This past week I worked on Sharif, a new horse for Cindy Roper. At this time, he is probably one of the most documented horses on Facebook in Santa Fe County, as his story is astonishing. You can read about it in Leta Worthington’s blog:
I came in to help him with the physical/emotional problems that he has accumulated as a result of his experiences. One of the problems Sharif had, after a horrendous experience of being on a slaughter truck bound for Mexico, was that he couldn’t back up and he didn’t want to lift his hind legs. He brings his hind legs, particularly the right one, straight out to the side laterally when asked to lift a leg.
Sharif is no ordinary horse, if there is such a thing. He is an 11-year-old Arabian gelding with obvious fine breeding. How he ended up first on a Navajo reservation (this we know because of the blotch brands he has on his thigh and shoulder) is a mystery. And how he ended up on a slaughter truck is a further mystery. In fact, probably his whole life before he was rescued by a young woman from Chaparral will remain unknown.
I knew his story before I came to see him. When I came close he shed off an enormous wave of sadness and grief, unloading a burden right away. His eyes are distant, shut down, but he looks better than he did in the first photos of him that Cindy shared. His demeanor is interesting – he wanted to be close to me, pressing his body against mine. Cindy had said when she shares territory with him he comes up so close it’s as if he can’t get enough of her. But we agreed that we felt perfectly safe with him that close, unlike we might with other horses.
I set to work on him very gently because I knew that there could be areas that he wouldn’t be able to manage on the first day of a bodywork treatment. He presented to me his shoulder, his back, his hind end, as he felt he needed them worked on. He is incredibly perceptive. He has had obvious damage to his topline – ligamenture has come away from the spine in the thoracolumbar and sacral areas, he has atrophy in the gluteal muscles, there has been damage to his ribs, most likely he has broken some, and there is discomfort in the adductors. Most recently he recovered from a life threatening colic and still has some inflammation from where he was tapped for that. I noted that his nostrils were tense and wrinkled which shows me some pain, and then I remembered that probably some of that was due to the tubing from the colic, so that will probably clear away. His poll was far out of alignment. Yet his spine is straight side to side – and he is sound – amazing resilience!
So what we have here is a big picture of a horse that has undergone incredible neglect and starvation on a physical level, not to mention the psychological and emotional levels. Starving horses often have great pain because the muscles and ligaments are not holding the bones in place. The pelvis, one of the most important structures in the body, is not able to stay in place and support the hind legs properly because of this lack of strength in the muscles and ligaments. When the bony structure is not in place, then the organs that are protected by the bony structure get out of place and sometimes don’t work efficiently. The digestive system has had to adapt to very little or no food, improper food, lack of water in some cases, which was probably the case with Sharif since he was on a truck for a long time crammed in with other horses and then left for dead.
My goal is to bring this horse up to a level of pain-free functionality. My work, based on Ortho-Bionomy, is based on the principles of “less is more,” “moving in the direction of ease” and “positional release.” In an animal or human with such severe neglect to deal with, no other type of bodywork except a very gentle but powerful modality would do because he needs work that is gentle, pain-free, that allows his body to self-correct. He needs amped up nutritional support to make up for what has been lost. For the most part, the balance and alignment in his body can come back, the ligaments and muscles can repair, and once again support bony structure. The digestive system will realign along with these changes.
In order to have this be as economical as possible, I have given Cindy some self-care exercises that Sharif seems to like to help him get more in touch with his body and gives him the body contact he seems to crave. This horse wants to wrap himself around you. He is crazy about Cindy, all a good thing.
Interestingly, Cindy had written me a few days ago to say:
I thought at first maybe someone had done this with him, but that is silly – that couldn’t have happened in his lifetime. What could’ve happened is he remembered being with other horses, and side by side walking is a horse ritual. He is a horse so he knows instinctively what horses know, the language of horses. He also knows that Cindy knows how to do this with him. He wants Cindy to become a horse with him, to be his herd, so he is offering this to her. He is jumping over other Liberty Foundations to get to this one, because it’s so important to him. He offered side by side walking to me, too. I love this horse!
Cindy thinks he is acting like a gentleman because he is afraid to be seen, afraid to be hurt. Psychologist Peter Levine would confirm this. He talks a lot about this among animals, generally, warm-blooded animals who give birth to live young, who are capable of forming bonds. As part of the defense mechanism, they can freeze and not be seen. I was once riding in the mountains when my friend and I rode up right next to a new fawn. It was frozen in place, its eyes glassy, as though it were dead. At that time in its life, it didn’t emit a scent, so that it couldn’t be detected by predators. If we hadn’t looked over at that moment, we would never have seen it.
Animals generally dissipate the trauma associated with a frightening event immediately after safety is restored. For animals that are undergoing repeated trauma, that isn’t so easy. The freeze mechanism becomes deeply embedded as a tool to stay safe. In the wild, there are very few episodes of constant and repeated trauma. What we see in the traumatized horse is as a result of mistreatment by people, and people exhibit this type of freezing state in response to trauma far more frequently. You see it in neglected, traumatized children – those who aren’t acting out are often withdrawn, depressed, frozen in place and afraid to be noticed.
In terms of the physical, Sharif has 10 acres to roam around on, which will help restore muscle tone in his body and rebuild ligament and muscle attachments. The supplements he is on will help him restore much needed nutritional support. Ortho-Bionomy is helping him to self-correct so that his body can take in all this information, reorganize the system, metabolize nutrition and use it to its best advantage. So far, he has astonishing body awareness and knows where he wants work. In one session, the swelling around his withers diminished. He got much more movement along his spine. The pelvis began to engage. I began the work on the intercostal spaces between ribs, getting scar tissue to soften so he can move more comfortably. I also addressed chakras to get body parts talking to each other. His eye softened, his nostrils began to lose that strained lopsided look. After the session, Cindy reported: “Well, I walked Sharif up to the gate to close it behind you, turned him loose, and he went GALLOPING back to the barn. So he doesn’t feel too poorly. =)”
My guess is Sharif came from a good family probably from birth to maybe two years of age. He was once loved so he knows that he can be loved by humans. It’s a testament to the spirit of the horse that he hasn’t lost all hope of ever experiencing that again, given what he has gone through. But he hasn’t. As you can see, he is ready to embrace love again.