Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Friend, Valentino

Please enjoy this guest post from Lisa Wysocky, therapeutic horse trainer and consultant, about a horse that is very special to her.

Horse lovers know all horses are special. We also know sometimes a horse comes along that is more extraordinary than the others. Valentino is one of those horses.

 I first saw Valentino as a three-year-old. He was a black Tennessee Walking Horse cross, 13.2, skin and bones, pacing back and forth with his nose raised above the top rail of a round pen. Valentino’s human “family” had moved away when he was a yearling and abandoned him. Neighbors threw hay when they could, but Vali might have starved to death had he not been rescued by Knoxville’s Horse Haven of Tennessee when he was three.

At the time, I was the equine trainer at a therapeutic riding center near Nashville. Several of our instructors visited Valentino at a horse fair where he was in a trailering demonstration. Next thing I know I was turning this neglected rescue into a therapy horse.

Having lived entirely on his own during his formative years, Valentino did not know how to relate to people or to other horses. I called several veterinary schools that suggested I put him in a paddock by himself where he could watch people and horses interact. Done.

In the meantime, center volunteers and I began to teach Valentino to lead, tie, pick up his feet, and accept a saddle and bridle. I also began a desensitization process, for here was a horse that had never experienced much of anything.

Over the next months I became amazed at the intelligence of this horse. He was often fearful (of entering a strange building, of people he didn’t know, of things he had never seen, such as a carriage) but he rarely backed away. Instead, he’d visibly shake as he carefully smelled the person or object and then slowly let out a deep breath. Over and over, Vali became comfortable with new objects and people and I watched his confidence grow.

Eight months after his arrival, Valentino was turned out with an older gelding whose paddock bordered Vali’s. They became good friends. A month later he was turned out with several other horses. By this time our thoughtful little horse had gained several hundred pounds and grown four inches.

Before I knew it Valentino had begun therapy lessons. About a year later I had the opportunity to adopt Valentino, and I included him in demonstrations in several clinics. He is a featured horse in my book and DVD, My Horse, My Partner: Teamwork on the Ground, and has a chapter in Cheryl Dudley’s book, Horses That Save Lives. Other trainers requested him for clinics and videos but I knew Valentino was a born therapy horse. He has now, at age nine, been at Therapeutic Animal Partners for more than four years.

I become angry when I think how Valentino’s original family threw him away. How could anyone do that? Yet it happens all the time. I have now come to trust Valentino implicitly in lessons. He is the first to let me know a rider is off balance. He also knows if a rider needs help following a set of instructions, which he carries out on his own, or if the rider needs to work for it. We helped one rider visually by throwing a Frisbee and having the rider ride to it. Once there, Vali would drop his head and pick the Frisbee up in his mouth. Comic relief can go a long way.

  Valentino’s story does not end here. I, with the help of staff, volunteers, and riders at Therapeutic Animal Partners, nominated Valentino for PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) International Equine of the Year. On November 12, at an international awards banquet in Lexington, Kentucky, it was announced that our little rescue horse, Valentino, had won this prestigious honor.

Every day, Valentino inspires me. If he can survive abandonment, then I, too, can survive difficult things. If he can overcome his fears, then so can I. And, so can everyone who is inspired by Valentino and his story.

Wow. Thank you so much, Lisa, for sharing Valentino's story with us! Amazing. To learn more about Lisa, as well as her brand new novel called THE OPIUM EQUATION, please visit her website at


Linda Benson said...

Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing Valentino's story, Lisa. I believe every horse is special - they just need to find the right owner. Valentino is very lucky to have found you. I'd like to hear more about his adventures, and how he's helping people.

The Daring Novelist said...

That's just amazing.

But you know, it's takes a lot of love to fix something as bad as what happened to Valentino. I'm sure if he could make a speech for his award, he'd give you a lot of credit.

Thanks for you all you do.

Lisa Wysocky said...

Thanks Linda and Camille! Many people had a hand in Valentino's story. The outcome really is to his credit, because a horse who had to overcome so much could easily have shut down mentally and emotionally. I just feel honored to work with him. I know many of us feel that way about a special horse in our lives. :-) Lisa

Francesca Prescott said...

Lisa, Valentino really sounds like an exceptional horse, but it also sounds like you did everything you could to bring out the exceptional in him. Great story.

Laura Crum said...

I really enjoyed reading about Valentino. Thanks for sharing a very positive and happy story.

Jami Davenport said...

What a handsome boy. Thanks, Lisa, for sharing it with us.

Alison said...

Thanks Lisa! I love horse stories, obviously. As Linda said "thanks for stopping by and sharing."

Lisa Wysocky said...

Thanks everyone for the warm welcome. Wishing you all happy horse moments over the coming weeks! Lisa

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