starting
point in our sessions. I used the brush to move over more areas of his body. I
used approach and retreat and always went back to the shoulders or withers if
he lost confidence. I also later used a wooden back scratcher and a hand
vibrator. The sound was also good because later when I shaved his bridle path
it wasn't much of a deal at all. Pat Parelli says “if they’re scared of
pigeons…get ‘em used to eagles.” I threw a towel over his back and took it off.
He spooked in place but didn’t move his feet…hmmmm….might there be a left brain
under this wild facade? I was beginning to think so.

Bye Bye Family Jewels

Sometime between Halloween and
Christmas when I was a kid, growing up in Massachusetts, we had what they
called “Indian summer.” Things would be getting cold and raw and windy and then
all of a sudden we’d have 2 or 3 days of sunshine and temperatures in the 50’s
& 60’s. Everyone would run outside and play.
Here in Tennessee we don’t get
really harsh winters like that of my childhood but it was freezing at night and
40’s in the daytime. The vet said he couldn't geld Hendrix unless the
temperature was over 50 degrees. I checked the forecast and it was going up in
the 60’s for 2 days. I called the vet and made an appointment.
The vet arrived with an assistant
and twitched Hendrix while giving him a shot in the vein in the neck. Hendrix
never moved his feet. Within minutes he was down on the ground and out. I had
hoped to prep him enough so the twitch wouldn't be necessary but when the vet
came he wanted to go into a vain in the front of the neck above the chest. I
had been practicing with a tooth pick in the neck and getting him to flex
toward me. Hendrix was gelded in the round pen in our hayfield and while
he was down he got his vaccines and I picked his hooves out thoroughly and
treated him for thrush.
The whole thing was done and he was
back on his feet in 20-30 minutes. I read that hormones stay in the body up to
a month after gelding so we were down to 4 more weeks in the hayfield before he
could come join the herd that was on the other side of the creek.

 Hendrix healed great and we were
back to our schedule a few days later but  no running around for a few
weeks. I didn’t have running water so I used 
betadine to wash any debri away
from the surgery site. Once he figured out what I was doing he wouldn’t allow
any follow ups but I got the site good once. 

I went back to trying to play with
him from his right side. I stood in zone 1 near his head on his left side and
bringing my arm under his head I moved i until I was on his right side. I
didn’t move my feet. I worked my way slowly backwards until I stood in zone 3
and then 4 by his hindquartes.
I put towels and pads and ropes and
jackets on his back. I drove his hindquarters and his forehand and kept it
quiet so he wouldn’t bolt. I discovered I couldn’t hold him if he did bolt. My
power position was useless. I had a young horse on my hands that was getting
stronger every day. I had no idea how I was going to move him from where he was
to the horses aver 1/2 mile away. I kept playing friendly game, driving game
and porcupine game with him.

Last Days in Exile

As Hendrix was recovering from
surgery I made sure to move him about even though he was sore. The vet said it
would keep the swelling down for him to walk around. I started to play with him
at liberty with the carrot stick. I went to his hindquarters (zone 4) and
playing the driving game, moved him over as he crossed over his back feet. I
did everything on each side. The right side took more time because he was still
protective of it and I had to “work my way over there.” I found if I rubbed him
with the carrot stick in zone 2 and then 3 he would let me stand in zone 4. I
had to maintain contact in order to get there.
I played lots and lots of friendly
game there before driving him over on that side. I did lots of moving his feet
(just one step at a time at first) Forward…back…step over both ways…all the
time careful not to send him off. I wanted him to stick to me but listen and
Once we had that going for us I
started hooking up the lead line and pulling his head around this way and
that…a quick tug and release. When he pulled back I tried to quickly release my
fingers so he didn’t have anything to brace against. I’m proud that in all my
time working with him I only got one rope burn…”learn burn” as Pat says…and I
never once wore gloves. Without protection for my hands from the rope I was
more aware of how tight I held it and I wanted to have hands that closed slowly
and opened quickly.
If he got scared and bolted I
couldn’t hang on to him. I went to the 22’ line after he did it a couple of
times. It wasn’t any better. He would tuck his head move his energy into his
shoulders and spin around. I lost confidence that I would be able to lead him
back across the creek to the other horses. When it was time to move him and
Grayson I was going to need help. He was healing up and time was ticking away.
Soon we could be in the first field where there was an arena and round pen and
running water…and friends.
I needed to start teaching him to
load in a horse trailer and I needed to call someone with two
things…experience…and a stock trailer. I would call JR when I got home.
Winter had come to Avalon Farms. I
had to dump snow from the roof the makeshift shelter so it wouldn’t collapse.
It took climbing to the top of a 6’ coral panel while holding on to the PVC
pole and with one arm, taking a broom with the other hand and pushing the snow
off the tarp. Somehow, Hendrix and Grayson managed to stand right under the
spot I was aiming for. They would come over to investigate and nibble on my
boots. I called it my “snow dance” as I held on for dear life, protected my
toes and swept the snow onto their heads. If they were the nibbler I took some
pleasure in it I confess.
Three weeks after Dr. Thomas
castrated Hendrix, I called JR and hired him to come to the farm and help me move Hendrix to the first field where the other horses were. I had hired him in the past to work with some of my other horses, including Dolly (pictured above) and Grayson and my gelding Sirocco. In addition to colt starting and working with problem horses, JR occasionally transported horses. He had a hand built custom stock trailer with a nice wide entrance.
I set up a time with him to come the following week on a day that looked sunny and mild. I went back to playing with Hendrix and teaching him to squeeze between me my 4 star trailer parked at the round pen. I kept the back door closed initially. At first I stood a good distance from it opening the gap for him. When he got half way through he sped up and pushed past the “squeeze.” I cued his hind quarters with the carrot stick and he spun around and faced me eyes wide and breathing heavy. We did this every day until he could walk calmly through a 2 foot gap between me and the trailer, turn and face me and wait.
When he could walk past me calmly both ways I opened the door to the trailer and proceeded to do the same exercise in front of it. He was better going to the left because going to the right put me on his off side…the one he had protected so long. The same was true with the circle game. Even though my feet stayed still…as he went by I was in zone 3, 4, & 5 and he didn’t want me there. I think doing this squeeze game at the trailer every day helped him in more ways than just getting in JR’s trailer. It helped him get used to my being on his right side in zone 4.
The morning of the move I drove to the hay field and haltered Grayson. I had a few hours before JR arrived with the trailer and I needed to move Grayson back to the first field too. I’m sure he was quite happy about that too.
It was chilly but sunny and in the 60’s so I walked him through Johnson Creek and up the road to the arena in the first field. I heard Hendrix behind me calling out to him. As we walked past the gelding pasture, several horses came running up to greet us at the fence line. Excitement was in the air.
My left brain extrovert was stepping in place but he stayed right with me as we walked up the dirt road. I let him go in the gelding paddock and he took off to find the herd. I looked at my watch. JR was due in about 30 minutes. I needed a ride back to Hendrix unless I wanted to wade through the creek again. My feet were soaked and I had dry socks and boots in my car. I hiked up to the sign post and waited to hitch a ride.
Hendrix was used to getting in and
out of the trailer parked in the round pen. It was shelter from the wind and
rain and full of fresh hay…..and it didn’t move. Today was the day he would
ride in JR’s trailer through the creek, up the road to the arena and other
horses. It was the end of living in the hay field.
JR pulled up on schedule and drove
me back to my car and Hendrix. He parked his rig a hundred feet from the round
pen safely out of the mud. I walked to the round pen and put a halter and lead
rope on Hendrix who was watching us intently. I explained to JR that I had not
taken Hendrix out of the round pen yet because if he bolted I couldn’t stop
him. I handed the lead rope to him and watched them both quietly walk all the
way to his trailer across the field. When I walked up to them JR looked at me
and smiled. “You’ve done really good with him.” He said.
His trailer had a ramp which was a
new thing for Hendrix. I really think he would have walked right on if his foot
didn’t feel that and make a hollow thud when he stepped on it. He balked and
stepped back snorting. I was a little nervous. What if we couldn’t load him?
What if he got away from JR? I stood back and watched JR doing his trailer
loading lesson.
After several attempts he asked me
to bring a fence panel over. By now he had Hendrix putting 3 feet on the ramp.
I carried a panel to the trailer and we lashed one side of it to the trailer so
we could swing it around and shut it up as a gate. JR led Hendrix up the ramp
and asked me to start closing it behind him. They went in and I shut it. JR
stepped out and tied it off before raising the ramp. Hendrix looked out at me
and I pet his nose. He nickered. JR hopped in the truck and I followed in my
car. Hendrix circled and then steadied his stance as we drove away from a
chapter in this young horse’s life. 
As JR pulled the rig around the
round pen in the first field, a dozen horses trotted and nickered in the
surrounding paddocks. They know when someone’s coming or going and excitement
was in the air. Hendrix nickered back.
There is one paddock that has horse
fence up and the rest are all electric lines. Hendrix would have to be taught
what that was so for now he was going in the paddock on the end with the wire
fence. I left it to JR to unload him and lead him to it. He quietly walked off
the trailer though his eyes were wide and his head high.
JR took his halter off and walked
back out of the paddock. Hendrix ran to the fence to meet the others. I paid JR
and thanked him for his help and we stood and watched him with his new friends
over the fence. He ran to this one and that one, sniffing and snorting and a
few squeals thrown in too. Horses are herd animals. To isolate them in a stall
or a paddock all alone is not good for them. It’s totally against their nature.
Their very survival is dependent on the herd and they are very social animals.
I hated for him to be alone in the hay field and that’s why I brought Grayson
over. I couldn’t bring him around the other horses though until he was gelded
and had all his shots.
with him situated now, I went back to the hay field and got about 8 panels from
the round pen there and brought them back to the first field. Hendrix’s new pen
was about 35’ from our regular round pen. I set the coral panels up as a lane
from his paddock to it, so I could open his paddock door and drive him into it
for our lessons. I still didn’t trust him not to bolt and pull out of my hands
to lead him. That would have to wait a bit longer.
The first day in his new home I put
a buddy in with him. Pete is a 12 1/2 hand haflinger. He’s my driving
horse and he’s a left brain introvert. They played dominance games all
afternoon but when it was all said and done, that little dynamo was the boss.
Hendrix stepped back and let him rule.
While he settled him, I went back
to the hay field and took apart the round pens and tent shelters and moved the
horse trailer back to the first field. I sat at the kitchen table and wrote out
a daily session plan for the next week and watched Pat Parelli’s colt starting
DVD again.
I know some experienced horse
trainers might look at this and think “my God is she slow…” but I was learning
as I went along and my biggest fear was that I would somehow screw him up. He
was a clean slate and I knew how rare that was. I don’t think he’d ever been
handled before I came along and so everything I put in his brain was his
interpretation of humans and how to behave around them. I learned a lot from my
library of Parelli DVD’s and a book about “feel” by Bill Dorance. I found
several sites online from natural horse trainers and I remembered somethings
from past clinics with Pat, Monty Roberts and others.
Now that I had Hendrix with the
other horses, there was a great sense of relief. I knew he couldn’t be stranded
across Johnson Creek or left without shelter if the wind took the tarp down. I
had decent footing this round pen and soon I would have use of the covered
arena. I still didn’t trust that he wouldn’t bolt online though so leading him
from the roundpen to the arena would have to wait.
I’d give him a day off to get
settled in but soon school would begin again in ernest. We wound up working
through most of the winter. After feeding the rest of the horses and him, I
would herd him into the roundpen and close him in. We played the 7 games until
he could do each one, we played with the big green ball, the tarp, saddle pads,
pool noodles, raincoats & umbrellas, plastic barrels, cones and 12’ PVC
I went back to the DVD’s at night
and tried what I watched in the day with him. He began to enjoy our sessions
and wait for me at the gate. I still had him get to round pen from the ally I’d
made but I was beginning to prepare him for walking to the arena by playing the
squeeze game between two barrels. I wanted to know he would pass through a 4’
gate and not pull back. I knew I was making progress with him and the bond was
There were lots of milestones along
the way and this was one big one. Before putting a saddle on him, I put this
bareback pad on and buckled it tight so it couldn’t slip under his belly. One
big squeeze game around zone 3 and he did great.
I prepared him for it with lots of
friendly game (rubs) under his belly and the back of his legs. I put the 22’
lead line over his back until it draped and hung down on his off side. I
practiced bending and reaching for it under his belly until he stood still.
Each time he moved as I stooped I put him back it the same spot and tried
again. Finally, I made a loop and a knot in one end of the line and after reaching
under him for the other end, I threaded it through the loop and pulled it snug
around his girth area. I let it go slack…I pulled it tight. After it appeared
to be no big deal anymore, I took the lead line off and put the bareback pad
on. I reached under him rubbing the back of his legs along the way and pulled
the girth under and buckled it all the way. I took his halter and lead off and
stepped away sending him off by slapping my thigh.
He trotted off around the round pen
with head high but he didn’t buck. He stopped and brought his head around to
his midsection to investigate. I picked up the carrot stick and gently threw
the string over his back as I’d done hundreds of times. He stopped and walked
up to me. I offered the back of my hand for him to sniff and gave his forehead
a rub. I unbuckled the girth and removed the bareback pad. He spooked in place
when the girth came across his back but he didn’t move his feet.
I gave him a horse treat and left
him to think about things while I went up to the house for some lunch.
This was also the day when I
dewormed him for the first time. I had been putting the wormer in his feed up
to this point but for the last week I had been feeding him sweet things out of
a large syringe minus the needle. I tried molasses, apple sauce and watered
down cake frosting. The latter was his favorite. He learned to reach for it and
take part of it in his mouth. That afternoon it was the real thing smattered
with icing. As he took it in his mouth, I pushed the plunger and filled his
mouth with ivermectin. He pulled back surprised spitting the tube out and
staring at me. I reached in my pocket and offered him a piece of apple. He
stood with his lips on it but refused to open his lips. It felt a little like I
betrayed him but I knew this was a small hill to climb and one we would get
over just fine in time.
Having Hendrix wear the bareback
pad was now part of our daily routine. Just like the halter, I put it on him
before playing with him online. It didn’t tighten as tight as a saddle but, I
started with it as tight as it went and then added english saddle pads under it
to make it tighter.
I decided it was time to walk him
on a lead line out of the round pen and over to the arena. It was a quiet time
of day and I left the dogs at the house. No distractions. I opened the gate and
walked outside with him. So far so good! I walked him back inside the round
pen. He was calm, attentive and ready to venture out!
We walked to the arena gate that
day and though he was hesitant to walk through the gate, after a little coaxing
his curiosity got the better of him and as he entered through the gate I shut
it behind me and latched it. I gave him a rub and took his halter off. I leaned
against the rail and watched him as he walked off. He took a few steps and took
off trotting to the other end about 100’ away.
I had set up several obstacles
around the space, including barrels, cones, a pedestal, a mounting block and a
tarp spread out. He went to every single one of them and tasted them or picked
them up in his mouth or took his front leg and pawed them. “I have a left brain!”
I said to myself.
In Parelli Natural Horsemanship
there is a study of horse behavior & personalities. Linda Parelli called it
“Horsanalities.” The descriptions on the DVD’s were whirling in my head as I
watched Hendrix checking everything out. It was hard to tell with him up until
now, because he had so much fear and he was so reactive to everything. Now, a
new horse was starting to show up at our sessions. A calmer animal that seemed
to be enjoying some of what we were doing. I really liked this new side of him
a lot…
Hendrix checking out the barrels
This was the first day Hendrix wore
a saddle. I started by holding the lead rope draped over my arm and after
letting him sniff the dressage saddle I swung it over his back and lightly set
it down. I was on the side he had protected for so long…his right side. I knew
if I was going to have a problem it would be this side. He didn’t move. His
head came up a bit but his feet didn’t move.
I stepped back to his head and
slipping my arm under zone 1 I moved his face up and around me so that I was
now on his left side. I rubbed his neck and the back of his front legs before
reaching for the girth. I buckled it snug. Grabbing my carrot stick, I led him
to the center of the arena.
Since his problem still remained on
his right side, I decided this time to send him to the left so he would be more
comfortable. I wanted things to go smooth and didn’t want to add to his stress.
I didn’t want him to associate saddling with any bad experiences the first time
out of the gate.
He was doing the circle game now
but better to the left than the right. I was getting 3 full laps at the walk to
the left when I sent him off. On the third lap I leaned over and looked at zone
4 (his hindquarters) and he turned and faced me. I said, “Good boy” and took a
few steps to his side. I tightened the girth snug again. I was able to take it
up a few more inches. Instead of sending him to the right and risking an
argument, I lead him over to the cones. We walked a figure 8 pattern a couple
of times around the cones and I snugged the girth up once more and stepped out
of his space in case he started to buck.
Hendrix was acting like it was
something he had always done. I decided to switch to the 22’ line and send him
off at a trot to see if that was any different. Oh boy! Here we go…
He arched his back and all four
feet came of the ground. He lowered his head when he came down and once more
bucked trying to get rid of this thing on his back. Then he stopped. He looked
at me and swear I saw the question on his face. I rubbed his neck with the
carrot stick.
I turned and walked with him over
to the side of the arena and started playing a sideways game with him along the
rail. Instead of focusing on the saddle I started focusing on his feet and
getting him to cross them over, move back, come forward. I praised him and gave
him a treat. I played the friendly game in zone 3 and unbuckled the saddle. The
stirrups were still secured as I had never lowered them so nothing banged his
After removing the saddle I groomed
him for a good while until he was completely relaxed and then led him back to
his paddock. Leaving things on a good note after a stressful session was a
regular practice during our sessions. I was always looking for the stopping
place. Sometimes, I didn’t quit at that particular point but when he did
something successful or we had a particular good moment when real communication
was happening I noted it and decided then whether to continue or stop the
When I got home that night, I started watching the old savvy
club DVD’s to see any segments with a LBI. The tamer Hendrix got, the more I
believed that he was a left brain introvert. Even in fear the feet really
didn’t move all that much. He tasted everything in the arena. Even though he
was still capable of exhibiting right brain behavior, that was the frightened
prey animal coming out not his real nature. It felt like I was peeling back the
layers of a protective shell. I couldn’t wait to see what was underneath it
Jim Apple is the farrier that does
our horses feet and he did a great job introducing Hendrix to the process of
trims. Before he came, I played a lot of friendly games on Hendrix’s lower legs
and by now, he was good at letting me pick up his feet to clean them out. I also
did some leading by each front leg by putting the lead rope around the leg and
pulling. As soon as he would give to pressure I would release the pressure from
the rope. I also bought a hoof stand called a hoof jack so we could practice
putting his front feet up on something.
When Jim arrived, I had to show him
how to approach Hendrix in a way that wasn’t too unlike how he was used to me
coming up to him. I didn’t come straight on and I always did “the horseman’s
handshake” offering the back of my hand first. The first time Jim tried it,
Hendrix took off for the other side of the arena. Clearly, Hendrix had to meet
lots of other humans besides me and learn he could trust them too.
Luckily, Jim had great patience and
some horse savvy and before he left that day, Hendrix had both front feet
trimmed including a “mustang roll” on the toes. The back feet would have to
wait for another time. Progress not perfection….I was learning with this horse
that things happened when he was ready and not a moment before.
When I showed Jim this post on
facebook, this was his response…
Jim Apple It has been a
learning experience for all, that’s for sure.
Looking back it was a quick trip in the overall scheme of things, a trip full
of lessons for all of us….He’s one in a million, his name is Hendrix and he’s my friend!
As the days slowely became longer,
spring finally arrived in Tennessee. The nights still dipped down close to
freezing but 50’s and 60’s were common now. I longed for the day when I could
just put my foot in a stirrip and go somewhere. I started searching for a
trainer to take the first rides on Hendrix. At 57 and with my riding
experience, I knew my limitations. I would find the right person for the job. I
would make sure Hendrix was well prepared for “school.”
the student is ready, the teacher appears…
One day while looking in the farm
section on craigslist, I found an ad for a female horse trainer not too far
from the farm. I wrote her number down and called to set up a time to meet her.
A few days later, I drove about 30 minutes to her place and checked out her
training area. It was not unlike any well laid out Parelli playground.
She had obstacles including a
seesaw, cones, pool noodles to go through and barrels. I watched her with her
horses and they were obviously fit and responsive. I went home that night
thinking I found Hendrix’s “college professor.” She was not “Parelli” but she
was “natural.”
My partner, Emily,  suggested
that I have her train Dolly first and see how she does with her before bringing
Hendrix over there. She was right and as anxious as I was to ride him, It would
be good to see how she did with our “difficult” mare and besides, I needed time
to work with Hendrix and the horse trailer. He wasn’t ready yet to travel.
Hilda drove to the farm the next
week and met Hendrix and took Dolly home with her. I explained to her problems
we had with our mare and her past history with another trainer. Hilda listened
all the while interacting with Dolly on the end of a lead rope. They were
checking each other out. For me it was the beginning of a friendship and a new
life for some of our horses. After Hilda drove off with Dolly in the back in
her horse trailer, I hitched our horse trailer to the truck and backed it
through the gate into the arena and parked it for Hendrix.
Within a week or two, Hilda was
riding Dolly. Another trainer had told us to get rid of her as she was too
dangerous. She is a dominant mare and she was started late as a 10 year
I watched smiling (and a little nervous) as Hilda took her
around her arena area and through the obstacles. Dolly was listening to her cues
and responding to each one. Hilda described to me what she had done with her so
far and what they were working on. I drove home that day confident I had also
found the right person for Hendrix too.
I knew the time was coming soon to
hand over this horse that I had spent every day with for almost a year. I knew
I would miss him. I hoped it would all turn out right and that I had chosen the
right trainer for him. I hoped when he came back that we would still have this
I prepared him for the trailer
loading he would have to do and continued our daily sessions of saddling and
playing parelli games online and at liberty. I waited for the day Hilda was to
come and pick him up.
I called Dawn Darnell and scheduled
a time for her to come to Avalon Farms and check Hendrix for wolf teeth. If
Hilda introduced him to a bit, any wolf teeth if he had them, would need to be
pulled so they didn’t interfere with it. Not all horses have them but they are
normally pulled if they do. 
Hendrix stood this time for a
shot…a mild sedative…and endured the entire procedure quietly. He did not have
any wolf teeth. She was the third person I asked to check his teeth and give me
their opinion on his age. She too agreed with Dr. Thomas & our farrier Jim,
that Hendrix was now a two year old.

Preparing to trailer load included
getting Hendrix to allow me in zone 5. I was not going in the trailer with him
so once he was in, I would be standing right behind him. I started at his
withers and slowly worked my way back using approach and retreat until he stood
still and I was behind him. I played with his tail, rubbed his hindquarters and
got him to look at me out of each eye.

When that was going well, I got the carrot stick and string
and lightly threw it over his back and twirled it above him. I didn’t let him
feel trapped so he had a lead line but it was laying on the ground. I wasn’t
hanging around his backside and giving him any reason to defend himself. One
thing I know about any horse is that they will do anything to survive. He could
walk off if it was too much pressure…it wasn’t and he didn’t…he was almost
ready to trailer to Hilda’s. I was happy and sad about it.
As our sessions progressed, the
next thing he needed to know in order to get in the trailer, was to step up
onto something on cue. He was great on crossing a tarp spread out on the arena
floor so this was just another version of that. 
The front feet weren’t difficult at
all but asking for him to step up all the way we hit a road block. I talked to
other Parelli students for advice. “Talk to the feet…” was the general
consensus. He put one back foot up and I praised him and gave him a treat. I
backed him off and we went and did something else. We came back to the
pedestal, I asked and he stepped all the way up. I blocked zone 1 at first but
he figured it out and from that day on he always steps up all 4 feet on a
The final piece to the puzzle with
trailer loading was the squeeze game. Hendrix knew all 7 games and we had
played the squeeze game a lot against the rails of the arena. Now we did it in
front of the trailer. Only when he walked by me calmly both directions did I
position myself to the side of the opening and ask for him to step up.
He put zone 1 in and stopped. I
backed him up and tried once more…zone 1 and 2 were in the opening. I waited
while he sniffed the inside. Getting in was not new to him because the trailer
was a shelter for him when he was in the hay field. What was new was my asking
for him to get in the trailer.
I heard Pat Parelli in my head,
“First the head…then the neck…maybe the feet…” We made progress by inches but I
never pushed. I suggested and then waited to see what he offered. He had a lot
of try each time. Waiting in the hay bin once he went all the way was a virtual
buffet of carrots, apples cut up, horse cookies, hay and a handful of feed. It
wasn’t a bribe. It was a reward.
It was time to call Hilda. Her new
student was ready.
One last thing before Hendrix left
the farm was to get a coggins test. Dr Jones came and Hilda held the lead line
for the procedure. Hendrix wanted no part of it. I had done some simulations of
taking a needle in the neck but this was a blood sample and it was in a vein
near the base of his neck in the front. I knew he was scared but I knew both
women had the experience to handle him safely so I watched from outside the
round pen. I think the vet had Hilda help her put a twitch on him to get a
blood sample but it was done and it was time to pass him off to Hilda for the
next chapter in his schooling.
The day finally arrived for Hilda
to come pick up Hendrix and take him to her place about 20 miles away. The
other horses stood around their paddocks and watched them pull away. I felt
like a mother leaving her kid for the first day of school. I wanted to go with
them. I don’t know if it was harder for him or for me.
I cleaned manure from under the
roofs and filled the water troughs. It was going to be a big hole in my days
without our daily sessions. Hilda sent me a text that they had arrived safe and
sound and he came off the trailer fine. Our preparations had paid off. His new
chapter was about to begin.
Hilda was settling in to a training
schedule with Hendrix of 3 days on and one day off when I stopped by to check
on things and see how they were getting along. Her training area consisted of a
relatively wide arena size field will several obstacles set up around it. There
was a seesaw, a pool noodle set up to walk him through, some barrels to jump
and a step up earth berm type thing that was like a pedestal.
Hilda had a young assistant,
Theresa, that came over to help after school and she was already laying all
over Hendrix’s back. I gave him a treat and rubbed his neck and left them
feeling very comfortable that he was in good hands.
He seemed relaxed around her and
there was a connection going on. He is a horse with a lot of try and as the
prey animal side of him seemed to go away, a left brain introvert was beginning
to emerge. He was a thinker and he really did want to please.
I didn’t go too often but I really
appreciated the emails, texts and FB posts that Hilda regularly put online for
me to read. He was making progress quickly and soon she would be riding him.
I think my spirit horse sent Hendrix to me
is another piece to this story that I haven’t told you. Now that Hendrix is off
with Hilda in training, perhaps now would be a good time. Let me start at at
the beginning. My first Parelli horse was named Sirocco. He was a beautiful
foundation quarter horse of the King Fritz line with Leo and poco bueno on his
Mom’s side. He was the grandson of the California reining champion “Woodchex.”
This is a picture of him at one
week old with his mother April. (April’s Bamma Baby) His registered name was
“Pride of Sirocco” and he was named after the wind. Our daughter Jennifer
picked out his name. I held him the day he was born and in my quest for enough
knowledge to train him I studied the techniques of several natural horsemen
including Monty Roberts (The Horse Whisperer), John Lyons, Richard Shrake and
Pat Parelli. I decided on Parelli and have stuck with that ever since. I am
currently finishing my level three in Parelli natural horsemanship.
The day he was born I lay down next
to him and put my arms around him while his mother quietly munched on hay. It
was a spiritual moment for me and this tiny gift was so beautiful. He would run
around and play one minute and just fall out exhausted the next. We explored
the world together and I got to see his reaction when a butterfly landed right
on his nose. He was awesome and his mother was great. She was very attentive to
him and he mirrored her every move.
Sirocco grew into a strong 2 year
old on our newly purchased farm in Tennessee. I had separated him from his
mother at 6 months old and gelded him after his first birthday. I used John
Lyons’s “bringing up baby” series to desensitize him and teach him to give to
pressure. I taught him to accept a saddle.
I think my spirit horse sent Hendrix to me (cont.)
I started studying Parelli
seriously when Sirocco about 4 or 5. I still hadn’t ridden him and I was afraid
it would be too late to train him to accept a rider. The truth was, I was
afraid. I wasn’t a good enough rider to start him and I didn’t know any
trainers in the area. He didn’t get in a horse trailer and I didn’t even own
one to teach him. It seemed like a lot of road blocks to having a horse I could
I had a horse named Budweiser when
I was a kid and he was a baby too when I got him. I walked him around town on a
lead rope on the cape in Massachusetts and by the time he was two I was almost
grown and only had a short time riding him before leaving home. My sister took
over his care and won many ribbons showing him in jumping.
So, here I was once again with a
horse on the end of a lead line and me not in the saddle. I had passed level
one in Parelli and used Sirocco’s mother April to do it. I met Carol Coppinger
and attended one of her 4 day camps in east Tennessee.
I continued to play with Sirocco on
the ground online and at liberty and started to look for a trainer for him.

I finally found a guy that was a
third generation horse trainer that would come to the farm. He trained Sirocco,
Dolly and Sirocco’s brother Grayson. He eventually did ride Sirocco and I began
to ride him too. On one ride however, Sirocco threw him hard and took off
running with reins dragging all the way down to the point. The only thing that
stopped him was the land ran out at the place where the creek dumps into the
lake at the end of our first field. It was the beginning of what was to become
a pattern with Sirocco…when he didn’t want to do something he would buck.

I began to ride him more but mostly
in the arena and mostly at the walk and trot. I found that I had developed a
fear of asking for the canter because I had come off of him twice and had no
idea how to stop that behavior.
I think my spirit horse sent Hendrix to me (cont.)
I passed level 2 in Parelli with
Sirocco’s mother April but she took a fall in the pasture in the winter the
next year, when it was muddy and sloppy. I had introduced a new horse to the
herd and as they were running around she slipped and went down. Although she
lived for several more months, she was lame from a serious hip injury and had
to be confined to a paddock alone. I finally had her put down when I came to
the valley to feed one morning and she was down again. She lived 26 years on
this earth and she gave us two beautiful babies.
A few months later, Carol’s clinic
was coming up and I had no horse to ride. Sirocco was still too green and had
no trailer loading experience. If we were to go I would have to work with him
daily for the next 3 months.
I printed the level assessment
tests out for levels 1, 2 & 3. We started at the beginning and went through
each one until he knew how to do it easily. I parked our by now, “fairly new”
horse trailer in the arena gate and started to teach him to load.
Once he was consistant going in and
out and we had made a few trips around the farm, it was time to go somewhere.
Our first trip was to my friend Mary Ann’s about an hour from the farm. She
played with him some online in her arena and we both took our horses out to her
obstacle course complete with seesaw, things to step over and around and a

She helped me load him to go home as he was not eager to
climb back in that scary metal cave on wheels.
I think my spirit horse sent Hendrix to me (cont.)
Sirocco and I loaded up and went to
Carol Coppinger’s farm for a level 3/4 camp that April. He did well with all
the other horses and we learned a lot. She gave everyone a private lesson daily
and I told her about my fear of cantering. I wanted that to be the focus of our
daily sessions. I explained to her about his behavior and my two recent falls
from his back. I chose her indoor arena as the footing was soft sand. We went
in there to give it a whirl.
She instructed me on how to ask him
for the canter and I did it. He started into it a few strides and then went
into a series of bucks that tossed me into the air. I landed with a thud and he
continued to buck all the way back to the other side of the arena.
Carol was by my side in an instant and I remember wiggling
my toes to make sure things were still working. I can vouch that sand isn’t any
softer than other arena surfaces. I’m kind of a connoisseur you could say…I’ve
landed on them all. I stood up without any injuries and continued on.
Carol told me about Parelli’s extern program and how she
thought Sirocco would be a perfect candidate. He was athletic and already
started…just a few issues to fix. It would be worth a try and if he was picked
he would stay at the Parelli ranch for three months in Florida. I passed my
liberty level 3 with him and went home to enter him in the extern data base
online. Two weeks later I was contacted.
Why I think my spirit horse sent Hendrix to me (cont.)
The woman that contacted me about
using Sirocco in the extern program, was an instructor from England by the name
of Jody Royson. She said she looked at his video and would like me to bring him
to Florida that fall. 
was time to get him ready for a long trailer ride. I scheduled more visits to
Mary Ann Kennedy’s farm, another about an hour south and also to my friend Joy
We went somewhere at least once a
week until it was time to go. I got him used to drinking water flavored with a
little molasses so he would drink on the road. The Parelli ranch was near Ocala
and about a 12 hour trip. I found a farm half way in Georgia that took
overnight boarders and that would let me camp too.
When we were on the road, I stopped
for about 30 minutes every four hours or so to let him rest and drink. He was
fairly quiet so I know the preparations where paying off. I learned a lot about
trailering horses on that trip and it boosted my confidence. I pulled into the
ag inspection station just over the Florida state line and grabbed the
paperwork they would want to see. I had a passport for Sirocco which was his 6
month health certificate and a copy of his coggins papers.
Why I think my
spirit horse sent Hendrix to me. (cont.)
This would be the last picture I
took of Sirocco for what turned out to be six months.
We arrived at the Parelli ranch in
the afternoon and I parked the rig to go find the office and Jody. She helped
me unload him and some tack including my saddle. We talked a bit and got him
settled eating hay although there was much activity going on and he was busy
meeting other horses over the corral panels. I asked her to make sure he drank
and I left. I drove the empty rig to the East coast to visit with family and
met up with a Parelli group in Jacksonville the next week at the first Parelli Rendezvous.
I watched the games…
and I got to meet Pat Parelli and
see him in action…
and even get my picture with him…
Then, I drove an empty horse
trailer home to Tennessee and hoped when I saw Sirocco again, he would be my
Parelli partner. Actually…I just hoped he’d remember me.
Sally &
Jody went through her three months
in the extern program at the Parelli center with Sirocco and I looked forward
to the email updates of their progress. She contacted me toward the end of her
time there and asked if I would be willing to leave him there 3 more months.
She had a friend, Sally Brett, also from the UK that was coming to the US for
the next session and she wanted to use Sirocco. The experience he was getting
in the hands of these Parelli professionals was so valuable. As much as I
missed him I said yes immediately.
I think my spirit horse sent Hendrix to me. (cont.)
Sirocco was
thriving and both Jody and Sally had done wonders with him. He was fit and
Sally said she was even teaching classes off him.
I knew Sirocco would be such a
different horse when he came home. I couldn’t wait to pick him up. According to
the reports and updates, his bucking issue was gone. Sally said it had been
when she asked for his right lead. It was a case of him being in the right
hands to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. It was left
brain behavior. He wasn’t afraid…he was saying “no.” He couldn’t say no anymore
to these horsewomen.
I think my spirit horse sent Hendrix to me. (cont.)
While it was
almost time to drive back down to Florida and pick up Sirocco, I was also
continuing my own Parelli Journey. I went to another Carol Coppinger level 3/4
Camp and this time I brought Emily’s mare, Blue. She was easy to ride but a
left brain introvert. I passed my level 3 online with her which was quite a
challenge. I had to learn to really get my energy level up and since I too am
an introvert it was not easy.
I wanted to be as
good a horsewoman as I good be for Sirocco. He was smarter than me. I was
hoping to finish my level 3 with him when he got back and move on the next year
to level 4. There are three parts to level three and I had passed two…the
online and the liberty. I still had to pass freestyle and that was the riding
part. In order to pass we would not only need to know lead changes and other
things, we would have to canter. I knew he could now…but could I?
I think my spirit horse sent Hendrix to me. (cont.)
Dr. Stephanie
Losing my
confidence was so crappy because it was so hard to get it back. The series of
falls I had taken off of Sirocco, combined with a couple more spills off of
lesson horses in the past, had done more damage than I thought. I had never
been afraid of riding until now.
I found Dr Burns
while watching some Parelli DVD’s. She had written a book about fear while
learning how to care and ride a horse in the Parelli program.
I think my spirit horse sent Hendrix to me (cont.)
overcoming my fear of cantering my horse is not a big thing in the scheme of
things in life, but to me it was a mountain. When I attempted to write about
that fear I immediately thought about all those times when I was unafraid. Even
the creative part of my mind didn’t want to look at it. But there it was.
I had come off
Sirocco one too many times. Physically I had walked away unscathed. I can vouch
for the fact that falling off your horse doesn’t hurt a bit. Landing is the
kicker. I have landed into grass, arena gravel, sand and dirt. I do not prefer
one over the other. They all suck. Yes, I got up, brushed myself off, bruised
my ego, gathered my horse’s reins up and walked away…but I left something there
each time in the ground. I left a piece of my confidence.
The time had come
to drive what I affectionately referred to as “the rig” down to Florida to the
Parelli ranch and pick up Sirocco. Six months had passed and his time as an
extern horse was almost over. As I drove the miles to get the boy, I had
visions in my head of a brand new partnership. I couldn’t wait to see the
changes him. I hoped that I too had changed and was a better rider for him.
I think my spirit horse sent Hendrix to me (cont.)
I arrived at the
Parelli facility to meet Sally Brett and spend some time with the “new”
Sally was very
gracious with her time and we spent a few hours with me playing with him online
and riding him.
We gathered all
of his things including my saddle and loaded everything into the trailer. Sally
gave me a print out of her daily journal of their sessions together. I left
them both and went to a nearby hotel for the night.
The next morning,
before daylight, I arrived back at the ranch and Sally met me with Sirocco. It
was dark inside the trailer and my inside lights didn’t work. Sirocco stuck
zone one inside, snorted and pulled back. Sally took the lead rope and after a
few minutes cueing with the carrot stick, he stepped in. I closed the
partition, gave him a rub and tied the lead rope off. With him safely loaded I
shut the trailer, hugged Sally and climbed in the truck for the 12 hour ride
home back to Nashville.
I think my spirit horse sent Hendrix to me (cont.)
Sirocco and I
arrived safe and sound back at Avalon and settled in to a summer of getting
Jody and Sally
had worked their Parelli magic on him and he was light and responsive and full
of try. He was easily a level 4 and I was barely a level 3!
Sally Berry and
Sirocco at the Parelli ranch.
Sally on Sirocco
with friend in the extern program at Parelli ranch
Sally teaching
fast track students on Sirocco
Why I think my spirit horse sent Hendrix to me (cont.)
It was a
wonderful summer of trail rides with friends and sessions in the arena working
on patterns for my level 3 freestyle test. Warm days and calm rides on a sweet
Then one morning
I came down to feed and noticed something was not quite right with his
hindquarters. He acted kind of drunk back there. Unsteady on his feet. I called
the vet.
Why I think my spirit horse sent Hendrix to me (cont.)
“EPM is caused by
the parasite Sarcocystis neurona. The
life cycle of S. neurona is well described. In order to
complete its life cycle this parasite needs two hosts, a definitive and an
intermediate. In the laboratory, raccoonscatsarmadillosskunks, and sea otters have
been shown to be intermediate hosts. The opossum is the definitive host of the
disease. Horses most commonly contract EPM from grazing or watering in areas
where an opossum has recently defecated. However, horses cannot pass the
disease among themselves, that is, one horse cannot contract the disease from
another infected horse. The horse is a dead-end, or aberrant, host of the
parasite.” -Wikipedia

Sirocco was
treated for EPM and for complications from that including Laminitis. I built a
stall with fluffy shavings in the middle of the arena for him and cared for him
for a month. He was on IV’s for fluids and for a while he seemed to be
improving. The vet was coming out every day or two and when he was unable to
stand, friends helped me turn him every few hours. The laminitis progressed
from his front feet to the rear and he went down again. I didn’t have the heart
to put him through any more.
Sirocco was
euthanized with his head on my lap and me stroking his forehead. I was
completely and utterly devastated and heartbroken. I was in no way ready to say
goodbye to this beautiful creature. I will forever be grateful to my loving
partner, Emily, who helped hold me up through what was the hardest thing in my
life at the time. Together we buried Sirocco near the lake at the end of the
gelding pasture. It was a friday and when it was done, we left the farm to go
somewhere away from it all for the weekend.
This is why I was
so shocked to discover that the very next day a stray horse had wondered on to
our farm and taken up residence in our hay field. A horse that would become
known as Hendrix. A horse that would save me…as much as I saved him.
Hilda Keller and
her horse Moose
Is there such a
thing as coincidence? My recovery friends say,
"Coincidence is God’s way of working anonymously."  With over 20
years of sobriety under my belt, I’ve learned to listen to what they say. I
will never believe that it was just a coincidence that Hendrix showed up when
he did or the fact that for the past year I had been looking for someone to
start Hendrix and right when he was ready, I found Hilda.
I knew that I was
nearing the end of my knowledge and experience and if I tried to do it all
myself, I would probably get thrown off and possibly seriously hurt. I was no
colt starter when it came to climbing up there.
Hilda Teaching
Hendrix to yield the hindquarters
No, this job was
best left up to the professionals. On the ground, now that was another story.
Thanks to my study in Parelli natural horsemanship, I could read a horse and I
could teach him to give to pressure, ask a question and have a conversation,
play the 7 games and play with obstacles. When it came to staying in the saddle
if he bucked, bolted or shied…well…that was another story.
I have a
songwriter friend, Mary Ann who nailed it with her song “Green on Green Makes
Black and Blue.”
Mary Ann Kennedy
So finding Hilda
in the farm section on craiglist right when I needed her help was no
coincidence to me. The fact that she lived less than 30 minutes away wasn’t
either. I wasn’t even surprised when I went to visit her place and found her
own version of a parelli playground for her training area.
goes to College
A few weeks had
passed and other than updates via text messages and emails, I didn’t “know” how
Hendrix was doing at Hilda’s. I needed to see him and see for myself how he was
demonstrated how he was around all the obstacles and then she saddled him up.
Hilda had an
assistant, a teenage girl still in high school, named Therasa. I could see that
she too was skilled in horsemanship and moved easily around Hendrix adjusting
his tack.
Hendrix appeared
to be relaxed and I noticed when either of them were around zone 4, he stood
still. In the past I had to “work my way” toward his hindquarters or he’d step
away. They walked normal, patted his butt, chatted with me…all the while
tacking him up and him standing perfectly still…at ease.
The next thing
they showed me really showed me how well he was coming along in their hands.
Hilda held the lead line and Theresa grabbed a helmet, buckled it and climbed
right on his back!
He had only been
with them a few weeks and I was standing there watching him calmly accept a
rider on his back…
Over the next few weeks I stopped by a few times and
watched the riding sessions. I could see that he was growing more confident and
Hilda demonstrated for me each new thing he could do.
She was side passing him along the rail, backing,
stepping up and down off of a raised earthen obstacle she had made. She could
take a flag and drape it over his head, they could easily change gates from a
walk to a trot and they even cantered around one side of the arena area before
breaking gate down to the trot.
The first day I was ever to ride him was unplanned. I was
just there watching and Hilda stepped down and handed me the reins. I just went
with it. He seemed ready and I trusted her judgement that he was. I found
something to use as a mounting block and lined him up next to it. He stood
still. I rocked him a bit to square his feet up and grabbed a piece of his mane
in my left hand. I stood up with one foot in the stirrup and watched for his
reaction. He stood still. I swung my right leg over the saddle and sat down,
leaving my right foot out of the stirrup for a few minutes in case I needed to
make a quick exit. He just stood there. OMG Hendrix look at us! I rubbed his
mane and smiled. I had been waiting for this day to come for a very long time.
Over the next few weeks, Hilda and Theresa
continued to ride with Hendrix and his schooling in accepting the human was
paying off.
They were beginning to take him away from
Hilda’s place and out onto the trail. His experience with other horses, road
traffic, dogs and the woods was growing everyday. He was beginning to look like
the trail horse I was hoping he would become.
I knew that the time was approaching for
Hendrix to come home with me. I was riding our other horses at the farm to
prepare myself for this green mount. I went back through level 2 freestyle
DVD’s from Parelli and was practicing follow the rail, patterns such as figure
8, cloverleaf, question box and point to point. I went through all of my savvy
club DVD’s and looked for things like calming down cues, pre-flight checks,
power position, managing go and whoa and the pushing passenger lesson.
I wanted to be ready for anything with him
and of course you can’t…I decided I wanted to ride more with him, while he was
still at Hilda’s and familiar with his surrounding. She also agreed to take him
out the first time of the trail when he got back to our farm.
The day Hendrix came home from Hilda’s,
there was a fall chill in the air. He was a little sweaty when he came off the
trailer so I covered him with a cooling blanket until he dried off. Everyone,
including the boaders had to come say hello. The horses were all checking
things out from their paddocks too. Marge and Donna came to visit with their
horses and Marge came over to welcome Hendrix too.
My partner, Emily, came down to the arena
and I saddled him up so she could take a first ride on him too.
It was a terrific homecoming and as he
settled in to things back at Avalon, I made plans for a road trip to the tack
store to buy him a new saddle.
The Right Equipment for the Job
In my early horsemanship days, I would look
at two things when shopping for a saddle…style and comfort. How good did it
look on the horse…and how comfortable was it for me? That’s it. I didn’t stop
to consider how comfortable was it for the horse. Saddle fit is almost a
science in its own right today. Parelli has not only studied the issue in depth
but has it’s own line of saddles both english and western and now even in
between…the endurance saddle.
Though I didn’t spend the dollars for one
of those, I spent time learning about their saddles and about saddle fit from
the horse’s perspective. The bucking I had experienced from my previous horse
Sirocco, may have originated from poor saddle fit or padding. At a clinic,
Carol Coppinger had pointed out to me a spot in my old western saddle, in the
back, where the underneath padding had worn away so badly that she could feel
the wood tree. I was looking at the front-end the withers…I hadn’t even looked
back there!
My greatest fear around horses, is to hurt
them because of my own ignorance. I felt pretty stupid at the time but if every
time Sirocco tried to canter with me on top, he felt that part of the saddle
jam his back…it would make sense he might start bucking. Horses usually will
tell us what’s going on if we listen…if we know how to listen to them.
I had quarter horses, a mustang, haflingers
and a paint. In addition to the various stages of condition of my tack, every
saddle I owned was a wide bar. Hendrix was narrow at the withers and he needed
a saddle to fit him that didn’t obstruct his shoulders or his hips. I looked at
the pattern of sweat on his back when I took the saddle off that I was using
and there were dry spots. A perfectly fitting saddle would have made the
pattern of a butterfly on his back in the wet spots when removed. It was clear
he needed his own.
I took a measurement of his withers and I
went to the local tack store with two saddles to offer in trade. I chose a new
circle Y with a rounded skirt. Cost was a factor but I felt my choice would
suit his needs and be comfortable for me too.
Hendrix in his new saddle