It was a pleasure this past weekend to have Joel Conner visit the SAFE horses and teach our volunteers. We began each morning, with a colt starting demonstration where Joel worked with Hickory, Mesquite and Ben. Joel is an expert when it comes to working with un‐started horses and it was clearly evident that his years of experience have giving him the timing and insight to know exactly what they need to have a successful start.
This method of horsemanship and starting horses has the horse’s wellbeing at the top of the priorities. It is fair and prepares the horses for each new step in the process. They may not understand fully what is happening but Joel was there to help them through each part and they were not surprised or made to feel any undue stress or pressure did not have a release. As many of us know, you don’t have to start horses in a way that takes anything away from their spirit. That’s what we love about them and when we ask them to partner with us, to become our riding companions, they can do so with out force or fear. Joel said that his work is about the horse; it is finding ways each day to do right by them and helping them have a clear and clam understanding of the work they do together. Watching him work this weekend it was clear he has a true gift and our horses are benefitting for his kindness.
Hickory has a very inquisitive and gentle disposition, which made him one of the star pupils. This great personality will inevitably make him a wonderful partner and this weekend it helped him accept the saddle and rider without stress. Joel prepared him for saddling through groundwork and gaining Hickory’s trust. We were all amazed at both Joel’s skill and Hickory’s willingness to accept being ridden. I knew that we were lucky to have Joel working with the SAFE horses but after watching him work with both Hickory and Mesquite, our two most recent intakes and gelded Arabians, I feel blessed and grateful he is on our team. Hickory did so well that we decided that he would be the first to go down for training with Joel. He loaded on Joel’s trailer Sunday afternoon and headed to get a few more weeks of training before returning to SAFE Harbor and having our volunteers begin riding him. He is going to be an amazing riding horse!
Mesquite is a bit more reserved than Hickory. He is the older of the two and had more years as a stallion and at the hands of his abusers. He is wary of new people approaching him and has an eye on what is going on around him. He is thoughtful to new things but was willing to work with Joel and see what he had to offer him. The changes Mesquite made over just the few short days were outstanding. Joel allowed him to take the time he needed to accept and move out in the saddle. By the second morning Mesquite was walk, trot and cantering without any worry. All the horses were hardly sweating under their saddles and were calm and relaxed throughout the work. Mesquite is going to make someone a very lucky adopter! He is going to take a little bit longer to open up to new people but there is a very kind boy under all that mane and we are feeling lucky to have been given the responsibility to find him a perfect forever home!
Last up for the demonstrations was Big Ben! Before going into work with him, I explained to Joel that we want the best for Ben and if riding is not in his future we are ok with that. I was again reconfirmed why Joel is such a perfect fit for these troubled horses. Ben has years of people letting him down, passing him around, starving and forgetting about him. SAFE will never let that happen again and is giving him the opportunity to understand people are not afraid of him. Past experiences have put braces in his body that don’t need to be there. Joel worked to help Ben free up his body and left go of the baggage someone else had put in there. It will take some time sorting this out for our big boy but the changes we saw though the work with Joel have us optimistic that Ben can make it though. Our plan is to send Ben down to Joel’s for an extended amount time and allow him to move through the process without being rushed or pressured. He continues to put on more weight and is more comfortable and happy everyday. SAFE is committed to this sweet boy and he has a very bright future ahead of him.