1) The most healing thing you can offer another is your complete attention and presence.
2) Health is unique to each being. There is no one size fits all approach.
3) When there is suffering, stay present. Even if it means standing, walking, and hopping on a broken leg.
How it All Started
In 2005, Hermano was living in Wescliffe and the people that were caring for him were shutting down their ranch. They decided he was not a sellable horse, and the only option they saw for him was to be put down. A friend of mine happened to be working at that ranch. She asked them to give her a couple of weeks to find him a home and they agreed.
I was in the midst of deciding whether or not I was ready to offer equine facilitated psychotherapy when she called me. “Do you want a horse?” She asked. “They are giving him away because he has a lame front left leg and won’t be able to be ridden. His name is Hermano.” I was excited and terrified at the same time. What did I know about taking care of a horse, let alone one with a lame leg? Yet in my heart I felt a pull. ”I’ll come down and meet him,” I said.
So I made the drive to Westcliffe and met this beautiful horse with the exclamation point down his nose. I knew right away that he was coming with me. With the help of a good friend, teacher, and amazing horse herbalist, Hermano got on just the right combination of herbs and his lameness became almost undetectable.
“How are we going to do this?” I asked him. “What are we going to do?” He stood there, mane blowing in the breeze and simply answered, “Nothing.” I understood what he was saying. We were going to teach presence, not horse tricks. We were going to help people get out of their struggling, anxiety producing minds, and into their bodies. He would teach by example, and I would translate.
Sure enough people starting showing up to do therapy with him. He loved it when they were vulnerable and genuine with their emotions and could stand their ground at the same time. He was a precise horse. Sloppy communication would simply not do. If you weren’t going to be clear and direct, why bother communicating?
He challenged me to find that inner clarity on a daily basis.
Eventually Hermano and I entered into a new phase of our relationship. We finally, after firing three previous trainers, found a trainer that “spoke our language” and we took our ability to trust each other and communicate to a deeper level. I was able to ride the horse that “could never be ridden” bareback and we even managed a few trots. The thrill! It was the closest I’ve ever felt to flying and I always knew he had my back while I was on his.
In March of 2008, Hermano had an adverse reaction to being vaccinated and had a seizure. Once again, I was terrified. How was it that I followed the “correct” protocol for taking care of my horse, only to cause him harm? He needed time and space after that away from me and I was heart broken. I worried that I had betrayed him and that he would never trust me again. Of course, that was not his way. He allowed me to earn it back, day by day, by showing up with what was in my heart and learning how to contribute to his well being in the way that was unique to his needs, not just status quo.
Last Sunday, February 26, 2012, I got a call saying Hermano’s back left leg was bleeding. The vet came out and said he’d been kicked in his stifle, and that the turn around for those injuries was usually about 72 hours. Those hours came and went and he had not shown improvement. The vet came back and X-rayed his leg.
“I have some bad news,” he told me. “He has a broken tibia, and it’s in a couple of pieces.“
“Shit!” I said. “What are my options?”
He shook his head. “I can send the X-rays over to the surgeon in Littleton if you want.”
“Send them.” I said.
The surgeon laid it out for me. “There is a 50/50 chance I’ll be able to put it back together and he’ll survive the surgery. Horses sometimes injure themselves when they wake up from anesthesia and try to stand. If the surgery goes well, there’s a 50/50 chance of him being pasture sound.”
“I can live with those odds.” I said, and committed my self to his rehabilitation and care.
I immediately called a complete stranger who runs an equine ambulatory service and explained to her my situation. “I can be there in 45 minutes,” she said.
“I’m not sure how we are going to get him in the trailer.” I said.
“I’m confident we can do it.” She replied.
About 45 minutes later Hermano bravely made the walk from the stall to the trailer. He paused just momentarily before hopping up and into the trailer, open to receiving the help that was being offered.
The drive was smooth and we got him checked in to his stall for the night. I hated leaving him there. “I’ll be back tomorrow before the surgery,” I said. “You were amazing today.” He gently nuzzled my neck and cheek.
A good friend of mine, and Hermano’s, spent the morning with us. We brushed him, reassured him, and scratched his belly, until finally, it was time. He had to walk up a fairly steep incline to get to the surgery room. With a staff person supporting his good hip and leg and another leading him, he bravely hobbled up the hill, head held high, determined to get there. “You made it buddy, “ I said. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”
They took him into the surgical prep room to take X-rays and administer his anesthesia, and my friend and I went to prepare his herbs and homeopathy remedy that he would take after surgery. About 30 minutes later, someone came to get us. “The doctor wants to show you some X-rays,” he said. I almost asked, “Is everything going ok?” But something stopped me. We followed him into a small room where the doctor sat in front of two screens of X-rays. “I have to show you something,” he said, “and you’re not going to like it.”
I felt my heart in my throat. “We took X-rays again after we got him on the table,” he explained, and we saw this.” He pointed to a severely fractured lower tibia. “What happened is he must have had a hairline fracture that didn’t show up on the X-ray. The weight and force of his body was holding that bone together. When we laid him down, and his weight came off the leg, the bone displaced.”
I knew what he was saying. There was now only one option: to let him go.
“It really is a blessing how it happened,” he said. He was under anesthesia so he didn’t feel it break. I’m grateful that it didn’t happen after surgery when he was trying to get up.”
“I need a few moments,” I said.
My friend and I went to see him one last time. In those final moments I felt the heaviness of a loss so great that for the first time I knew what it felt like to be a horse and carry 1,000 pounds around.
“Travel well my friend.” I said as I stroked his face. “I love you, and I’ll see you again, whatever is next.”
Editor: Kelly Brichta
Jacey Tramutt, MA LPC is passionate about unlearning self-aggression and learning how to cultivate compassion for herself and others in all situations. She has found the best teachers for this usually have 4 legs. For more information about her Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy practice in Golden, CO, visit her website at: http://www.cultivateconfidence.com