I saw the lanky legged colt with the fire red coat staring at me from the pasture. I was there to buy an adult horse that would be good for my experience level... which was close to zero. However, this little colt demanded my attention and I soon realized that this young, less than spectacular horse was going to be mine. I didn't care that I wouldn't be able to ride him, or that I knew nothing about training a horse; I just knew that this was my horse and I was his person. I saw myself in him... my 12 year old self often felt out of place and without purpose.
After giving the owner every penny I had... $700... We began the process of getting this wild colt into a horse trailer. Let me tell you, it was a PROCESS that lasted nearly two hours and made me question what I had gotten myself into. When my dad and I got home, we released the horse into a round pen where he nervously ran around, tail high, snorting his displeasure at all of the commotion he had endured. The experience was surreal for me... I finally had a horse that was mine, which had been my life-long dream! I fed him and began pondering what to name him as I sat on a bucket beside his head. After thinking of a few names that didn't quite fit, I decided on "Boaz" from my favorite Bible story "Boaz and Ruth". Boaz means 'strength' and soon I would find out that he stood up to his name in more ways than one.
Every day, in order to get used to my new friend and to let him get used to me, I would groom him and talk to him while he ate, and oftentimes sit near him to do my homework. Sometimes our conversations were simply small talk but many times they were filled with my own thoughts, dreams, hopes, and fears that I couldn't tell anyone else. I was a quiet, only child with serious perfectionism and deep fears of not being enough... or maybe being too much at times. However, this young horse took me for who I was and we began the journey of growing up together.
Soon my love for animals outgrew our 1 acre and we decided to move to the country so that we could be closer to family and my horse would have more room to run. Boaz was growing fast and soon was taller than me. He an I would spend every free minute together and although he was too young to even think about riding him, I feared the day that I'd have to try and train him. I didn't know anything about training a horse and I was worried that training him would break his spirit and in turn ruin the beautiful relationship we had. Boaz had become, not only my horse, but my best friend; and I'd rather never ride him than lose that bond.
As I became a teenager, some demons began to rise in my life. After many deaths in my family, I began self-harming and restricting my eating. I didn't know why I did these things, but I couldn't stop... and I couldn't talk about it with anyone except Boaz. He always listened with his attentive ears, gazing at me with his deep, soul-searching brown eyes, and would comfort me by nuzzling away my tears with his soft, velvety nose. I can't even tell you how many times my large, 2,000 lb, 16hh horse gently made my world ok again simply by being there for me.
When Boaz turned two-years-old, I knew it was time to train him but I also knew that there was no way I was training him the way I had seen some horses trained... they were literally "broken" and ridden wild until they were so tired they couldn't buck off their rider. This was not what I wanted for me and Boaz. So, I read about this technique that a man named Monty Roberts used called the "Join Up Method" where the trainer would basically establish themselves as the "alpha mare" or "lead mare" of the herd and through a deep need to belong, the horse would bid to become part of her herd through a very calculated dance of body language and eye contact. I decided this was what I wanted to try with my Boaz.
I got a round pen set up and one day after grooming Boaz and talking to him about the process we were about to embark, I put him in the round pen. I had a long whip, not to hit him with, but to make him stay out of my personal space (something I had never had the need or desire to do before). You see, in a wild herd, a young horse has to earn his spot in the herd by waiting for the lead mare to accept him. He stays far away from her until he has shown to be submissive to her leadership by lowering his head, licking his lips and turning an ear to her, as if to say, "I want to be your friend, and I accept you as my leader...". So to simulate this I had to keep Boaz away from my space through lunging him, where I stood in the middle of the round pen with my whip and cracked it enough to get Boaz to start running around the circle. I kept my body language on the offence and would step toward him with the whip if he tried to cut across the circle or turn and go the other way. After several minutes, I noticed his previously flattened, annoyed ears begin to soften and flick toward me; his neck was also beginning to relax and let his head lower some. Suddenly, we made eye contact and his soul looked into mine. We both needed a herd, we needed love, acceptance, compassion, and protection. We needed to be needed and wanted and cherished. We needed each other and we were finally able to do something we hadn't previously done... we were able to communicate.
In a moment of understanding, Boaz lowered his head nearly to the ground and licked his lips. I stopped following him, threw down the whip, and he came to an inquisitive stop and looked at me. I slowly broke eye contact with him and trusting our relationship and the experience we had just had, I turned my back to him in a gesture of vulnerability. (This is what the lead mare would do in order to show the young horse he had a chance to be a part of her herd.) I stood still as a statue, wondering what was happening behind my back and if I should be scared of the powerful mass looming there. I then heard crunching on the dead grass as the ground beat like a slow drum. He was walking toward me! I still didn't move because I didn't want to startle him or make him think I didn't accept him and soon I felt a warm breath tickle my ear as he gently nuzzled me as he always did. I turned my face to his nose, and just like the lead mare, I softly blew back my acceptance. We had done it! We had "joined up" and were now a part of the same herd, with me as his leader and he, my strong protector and confidant.
I found a soul tying connection that day, and so did Boaz. It's been 17 years and our connection is still strong. I still tell him my secrets, cry on his shoulder and talk about everything under the sun, including my recovery from a 20 year struggle of anorexia, self harm, and trauma. My daughter now sits on his strong back and feels the warmth of his sweet nature and love, but he and I will always have a special bond because I am his lead mare and he is my Boaz.
About the author
I’m a wife, mom, student, dancer, youth leader and a survivor of anorexia, attemped suicide, and trauma. I am passionate about using my writing to encourage and inspire others to travel through the struggles of today with hope for tomorrow.