Dottie Belle has been living in foster care at Pacific Moon in Arlington for about six months now. Under Karen Moore and her team, Dottie has settled into a happy life outdoors among horse friends. Since her arrival, Heather Evans-Keliher and Eve Tai have visited with Dottie regularly. Now that Dottie feels at home, it was a good time to consider liberty work for her. This type of work takes place on the ground free of equipment, force or restraints, leaving the horse “at liberty” to choose how she wants to participate.
Eve drafted the help of Elsa Sinclair, a natural horsemanship trainer. Elsa’s goal in liberty work is to forge a quiet, grounded connection between human and horse. Her approach is a great match for Dottie, who is highly sensitive to any change in her environment. Not surprisingly, when Eve first brought Dottie into the arena, a new place for her, her anxiety heightened. She called for her pasture mate and paced along the mirrored wall, both gazing at and getting frustrated with that “other horse.” (Beautiful as she was!) Moving slowly and quietly, Elsa and Eve set some physical boundaries for Dottie to help channel her nervous energy, while still allowing her the freedom to express herself. With time and consistency, Dottie eased into her body.
Dottie tends to push past humans or look for an exit when she is feeling anxious. Our objective was to teach Dottie that by attending to her people she could find leadership, connection and comfort. Elsa and Eve alternated walking with Dottie for over an hour, applying light pressure for her to walk or avoid off-limits areas. Each time she did something positive or brave, such as explore a new spot in the arena, pass through a scary spot without drama, or connect with Elsa or Eve through a glance or a nose touch, the pressure would be released right away. Then we’d breathe together for several moments – in stillness – and just enjoy Dottie’s company. For horses this quiet connection is a great reward.
Dottie enjoyed walking with Eve and Elsa for long periods, frequently licking and chewing as she released the tension of new learning. We’re glad to say that Elsa and Eve enjoyed many moments when Dottie would choose to brush her nose against their hands. And she even felt comfortable enough to indulge in several rolls.
In the past, Dottie would sometimes freeze up in response to any challenge or request, including hand walking. This was consistent with her coping strategy of internalizing stress (a likely contributor to her colic episodes). Liberty work of this style allows her to learn something new within safe boundaries, yet also gives her the choice to step away or voice an opinion. Over time we hope we can help Dottie restore her skill set and flexibility to adjust to changing conditions. We have already seen Dottie step forward with courage and curiosity more than ever before.
No doubt her nurturing time at Pacific Moon has helped Dottie cultivate her confidence. Though some may call her high-strung, it may be more accurate to say that she is highly attuned and observant. A horse of this character can be a true gift because she genuinely loves those who seek and cherish her sensitivity. An adopter with the interest and time to learn more about how Dottie takes in the world will be greatly rewarded. Though she can’t be physically ridden, Dottie is happy to take her friends to a place beyond human perception – a field of infinite joy and connection.
Thanks to Karen Moore and her team at Pacific Moon for taking such good care of our “sensitive flower,” and to Elsa Sinclair for joining Team Dottie Belle!