Coming to Terms

Coming to Terms

The Move

It turns out that Oreo is a really nice mare.

You couldn’t have convinced me of that 10 days ago, though, when I moved my gelding, Fuersti, and my mare, Tara, to the herd that Oreo leads.

Tara and Fuersti had been living together, just the two of them, for four years on five acres I’d been renting, a piece of a larger property owned by an elder couple who had retired from horse breeding. It was a wonderful arrangement: I cared for my own horses twice a day and could freely use the barn and indoor arena. I keep my horses naturally, so I had a shed built for them as well as an electric rope fence that created a 15-foot track all the way around their pasture—a round dry lot, if you will. (See Jaime Jackson’s Paddock Paradise.)

It’s probably not true that all good things come to an end, but this good thing did. The couple sold their property early this summer, and Tara and Fuersti and I were forced to move along.

While I continue to look for a place to call my own, I’ve moved them to a pasture board situation. The property is clean, the barn is clean, the herd is calm and happy. Tara and Fuersti have lived in a large herd before, so I knew that, after the inevitable adjustment period, they would be fine.

I knew that I would have to adjust as well, to personalities and barn rules. And I expected that leaving my barn would hit me hard, which it did, and that I would have to find the space and time to grieve the loss.

What I didn’t expect was Oreo.

Meeting Oreo

A brown and white paint draft with a blonde and brown mane and tail, Oreo is a lovely looking mare. Her manners, however, frazzled my already frazzled nerves to just this side of the breaking point. She immediately decided that Fuersti was hers and followed him around the 11-acre pasture endlessly. She allowed me to walk out into the pasture and bring Fuersti and his sister into the barn, but she followed closely behind, her nose practically on Fuersti’s tail. And when I got to the gate across the back of the barn, she was standing so close that I couldn’t back my horses up to allow the gate to swing open.


I could have swung the gate in, but then Oreo would have—I assumed—walked into the barn with us.

My horses have excellent ground manners. If I want them to back up, I only need to gently touch their chests and they move off from the pressure. If I want a shoulder or hip moved over, I only need to focus my gaze on it.

I tried touching Oreo’s chest. Not only didn’t she move, she didn’t acknowledge that I had touched her. She just stood, rooted like a giant Maple, looking at me.

And so I had to drop the lead ropes, flip the chain up over the gate post, open the gate a crack, slip into the barn (hoping Tara and Fuersti, who had not yet settled into their new herd, wouldn’t take off), flip the chain back over the gate post, go get my stick (a training tool, not a weapon), flip the chain up over the gate post, open the gate a crack, slip back into the paddock, flip the chain back over the gate post (by which time I was so frustrated I could barely breathe) and, holding the stick vertically to the ground, pound the handle into the ground, while making myself very big (head up, chest open), so that Oreo stepped back  . . . one . . . little . . . step. And repeat. About six times. Until there was enough room for me to swing the gate outward and get my horses into the barn.

Slow as Oreo moves, it didn’t take her long to catch up with us, and so I had to repeat the stick-pounding dance to move her back a step so that I could close the gate again.

My horses, who are used to walking into the barn themselves and going into their stalls to eat, with no direction from me, stood in the aisle, attached to lead ropes, agitated and confused about what they were supposed to do next. Unfortunately, their stalls, across from each other, are directly inside the barn, right next to the gate. To get into the barn and close the gate before Oreo could follow, I’d had to lead them past their stalls. Now I had to turn them around and coax them in. All the while, Oreo was not only leaned against the gate, she was kicking it.

Fuersti was so wound up, he wouldn’t eat his dinner (or his breakfast or dinner the next day). He spun around in his stall, while Oreo hollered for him and kicked the gate.

Three or four times, I would grab the stick, make myself big, and walk with energy and purpose up to the gate, staring at her. The kicking would stop . . . for a minute.

The evening of the second day, I was actually dreading going to the barn to feed. This ticked me off. My horses are my sanity; the barn is my church, the place where I commune most powerfully with Spirit. And because of that blasted stubborn mare, I was dreading it.

After that second dinner, as Oreo herded my two away from the barn and into the herd, she stopped for a minute, craned her neck and looked at me over her shoulder, long and hard. I spoke to her in a loud and angry voice: “I don’t like you, Oreo. I don’t like you at all. You are making things very difficult for me, and it just isn’t fair.” She turned and slowly walked back to the herd.

Stress Can Make You Stupid

After my first day of fighting with Oreo, I spoke to someone at the barn about her and found out her human has stopped coming to see her, which explained the lack of manners. No one groomed her or took her for walks or spent any time with her. Now I don’t know that horses living in a good-sized herd actually need this kind of human contact, but something was up with this mare.

I was starting to face the fact that this situation was going to be our situation for awhile, that our former barn wasn’t our barn anymore, that I didn’t know what the next steps were going to be, but that for now this is where we were. I was, to put it bluntly, coming to my senses.

I remembered that I am an animal communicator. (Yes, stress can make you stupid.) What was I doing getting angry with this poor animal?  How about talking to her instead? And so the morning of the third day, after I’d maneuvered my horses into the barn, after Oreo had positioned herself against the barn gate so she could stare at Fuersti, and before she started kicking at it, I stood in front of her and gently stroked her face.

“Beautiful girl,” I said. And I meant it. Her eyes softened, her face softened—or that’s what I saw at the time. I think now that her eyes and face had always been soft, that I had been so stressed and frustrated and sad and mad that I hadn’t noticed who this beautiful creature was or what she wanted from me.

I spoke softly to her for several minutes, then went about the business of tending to my horses. She never once kicked at the gate.

That evening, when I went out to the pasture to get my two, I made a point of first approaching Oreo, greeting her with soft words and strokes to her face and shoulder. I felt I owed her this respect. She is, after all, the lead mare. The herd is hers. She accepted my greeting and then gently took one step away. I found my horses, and we headed back to the barn. Oreo did not follow us.

She has not  followed us to the barn since. I can easily come and go, and my horses calmly eat their meals. When they rejoin the herd, Oreo quietly greets them. Only once was she standing outside the barn gate as we were getting ready to leave, and she stepped aside, no word from me, giving us plenty of room to maneuver.


Yesterday morning, Tara and Fuersti were both lying in the sun, sleeping. They were clearly exhausted, and I could not rouse them. Transitioning into a herd is tough work. I greeted Oreo, who was standing watch a few feet away, one hind leg cocked. I let them sleep while I took my little white dog, Elika, for our morning walk around the hay field. As I left, I thanked Oreo for accepting my beloved horses into her herd, for accepting me.

Beautiful Girl











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4 Replies to “Coming to Terms”

  1. Pam…I LOVE LOVE LOVE this….change is hard .. especially when we are very comfortable in our current situation. We get mad, sad, angry when we are forced into change…whatever that might entail. We are so busy feeling sorry for ourselves and angry, that we forget to look for the opportunities and good from the change….and when we either take a step back or learn of something that sheds light on a particular situation, we realize how “stupid” we were…

    I had a good feeling about this move for you and your herd … whether it’s for a month, two months or whatever, there is opportunity for you to help through your gifts…

    I am excited for you and the opportunities and open doors this change will bring to you ….

  2. Hi Pam,

    What a great story. It so elegantly shows how we can some times misread another being’s actions and motivations when we are feeling stressed and unhappy. (Other times, our initial perception is in fact correct but the additional stress we’re feeling prevents us from finding a constructive solution.) By the way, it takes a great deal of courage and humility to own up when we know we were wrong about a situation so thank you for sharing your own very human moment with us.

    I’m sorry to hear that Oreo seems to have been “abandoned” by her person. Even though she has the herd to socialize with, it may have still distressed her that suddenly her two legged companion wasn’t coming to spend any time with her. It sounds as though learning that information was a key piece of the puzzle in shifting your perspective about what was going on with her and how you approached her after that. My hunch is that she is probably also glad that you accepted her, too.

    1. Thank you, Sue. Yes, you’re right; learning about her situation did slow me down for a minute and force me to reassess. Had I not been so stressed myself, I probably would have picked up on it (at least I hope I would have), but my stress (which was primarily about my horses’ well-being) jammed the signals, so to speak.

      I find that I learn from my mistakes, but only if I acknowledge them. Then they can soften and open my heart.

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