This is the third installment of the story of a woman, Killarney Sheffield, who gives her all to her writing such as her latest book, The Emperor’s Concubine. She also gives her all to her family and her horses. One horse in particular, Barbie, learned that gentleness does exist through the care and guidance of Killarney’s love. The author shows there’s often much more to a writer than words.
The Barbie in my story is not a doll, but a palomino American Quarter Horse from Idaho USA. I was approached by her owner to take her after her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumour and was given just a few months left to live. When I heard Barbie’s story I sat in my truck and cried tears of sorrow for this little horse, partly because of what she had been through, and partly because I had been an abused child myself and could understand how she must have felt. My parents were abusive and at a tender age I was taken away from them so they couldn’t hurt me anymore. I was lucky though, I had great foster parents to teach me not all people were bad and to look after me as I grew up. What Barbie needed was a foster mother who understood her pain and would help her learn not all people were bad too.
Poor Barbie’s story was so sad. When she was two years old she was taken from her mother to start her training to be a show horse. It was all very new and sudden. She was being difficult to catch since she is a very nervous horse. The man chased her into a barn and because she had never been in a barn before she was scared and refused to let him halter her. In anger he roped her by the neck and snubbed her head tight to a pole in the ground. She could not move, or breathe, and in her panic she fought for her life, injuring one of her front knees. The man waited until she choked out and then untied the rope. When she fell to the ground he pounced on her to get the halter on. Poor Barbie was then tossed out in a field injured and scared for the next two years until I heard her story and came from Canada to pick her up.
The day I brought her home was one I will never forget. Her eyes were so big and full of fear. To help calm her I put her in a stall in my barn across from a quiet old mare for company. The first day Barbie stood up against the back wall and refused to eat, or drink. When I stepped into the stall she would throw her head and pin her ears, threatening to hurt me. I would talk softly and leave feed and water. The second day I took her a small bit of oats in a pail. She refused to eat until I set it down and left the stall. The third day I was moved to tears when I entered the barn and she nickered at me! I was so excited about her greeting it was hard not to jump for joy and scare her. I took a pail of oats to her and for the first time she took a couple steps out of her corner and ate out of the pail in my hands. It was a great day. The fourth day not only did she greet me with a nicker, but she had eaten all her hay from the night before. I entered the stall with her oats and she came right to me to eat out of the pail, and I managed to stroke her cheek on the sly with my hand in the pail.
The fifth day she greeted me and came to eat her grain. However, when I offered her a treat from my palm she pinned her ears and charged at me. I stood my ground and issued a firm “no!” She stopped inches from me, calmed down and finished her grain. Was I scared at the sight of a thousand pound horse charging? You bet I was! I knew by her gentle eye she would not hurt me. She was merely saying in her horsey way that I had entered her personal space and she wasn’t comfortable with it. An abused animal is the same as an abused child, her only intent is to protect herself and she wouldn’t harm me unless I harmed her. A neighbour came by and said he would have thrown the pail at her because she’s mean. This is where I stopped him and explained if Barbie was mean she had had endless chances to hurt me and not taken them, and that if I had thrown the pail at her she would have associated me with pain and fear. This would have destroyed all the work I had done to convince her I am safe and will not hurt her.
On day six I entered her stall and was brought to tears when Barbie gently lipped a treat from the palm of my hand for the first time, without pinning her ears and threatening me when I held it out to her. The next step was to get a halter on her. In order to do it in a manner safe for me and for her, I coaxed her into a narrow cattle chute with a pail of grain. Taking care not to frighten her I closed the back gate. Now she could neither go forward, or backward and was unable to turn around. Talking quietly to her I climbed onto the side of the chute. She was pretty scared to see me above her like that, but I kept talking softly and then lowered the halter with a long rope on it. It took a few tries to slip it over her nose and she reared a couple times, but when the job was done she stood quietly while I buckled it. Then I let her loose.
Now that I had a way to hold onto Barbie I began by snagging the dragging lead rope many times a day and inching my way closer and closer to her head. The day she finally let me stroke her pretty face was a huge achievement. Her defense whenever she was afraid was to pin her ears and threaten to bite, but I stood my ground and taught her to lower her head so I could rub it every time I held the rope. Soon I was able to take the rope off and she would come to me, lower her head and demand her rub. She was finally learning not all people’s touch was a bad thing.
I have had Barbie three months now and the progress she has made is truly amazing. She whinnies each time she sees me and comes for her head rub. Being brushed and going for walks with me are now her favorite things. Barbie will never be able to be rode due to her injured knee, but she will have a home here on my ranch in the Canadian prairies forever, and who knows, maybe next year she will get the chance to have her own pretty baby to love. We are making progress! It is slow and sometimes bitter sweet, but baby steps, lots of love, and a former abused child are what is needed to teach a frightened, mistreated horse to love again.
Killarney’s latest book, The Emperor’s Concubine, can be found HERE.