Transmutation, Feather says, is the theme. Taking the pain and anger and fear and transmuting it to Love and Peace and Beauty.
This, he says, is the Message.
Feather came to live with me on January 27, 2020, still wearing the halter and lead put on him without his consent when he was purchased at auction just over a year ago. The halter he was wearing when he landed at auction again not much more than a month later, this time in a ‘kill pen’. The halter that his saviors elected not to remove with the same kind of force with which it went on. Everyone he encountered along the way, for whatever reason, elected NOT to do whatever it takes to rid him of it. And so, he came to me, roughly eight months after the halter was put on, still steadfastly refusing to allow anyone near him. That halter much smaller now, as his maturing body rapidly outgrows it.
To say I felt pressure to get the halter off as quickly as possibly would be a massive understatement. I grew to hate the hissing sound of the rope dragging in the dirt of his paddock with a vengeance. Hate is insidious. I imagined burning the halter as I cursed the people that forced it on his beautiful head. He made it clear that he felt my sense of urgency and frustration with his situation by giving me a wider berth. When it was clear he wasn’t going to come around quickly, I even had the vet come out and hit him with a tranquilizer dart. I rationalized the decision by saying it might give us a chance to look at his teeth, many of which appear to be broken. Textbook, in that it could not have gone more smoothly, with one exception.
Feather brushed off the sedation like it was a fly. It had absolutely no effect on him.
So much for short cuts that didn’t involve force.
And so, for the next 4 months I spent time with him every day with few exceptions. Slowly we started to figure each other out. Slowly I found inroads. He shows classic symptoms of the kind of hyper-vigilance we often associate with human trauma survivors. That made it hard for him to think and process what we did together. Homeopathy, animal communication, flower essences, and energetic work helped peel the layers. He is smart, sensitive, and so willing to work with me. To keep coming back with curiosity even though his habitual response is wariness. We learned together what mutual consent means. How to respect each other’s boundaries without force.
This video is from March when I spent most of my time working with him from the other side of the fence so that he could freely express all his pent up emotions safely and I could remain neutral and not react.
After a while I stopped seeing the halter. I stopped focusing on the halter. Instead I just focused on Feather. Getting to know him. Building trust and communication. Trusting his timing.
It’s been a month since he released the hyper-vigilance and allowed himself to really trust me. And to trust his new human friend Alison who came and spent time each day as well. Giving him handfuls of hay pellets turned out to be the thing that gave his hyper-vigilant mind something specific to focus on, allowing him to feel confident about the meaning in the things we did together, from moving around each other when I cleaned his pen to finally being willing to let me onto his left side, to touching his face, to touching the halter, to sitting down and allowing him to eat from a feed pan while I reached toward his face with both hands, to finally, yesterday, accepting the physical action required to have the halter freed from his head!
From Feather in a message through our friend Kim Walnes yesterday after the halter came off:
Enormous gains made over 4 months. FOUR MONTHS…that is nothing! Whereas in the past so often people push in anger and justify any means to obtain what they want, and things rarely stick or truly change. Patient persistence, gaining Trust where it does not look like any could be had…by consistent loving actions, not words, not threats, not speeches, but quiet actions.
As I held that halter in my hands later, laughing and sharing joyful tears with Susan and Alison who were there throughout the process these last few days, I realized the hatred I felt for the halter had vanished. In its place is wonder. Wonder at the course of events that led this horse to my doorstep. Wonder at his ability to retain all of who he is despite his life experiences. Wonder in the realization that if he hadn’t been wearing the halter, I don’t think he would have come to me. Even if he had, if it weren’t for the halter, he and I would not have learned the things we have about each other, and about ourselves. The timing he chose for letting go of his halter is interesting. If the halter is symbolic then I don’t feel that burning it is the answer. Feather does not feel anger and resentment. He’s filled with wonder and hope.
Feather’s halter repurposed to represent his message of transforming pain and anger and fear and transmuting it to Love and Peace and Beauty. I will keep it as a reminder of what’s possible.
Feather has a message to share this morning:
It is hard to swallow what happened. My entire family band ripped from our home range. Violently chased from the air, trapped, and then ripped away from each other. Many of us never to see one another again. Life will never be the same. That is hard to swallow. The suddenness and irrevocably of what happened at such a young age is what sticks with me.
I carry wounds from my past experiences but they do not define me. They cannot take away who I AM unless I let them. I never did. I never will.
Most of the people I encountered did their best and I could feel their good intentions. I harbor no resentment or ill will towards them. I do not understand why my family had to leave our home, but it is done, there is no going back.
There have been many situations I faced in this human world that were stressful, sometimes even terrifying and painful. And yet, I find human beings intriguing. If my life is to be lived among them, I will learn all I can about them and find a way to understand. I see others of my kind working in cooperation with humans, sometimes in ways they even seem to enjoy.
I was determined to find my way to humans I could trust. And I did.
Feather says that in his experience, it’s fear that drove humans to put the halter on his head to begin with. Fear that drives so much of what we do or don’t do.
When his halter came off yesterday and I felt that sense of hope and wonder, I spoke to Kim again, reminding her of the conversation we had about the halter being symbolic. Here’s the rest of the message Feather shared through Kim:
I feel a sense of wonder and hope. Not only at the feeling of ease and freedom from the pressure and pain and restriction of the halter, but at the patience and persistence of how you showed me I could really trust you. Trust you to the point that even when my instincts and fear tried to tell me I wasn’t safe I was curious enough to quickly come back. To keep testing the waters. I finally see what you’ve been working toward now…and love that you trusted ME so much, and didn’t try to push things.
The release of the halter. A momentous day. But only one day among many more to come. Today I will go sit with Feather as I have every day for the last four months as we continue to build on the trust we have built in each other. There is a bond there now that cannot be broken if we just stay this slow and steady course. We humans could learn a lot from Feather about letting go of the past, and being fully present in the moment. Making the most of what life throws at us and not allowing the actions of others, of those things outside of our control, to define us.
Feather and I would like to thank all the many people involved in his arrival on my doorstep. Really too many to name, but two key players:
- George Brauneis of Eagles and Wild Horse Ranch
- Candece Ems Rays of Evanescent Mustang Rescue and Sanctuary
If you’d like to continue following Feather’s journey, he has his own Facebook page: Gandalf Gray Feather