Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Transformation of Niko, Part 5

 By Michelle Grimmer

This article is the fifth in a series about Michelle’s thoroughbred Niko, whose journey to health is a study in holistic horse care and natural horsemanship. The earlier articles are highly recommended as background. You can find all Michelle’s articles by clicking on her name at right, or just start HERE, with the first installment of The Transformation of Niko (Part One).  - ed.

            One of the best things that ever happened to Niko was that I started nursing school just after I adopted him from his previous owner. While at times I felt frustrated that I could not do more with him on a daily basis to help him progress, the very thing he needed was for me to do things very slowly. In other words, less was more. The challenges present in his body and mind (which I came to think of as his ‘twistedness’) required strategic nudging and time for things to be sorted out. Niko is a tremendously talented horse who has always always been willing to try, and has always made progress, but I had a nagging sense that there was yet more inside Niko to work through, that there were still ‘stuck places’ in his body somewhere.
            Last fall (2015), my nursing school attendance once again got in the way, just when Niko needed to work more consistently. Facing that familiar frustration, I had an epiphany: help was nearby! I put Niko in training with Jess Crouch, one of Freedom Farm’s trainers who could help him connect mind and body. Over the next two months, Niko spent time with Jess in her training environment, learning to relax and hang out, as well as pay attention, accept nuanced inputs, and work under varying conditions. I could see and feel the difference in him on my visits. [Jess has graciously penned an account of this training period, which I highly recommend. Thanks, Jess!]
            As Jess worked with Niko, I was lucky to get a more forgiving school schedule and so was able to do more under saddle, with the support of Mary Gallagher as our jumping coach. She offered helpful observations and coaching, until one day in our lesson, she and I could see the pieces start to fall in to place for Niko. As we jumped the pattern, he finally let go of his body. He relaxed into the work we were doing, became straight and free, and I could feel him connect and focus, both mentally and physically. In short, the combination of ground work with Jess and riding with Mary connected a lot of dots for Niko and me, even amid the considerable work load of nursing school.
            Note: Although I am focusing on Niko’s schooling activities here, his overall health care program was still underway as well. Mary Gallagher continued to oversee his transition from shod to barefoot, and I continued to get Niko’s teeth checked and cared for. He is fully integrated into herd life and loves to run and play with his buddies.
Niko and a buddy.
            As it goes in equitation, there are a hundred, a thousand little breakthroughs, ah ha! moments and so on, but what it all comes down to is holding the vision of what the finished product should be and enlisting every available resource to improve the main factors that impact the horse’s performance. The state of the horse’s body, mind, feet, and teeth all interact and impact his overall well-being. When one is out of balance, the rest are affected, and one cannot be improved without improving the others, though they don’t necessarily evolve at the same rate. A program of balanced, methodical physical activity for the horse along with holistic health care and remediation is the way to go, and will enable a positive path forward. At times a juggling act with patience and perseverance, with seemingly incremental steps forward, such a program makes that original vision and solid success possible and visible in the form of a happier, healthier, balanced horse who knows he’s doing a good job.

             Like Niko!

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