Tea is an amazing horse who really connects with people, especially youth. She is an honest, willing partner, and we are honored that she wants to engage with them.
Teadora, a 15 year old Andalusian.
Tea, like our youth, has a story to tell. As a youngster, she was forced into working as a dressage (competitive equestrian sport) horse. Tea was too young and unprepared in body and mind to work in this type of sport. Tea also was a broodmare and had several foals. Being a broodmare was probably traumatic for her, as she was very young and she did not have many choices. Finally, Libby (our Executive Director) acquired her. Tea has been with Libby for three years, and in that time has learned many important life lessons. She is much more relaxed and willing to work. Her personality has shifted, and she is now very bonded to people.
Tea throwing her head in frustration.
I started working with Tea at the end of November 2012, and from the start she captured my attention. She is vibrant and playful, and has an impressive stubborn streak. Her early dressage work taught her how to collect herself, and watching her move is enthralling because of her wonderful rocking-horse motion. Yet, I realized quickly that she is not a truly healthy horse. She is very anxious and has a hard time with transitions, like so many of our youth. Despite this (or perhaps because of this), she absolutely adores youth. She connects with them on a deeply personal level, and will tailor her reactions to the ability of the person working with her. She makes an ideal program horse because she asks our youth to focus and ask correctly, but forgives mistakes and works just as hard as the people around her.
Tea has never lived in a herd situation and certainly does not feel comfortable around male horses. However, we are confident that she will learn with our herd that she is safe. As she becomes more confident with the herd, she will be more able to connect with our participants because of her new ability to draw on other horses for support. This too is similar to our participants as they are often solitary and unable to trust each other. It is our hope that as Tea becomes more relaxed, our youth will become more relaxed.
Scratch, our self-appointed herd leader.
Today is the fifth day Tea has been turned out with our horses. We have watched as Tea has become braver with them, although she exhibited some mal-adaptive behaviors like pawing, pacing, and biting the gate. We put her in a round pen in the center of our herd, and today is the first day that she was able to settle in and eat. Once we let her into the herd she resumed pacing, although she stopped to eat some
Tea getting as close as she dared to Scratch. For his part, he just waited and watched her go in circles around him.
hay (yay Tea!!). Scratch, our resident herd leader, very respectfully approached her, and gave her space. It was fascinating to watch her clearly want to engage with him, yet not know how to do so. She bolted past him several times with her ears pinned, before finally approaching slowly with her head lowered.
Watching this process has been at once amazing and saddening. It is heartbreaking that a herd animal has no idea how to engage with the herd, and has no tools for coping with this stress. However, it gives us hope for her and our youth that she continues to try to become a part of the herd as best she can. We see small steps every day that show us she is lowering her defenses towards other horses, and continuing her journey to become a healthier, happier horse.
Stay tuned as we continue to post stories of Tea and our other program horses, staff, and participants!