This isn’t an article but is such a moving story that it wasn’t possible or appropriate to condense any part of it for the feedback section.
I just wanted to write to you and say a massive thank you to TTEAM for the help I've received - my local practitioner Erica Donnison has worked miracles with my horse and me.
To give you a quick overview:
I bred a pure Arabian stallion in 2000. I own his grandmother, mother, sisters and brother but the minute he was born I knew he was special. He was just built for riding and performance. I breed Old English/Crabbet Arabians, the more old fashioned type and not the flighty, merry-go round horses that are popular at the moment.
From Harley being born, I showed him and achieved really good success with him. I did in-hand showing to get him used to going out and about and travelling. He had some super wins at National level and beat the more glamorous horses in the Arab world. He's always been a "proper" horse and even non-Arab people love him. His grandsire won HOYS several years ago and I always dreamed Harley would follow in the family footsteps and so I took great care with his mouth - never attaching the lead rope to the bit and making sure that if he had to wear a bit as a 2 year old colt, it was a gentle rubber bit not the thin metal ones more commonly used in the showing world.
He owes me nothing - he did brilliantly and always behaved impeccably and was one of the most non-aggressive colts you could ever wish to meet.
As a 4 year old he went away to be backed by someone I trusted and they did a super job and Harley returned home "grown up" and happy, nicely balanced and with a very soft mouth.
I didn't consider myself a good enough rider to produce him for the ridden show ring and my young daughter was too young at the time to take over the ride (since then she has become the youngest member of British Eventing and competes successfully on her pure Arabian mare). So, I made the mistake of my life and sent Harley to a show producer that I thought I could trust. I got good feedback during the first few weeks and everyone seemed to love Harley. Then came the time for his first show and I was told on the day of the show that he hadn't been brought along because he had "a lump" on his bottom. Given that Harley is grey, I immediately thought he had a sarcoid. I was told the vet had seen him and there was nothing to worry about but that the lump would show under the spotlights and so the producer thought best not to bring him. That was on the Friday. The following Monday, I got a phone call from the producer to say that he wasn't happy with Harley and he was getting another vet in for a second opinion. Tuesday, I got the bombshell phone call to tell me that whilst Harley didn't have muscle damage, he was suffering chronic liver failure and I had 24 hours to get him to Newmarket otherwise he would be dead. I immediately left Lancashire and drove to Derbyshire to collect Harley. I was staggered when I saw him. He had lost so much weight and he walked as though he was on a zimmer frame. The "lump" was actually a rip in the muscle from the base of his tail 45 cm down his leg and sticking out 8cm.
Despite his obvious injury and illness, Harley travelled well and was such a good boy at Newmarket. He spent a week on a drip, stabilising his liver before they could investigate what was wrong with his leg. Apart from the obvious torn muscle, an MRI scan showed he had broken his pedal bone. No explanation was made by the producer but he hinted that Harley had become upset when a new stallion was taken on to the yard and he thought he may have been kicking the wall. Stupidly, I believed him.
When Harley was released from Newmarket, he had to be kept on complete box rest with a 5 minute walk per day on a soft surface. We live on a rocky farm in North Yorkshire and so when the producer offered for Harley to return to him, I agreed. Three weeks later I got a phone call from a friend whose mare was also being produced by the producer. She told me that far from Harley being on box rest, he was being turned out every night into a field next to mares. Harley was getting upset and spending the night running up and down the fence.
That was the final straw and I immediately went and collected him to bring him home. I was shocked - he had lost even more weight and was little more than a walking skeleton. He had lost so much weight that even his face had ridges on where the underlying muscle had started to break down.
Harley went back to Newmarket and they too were shocked at his deterioration. I explained what had happened and that he would be at home from now on. He was such a good boy at Newmarket that he had his own little fan club and over the next few months Harley returned to Newmarket several times for check ups and was always so calm and well behaved that his fan club would line up to greet him.
It took a year for Harley to recover physically from his injuries and illness. At the end of that, a close friend offered to re-start Harley's ridden career. He went to stay with her and settled in beautifully. He was calm and well behaved and took to the bit and saddle again brilliantly. That was until she tried to put her leg on at which point he would drop to the ground on his knees. We were all shocked. By now, the producer had left (fled) the country because it had come to light that he had been abusing the horses in his care. I needed to know what had happened that would make Harley act so strangely and so I started digging. The story I uncovered left me cold and full of shame. He too had been abused and not only had I put him in the situation in the first place but I had returned him to it. Gradually the story emerged. The producer had tried to get Harley to pose in what is known in the Arabian world as the frozen pose - the stretched neck, eyes out on stalks. He'd achieved this by baiting the 2 stallions on the yard. Harley, being non aggressive had backed off. The other stallion was not so passive and had broken out of his stable and attacked Harley. Harley had become so distressed that he had gone down with stress colic and become cast. He was not discovered for 7 hours by which time, he'd smashed through the wall of the stable. The vet had treated him and recommended 2 weeks box rest. The producer though had other ideas and travelled Harley in a wagon with 3 mares from Derbyshire to Sussex so that he could ride him in the collecting ring at a show and get him used to the show atmosphere! During transport, the injury to his leg was made worse and that's when the muscle finally ruptured. In trying to stand so he didn't damage his leg further, the pedal bone was broken. The producer didn't call the vet back out so he contacted a friend of his who works at a vet's and gave Harley un-prescribed bute - at the rate of 10 sachets a day for a month - hence the chronic liver failure. As Harley fought through the pain, the producer decided to teach him some little tricks whilst he couldn't be ridden. So, with the aid of a cattle prod, he taught Harley circus tricks and how to bow. And that's why, every time the leg was put on, Harley did what he'd been taught to do and bowed. He thought he was being a good boy.
My second big mistake was to trust an "expert". My friend deemed Harley unsafe to ride and so she recommended someone she knew who re-habilitated racehorses. Harley went to the new yard and again seemed to settle well. Despite the bowing, the rest of Harley's behaviour was fine and his physical condition was good.
Then the real problems started. After a week, the expert phoned me to say that Harley had become unsafe and violent. She had been forced to keep the top door of his stable shut because he was becoming so distressed when other horses were moving about. She told me that she had been sitting in his box for up to 6 hours a day and he had started trying to chase her out. I explained he was used to other horses moving about and that seeing as he normally lives on a working livestock farm, he's not normally upset by lots of activity. I also went on to explain that Harley is a stallion (albeit one that hasn't covered anything) he would be territorial and she should respect his need for his own space. She then told me that he was the first stallion she had ever had to deal with and she was finding her way. The next day I got a phone call to tell me that I was cruel keeping him entire because he was lonely and aggressive. She told me to either geld him or have him put to sleep because his current behaviour was so bad that he would kill someone. She said that she couldn't control him "even in a chiffney". That was it. I went mad and went to bring him home. I went in his stable with his head collar and put it on and brought him out. She stood back with a lunging whip and the dreaded chiffney. I lost my temper and told her that after everything he'd been through and all the effort I'd taken to make sure his mouth was never harshly used, I was appalled that she would even resort to such a gadget.
I took Harley home and turned him out in his own field. I got 2 miniature Shetlands to keep him company (complete with escape hatch to a safe area). He bonded with them and seemed to settle. After a couple of months, I decided it was time to try and work with Harley again. Until this time, my husband and I had just been going in his field, talking to him and taking him food. He seemed fine. We put a head collar on and tried to put a bridle on and that's when his temperament completely snapped. He refused point blank to have a bit anywhere near his mouth. Not only did he object but he turned aggressive - he reared and attacked with his front feet. We managed to get out and he settled again. So long as we didn't take tack into the field he was fine, but as soon as he saw the tack, he would come at us and attack. Gradually we worked with him so that we could lead him about with his head collar. On one day, we'd had such a good session, that I let him go and went to pat his neck to tell him he was a good boy. The whites of his eyes went completely red and he looked me right in the eye and then came at me. He jumped towards me, picked me up by my forearm and reared. I'm no lightweight and he lifted me completely off the floor. I passed out and he dropped me.
From that time, I was terrified of him and every time he saw me he would attack. We put him back in his large stable in an attempt to remind him that he was safe and at home. He would accept my husband in the stable but only near the door. If I walked past, he would lunge at the door and try and bite me. He would rear immediately behind the door and threaten to come over the door. I was distraught. It was as though he had decided to blame me for everything that had happened. And I accepted it because I was already blaming myself. I wouldn't go anywhere near him.
I knew I needed help but by this time, I'd become very wary of experts. I contacted a well known behaviourist/trainer but they said point blank that they wouldn't help. I spoke to other people and was told that if I shipped him to their yard they could guarantee to sort him out within so many weeks. I didn't want him away from home and I didn't believe anyone. Then someone suggested TTEAM and I looked on the internet and got my nearest practitioner, Erica. I phoned her and explained the situation and she was the first person to give me an honest answer. She said she couldn't make any promises or guarantees. She had no idea if she could help or how long it would take but she was willing to come and talk to me to see if she could advise me how to help Harley.
Erica came over several weeks and worked with Harley, me and my husband. At the first session, I cried because it was so non invasive and calm and Erica's approach was so gentle. It was like watching magic happen.
The breakthrough came this spring when I'd had a bad day at work and got home to find a lamb I'd been looking after had died. I picked the lamb up and was crying as I walked down the yard to ask my husband what to do with the body. I felt a hot breath on my right cheek and suddenly realised that I was right in front of Harley. Given his previous behaviour towards me, I was scared because I really thought he'd rip my cheek off. Instead, he breathed all over my face and licked my tears away. He looked me straight in the eye but there was none of the aggression from his attack. The more he tried to comfort me, the more I cried and the more he tried to comfort me. I put my arms round his neck and just hugged him. Since then, things have been getting better and better.
We managed to get his baby bit back in his mouth. It took several hours but we could tell that he wanted to work with us and even though he was scared, there was no aggression and he tried so hard to overcome his fear.
Then after a couple of weeks, our farrier (who loves Harley) just jumped on his back in the stable and without a bridle or a head collar, Harley walked calmly round his stable.
Since then, Harley has been out round a cross country course with a mare (even giving the mare a lead through the water jump). He's been for some show jumping training and despite having a major panic attack when we forgot and just did the girth up quickly, he recovered and again listened and worked with us and within 20 minutes he was jumping a full track of fences - the first time he'd ever seen a jump. He's been to his first show jumping competition and that was a major test of how he'd settled because we were scared he'd panic when he saw all the other horses. He was an angel and beautifully behaved - and he went clear in the first round!! This weekend he has his first dressage competition. Yesterday, the vet came to give him his jabs and they were done without even having to put a head collar on.
He's not completely right yet and we will always take care to make sure that he has confidence and feels secure. Whenever he's under a stress situation, we do the massage and touches that Erica taught us, particularly the forelock circles, the small circles on his neck and lips and the python lift on his legs. He's comfortable with those and he recognises them as signs of help and he will start to listen again if the panic gets too close to emerging.
It's going to be a long haul and to be honest I don't think he'll ever recover 100% but all I want for him is that he feels happy and safe. I still have dreams - I'd love him to go eventing and the way he's coming on at the moment, I really do think he'll do it. I have lost all interest in Arab showing and I'm shocked to hear that the abuse Harley suffered is rife - and all for a stupid piece of ribbon. I've heard of horses having to have people sleep with them and their vets on stand by as they come out of the show ring because they are so distressed that they need sedating. I've heard tales of teaching the frozen pose with cigarette lighters and electric fence under the chin.
Harley is alive - anything else is a bonus and with the help from TTEAM, I've watched my horse take an interest in life again. I've seen his eyes soften and his ears prick with interest. I've seen him look into my soul and ask for help. I've looked back and asked for forgiveness. TTEAM has helped us both learn and we're still learning and my one prayer is that we carry on and never stop learning. I believe in Harley and I know he'll make it and be whole again.
From the bottom of my heart - thank you.
Rachelle, Stephen, Evie and Harley