“Did you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane? Do you make him leap like a locust, striking terror with his proud snorting? He paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength and charges into the fray. He laughs at fear, afraid of nothing, he does not shy away from the sword.” Job 39
When Taj, an Arabian stallion, then called Alpha, was unceremoniously delivered on the back of a pick up truck just before Newroz 2022, this was the description that came to mind. I remember Oscar, our big boss dog, totally bowed to him and we were certainly overwhelmed by this proud, majestic creature, aloof and strong.
Our seven horses have become a central part of our Springs of Hope community life, and have now extended their sphere of equine healing and influence to three orphanages, two of which are in the closeby Muslim city. We devote space to the horses today, to share something of our journey within the animal kingdom, a journey which began with neither knowledge nor experience, only the inner conviction that these animals were about to be an integral part of our journey. A journey of inner healing. A journey of Hope.
“When the Almighty put hoofs on the wind, and a bridle on the lightning, he called it a horse.” ”
Taj totally was the ultimate Alpha horse. He had to be stronger than anyone, no one could even approach him without submitting to him. As magnificent as he was for his four years, he was underweight, and had not been treated so well as a racehorse. The bridle scars at the corners of his mouth told the story. He suffered from acute tendonitis which has taken us 18 months of treatment and rest to heal. He was a broken war horse, both in body and in his spirit. He lived on high alert in survival mode.
He had not been treated with kindness or respect, and he was used to “bowing” to man. We saw this during a traumatic experience with our first “farrier” ( from whom we consequently ransomed our two Kurdish horses ) who in a miserable attempt to work on his hoofs, tied him like a sack and brought him to the ground, in a position that we could easily see was familiar to him, a position of total humiliation and disregard.
We began the slow and patient process of establishing leadership, but going at his pace to earn his trust, working alongside him, not from the saddle. As we have done with all our herd, side by side.
“When a horse follows you without being asked, when he rubs his head on yours, and when you look at him and feel a tingle down your spine - you know you are loved.”
"Newroz was also underweight which was why it took us a while to see that she was pregnant. She too, an Arabian, had been worked hard, had some training but lacked human kindness and nurturing. Before anything, we had to take care of her nutrition, we changed food types and supplements looking all over Iraq for higher quality to give her and her baby the best available. We purchased fruit and veg for both her and Taj and gave them both fresh dates as supplements. There were many days when we looked at their fruit and veg salad with envy!!
"We could see her gentle nature, but could also see that at barely four years she was tired, she needed space and rest which we gave her. They could hardly believe the freedom and safety they had found, being turned out for most of the day, surrounded by nature and birdsong, worked for them as it does for us and the kids who come to us.
Newroz learned to trust us, as soon as we appeared she would come over. She wanted company, so did Taj, he was just afraid it would cost him his dignity. Newroz is kind and a loving companion by nature. Refined, gentle, observant but relaxed, she is a wonderful mother and wonderful and trustworthy with our students.
She senses every student’s needs, she is always there for them. I think our walk is parallel, we heal, the horses heal, and again. She knows she can trust us, so she is relaxed and very calm. We quit riding her four months before she gave birth to Almas, and then recently the same. She totally had maternity leave. We will begin to ride her again this week."
Daoud and Barzan
“The air of heaven is that which blows between a horse's ears.”
Newroz gave birth to Almas ( Diamond ) sired by Taj. Almas was “copy/paste, Taj” from the moment he was born he resembled Taj in all his characteristics. We entered into yet a new phase of learning with this baby. We were all super excited but we had no idea what to do with a baby foal. Thankfully, although it was her first baby, Newroz did, so we just generally followed her lead.
“I am grateful for our American equine friends who help us, and have given us much information and direction. I also spend much time in the evenings on YouTube, watching equine training channels. I quickly realised that as young as Almas was, he was already planning his take over, to be the new alpha in the pack. He is super intelligent and has a very strong character. We began to erect boundaries for him, and train him every day so that he would know that we are his leader. We gelded him a month ago, yet another new experience for us all. It was as if we were taking our own child to an operation. He was scared of the pick up truck. We had planned to cover it but he felt claustrophobic and panicked, so we stood up there with him as we drove down the highway to the Agricultural College in Duhok where they performed the operation. Our vet, Dr Ayad told us to bring a group of 4 men in order to hold Almas down. I, ( Daoud ) Barzan, Musa, and Khero went. The operation was performed on a mattress in the courtyard of the college. Thank God, all went very well, there were no complications, no infections and now we are busy training Almas, who is now integrated with the herd in peace and friendship!!” Daoud.
“I want to add here, that the guys have become fathers. They know everything about all the horses. They understand them, their mood, their needs before even the horses know. When one is sick, or about to give birth, or Almas post op, they take turns in doing night watch, staying away and sleeping with the horses. They have learned the power of love, of respect, dignity, trust. They have learned the gift of sacrifice, the willingness to lay one's desires and and needs down for the sake of another. It is because they have grown to be Fathers with the animals, that they are automatically fathering our students. I see that a great part of the healing of the students comes from being “fathered”. It is a father who tenderly places a helmet on a child, and adjusts the straps. It is not a trainer but a father. It is a father who helped adjust the stirrups. It is a father who helps lift the child up onto the saddle. It is a father who hugs. Not a trainer. A father.
If you read “The Voice” last week, you will have heard Mazen’s cry. Mazen is Daoud’s brother. His family was wiped out by ISIS. Barzan also has ten siblings who were in captivity, some still there trying to get home, one unknown, the rest like him are rescued. They do not have father figures but they have become fathers, through horses who helped them heal. Who they helped heal and who together they are bringing healing to 1000 rescued or orphaned students who have come through the stables gates in the past eighteen months.” L
“The horse. There is nobility without conceit, Friendship without envy. Beauty without vanity. A willing servant, yet never a slave.”
Emir and Destiny
Only a couple of months after we were given Taj and Newroz, Dr Saeed and I were driving through a nearby village when we saw a couple of Kurdish horses grazing by the side of the road. As we needed a farrier, we turned around, went into the village store and within a few minutes were drinking tea inside Mr Otman’s house who turned out to be more of a blacksmith than a farrier. Later we even questioned his ability as a blacksmith but that is another story.
We turned up one day unannounced to discover that one of these two horses was half dying supposedly having ingested a huge plastic bag which had to be retrieved inside out. Our hearts stopped, our lack of knowledge was put to one side and we entered into negotiation for two half alive horses. Mr Otman had the decency to ask us to wait with the horse who is now our Emir "in case he dies."
A month later we received a call to say that the two horses were in tip top condition and ready for their new home. We paid good US dollars, and Mr Otman delivered two sick, angry, neglected, Kurdish work horses who needed total rehabilitation much to the horror of all who knew us, i.e. knew our lack of knowledge and experience and dreaded the thought of us taking on two more who could die on us.
And thus we were five. Emir needed healing. His body was sick. His mind was blown. Destiny was anything but a bright destiny. She was angry, furious, and ready to harm any human who came near her. Barzan would look at me and ask why we were keeping the Kurdish horses who “eat a lot, but hate us” and walk away shaking his head, in the direction of our Arabians of whom he approved.
The Emir and Destiny story reminded me of the biblical story of Jacob and his two wives, Rachel who was “loved” and Leah the “unloved”, the unloved being the fruitful.
One of our American equine trainers actually did course correction pointing out that the two Kurdish horses pick up on being the unloved, the second best, and that they actually because their nature is that of a work horse would, if handled correctly, be superior to our Arabians when it came to work. We changed our attitude to them, and consequently they changed their attitude to us. Today Emir and Destiny are great horses and totally fit into our herd. They are a daily reminder of the power of love and kindness that bring restoration and then purpose.”
Neither Emir nor Destiny had received any training. They had been used for work, and were used to someone jumping on their back, tugging at the reigns and going. Their food had been as much leftovers of village bread and whatever could be found in the fields. Both were stubborn, Destiny gave up fast as if she, like many of our kids, hit the self reject button whenever anything was new or hard. Emir was plain stubborn with every good reason.
Emir, once assured of a safe place with ongoing food supply and a dry clean stall, began to relax and indeed he has become a superb work horse. We use him in particular with our wheelchair bound friends as he has the body to carry a large Kurdish saddle, basically an armchair, which gives our friends a sense of safety. He is solid and reliable. He will never pull a “mood” with someone on his back, he is a Prince indeed but one that came looking and behaving like a pauper. We learned to love him even when his body language said “go away”. We also learned not to train on days when we were “down” as our mood or lack of would immediately be transferred to him and would trigger his memories. We became aware of the traumas that he had suffered and the actions that would trigger his memory, and gently worked to give him ( as we do with our students, ) restorative memories. He had been used to carry heavy weights of grain or wood, up and across the mountains, with no food or drink. We showed him short mountain trips, with Oscar running alongside, with encouragment, with rest in the shade, food to drink and a shower and food upon return.
Newroz is a super chilled Mum. Do not be fooled by her laid back attitude, she has one eye on her babes all the time but as long as you behave well, whether human or dog, you can approach and touch. When she wants her baby to come back to her, she will let you know. Being a truster, she has no problem with Sapphire hanging out with our humans, and Sapphire is all in for attention.
After giving birth, Destiny turned upside down, yet again, fear was dominant, the need for protecting Ruby was uppermost. Ruby, caught on to Mum’s anxiety and was quite fearful of us for a while, always shying away. But he’s a curious little chap who grew into his long legs fast, so his delight of running led him into adventures that inevitably included us humans, and Oscar. Mum began to relax and release her fear, seeing that he always came back to her safe and sound and actually began to enjoy the moments alone to graze.
Sapphire, born a month after Ruby, but with the Arabian blood in her, overtook him in height quite quickly. They reminded us of kids at kindergarten, with parents debating lineage in the background not sure whether to allow their kids to mix. Today they are the best of friends, spending much of the day together or running alongside their Mums. We have given them a “day stall” where they spend rest time during the day, returning to sleep with their Mums at night. This is also part of the gradual separation/ weaning process. So I guess one day, there will be yet one more baby, that being from Ruby and Sapphire. For now we are seven. And with that, we are complete.
In closing for today, I would offer this advice. If you want to learn the most precise equine skills, we are not the right place for you. If you want your horses to be transported in air conditioned transporters, don’t come to us. If you want the latest in equine design outfits, look elsewhere.
But if you want to experience the power of adoption, the gift of fatherhood and the journey of healing. Welcome. Look no further.
With profound thanks to all who have helped us in this ongoing journey. Mr Ali from Baghdad, the best farrier in the Middle East. Dr Ayad, our super patient vet.
Tim and Tracey. Steve and DeLaws. You guys are stars. We could not have reached this point in our journey without you.
And to seven wonderful horses who have put up with our mistakes and loved us unconditionally anyway.
Can you help?
Our horses are reaching out to broken hearts and bringing love, trust and healing in ways we could never have imagined. Can you help us with this vital project?