Rosalyn W. Berne, Ph.D
Author, Scholar, Equine Empath


November 2017

It’s been a particularly lovely fall here in central Virginia. The hardwood leaves are more colorful than in recent years, and October rains slaked the late summer drought. Our vegetable garden bounced back, with snow peas, kale, and collards, and carrots straightening their stems and sending up a second harvest.
Ruby is the only one of our three horses that enjoys the tiny thinned-out carrots that I offer to her, leaves and all.  (Raven holds out for the fatter ones.)
Ruby has grown on me.  On the day we met in the winter of 2016, I reached out my hand to stroke her mane, when she suddenly turned her head, biting within an inch of my bosom.  It was a warning; I was not to touch Ruby. Six months later, after we’d adopted Raven, the Virginia Equine Welfare Center (VEWS) director called to ask if we’d consider taking Ruby as well. We were moving Raven from a boarding facility to our new horse farm, and knew Raven would need a pasture mate. We were open to the idea.
I returned to VEWS in contemplation of adopting Ruby. In a private corner of the barn, I quietly told her why I’d come back, that we’d be willing to bring her home with us. She relaxed as I spoke, closing her eyes and nearly falling asleep, until her legs buckled, startling her awake.  I was concerned about this leg buckling, and even after Ruby came to Willow Oak Farm, she continued to have the same trouble. She couldn’t seem to sleep easily while standing, and never seemed to lie down. She did, however, continue to snap as if aiming to bite, whenever I moved to touch her.  I see now that she was reflecting back my own incongruence: though acting as if expressing affection, I was really feeling a kind of contempt for her, judging her to be a bitchy, ungrateful horse.
A lot has changed since then. Our new gentle gelding Nash has added safety to the herd and helped everyone to relax. Ruby and Raven have become comfortable companions, grooming each other regularly. And we have tried to be consistently attentive to and relaxed with her. On the day her adoption became final a year after she came to us, I told her (and perhaps myself), “This is your home now; you never have to leave here.” I meant it, wholeheartedly, and I believe she heard me.
Ruby’s legs no longer buckle when she doses off. That may be because she feels safer about lying down to rest her arthritic hind legs, but perhaps also safer and more supported in her new herd and home. And for the most part, she’s stopped the biting threats—except for the recent occasion when she casually walked past and nipped my jacket. I yelled, “Hey you!” Ruby trotted away, gleefully it seemed. She was playing with me!
This afternoon, while cleaning the dry lot, I turned to her saying, “I’ve grown to love you, Ruby.” Ruby walked to my side, then walked along with me from dry lot to paddock as I explained that we’d be going away for a few days. She was clearly listening.  There was no incongruence: We have become genuine friends.
Rosalyn Berne