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.
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.
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 http://www.lisawysocky.com./