Gino's 25th Birthday Tribute

Awareness boundaries heart soul confidence-based horsemanship Holistic beings horse behavior Horse Connection horse whisperer horsemanship Mind Overcoming Fear partnership Self-awareness trust Unbridled Freedom working with horses

Happy 25th Birthday Gino

I first met Gino in 2003 as a young gelding. I was hired to do an animal communication session with him. Sweet, smart, funny, he was a horse full of curiosity. As it sometimes happens in life, our paths did not cross again for another four years.

Once again, I was called out to perform another communication session with him. My assignment: to find out what Gino wanted to do with his life. Following a riding accident involving a rider, he’d been relegated to a pasture for three years with essentially no human contact or interaction.

When I arrived for my session with him, I wandered about looking for the horse I remembered. Instead, a horse, one that appeared shaggy, unthrifty, appeared in the designated pasture I’d been told I’d find him. You know, the look shared by those that had been free on the range for what seems like forever.

We spent the next hour or so just hanging out. I tried to show him I meant no harm. He had no trust in me, or for that matter, any other human. Over time, during our communication session, he explained he knew he was a “throw away” horse. I asked him what he meant. He explained.

When he was young, he bonded with a human. Then it wasn’t too long before they sent him away to be with another human. He tried hard to understand what the humans’ needed or requested from him. But it didn’t matter. Whatever he tired, he would, once again, end up in some trailer fated for an unknown destination.

He knew people feared him and stated he should be euthanized. Shocked, I couldn’t believe I just heard a horse use that phrase. I tried to assure him it wasn’t being considered. I asked him would he be willing to ever try to trust a human again. Guarded, he shared his response. He couldn’t take being thrown away again. He already knew what it was like to be put out to pasture without another horse or any human contact. For the past three years, he had been in the pasture where we both stood with his only human contact being that which briefly came along with feed and water, or the intermittent hoof trimming.

My watch’s minute hand completed another orbit around the dial. Just the two of standing or quietly moving, we were sort of together. Unexpected for either one of us, the throw away horse and the animal communicator sent to get answers, something magical happened. We bonded. It happened in our hearts, his and mine. It’s not something I can put into words, but a heart connection was born.

With the boiling grey storm clouds, rolling down the backside of Jobs Peak invading into the Carson Valley, I needed to end our session and return to my Truckee home before the roads became too dangerous to drive on. I told him I would return in three days and together we would spend more time and explore his options, ones better than euthanasia. I knew that the property where Gino pastured had been sold and his owner had two weeks to do something with this horse; the one nobody trusted or seemed to want.

Well, as I’m sure you’ve suspected, one person wanted him. One person saw his heart and he saw that person’s too. I brought him home to meet my little herd, Sky and Rondo. Gino joined us at a time when my effort to care for my mare’s founder was becoming a losing battle. My gelding, Rondo, and I were sad knowing very soon Sky would be gone. Even so, both horses effortlessly accepted Gino into their trio, sharing the same flake or two. Actually, Sky became quite smitten with him over the time the two of them shared.

Eight months have passed and Gino has become more comfortable in his new surroundings. His confidence slowly edges forward but it’s visible and is encouraging. He is still easily frightened and he hasn’t gained trust in me like I hoped he would. His flight and fight instinct has been strongly ingrained inside him. I realize, eight months is not really very much time for a horse that has had no human contact for three years. But I just want him to trust me. I want him to trust me, NOW!

One day I was outside doing horse chores, I started to walk behind him. His ears were pinned back and he was ready to react to whatever he thought I might try to do to him. I paused for a second to check in with what I was feeling. To my surprise, I was waiting to react to whatever it was that he might try to do to me.

“Hmmm?” I mused. “So which came first?” His distrust in me based on his past experiences, or my distrust in him based on our individual past experiences? I couldn’t find an immediate answer, but I felt the matter merited some serious scrutiny.

Upon further reflection, I realized both of us were trapped in fear. We both were reacting from fear based on both our individual pasts.

I saw how I was keeping him trapped in his state of fear, unable to move forward, even into the present moment. Much of the time I spent with him, part of me was always on heightened alert. My brain said that Gino could get easily frightened and was capable of running over the top of me, or maybe kicking me. I mean you hear tragic stories of people getting injured by horses.

I didn’t trust him. Why was that? Had he ever shown me any kind of aggression or attempted to hurt me, either intentionally or not? No. No, not once!

I realized I was projecting onto him and he was projecting onto me the fear from our past. So every time one of us would reach out to the other, with our attempt at trust, there was a good chance it could be met with fear. In return, this would put the other one right back into whatever our individual experiences of fear from the past might have been.

I began to understand that before I could help Gino move forward beyond his past, I would first need to move beyond my past. How often do we continue to bring things that had a negative impact in our lives forward into our present experiences, simply because we haven’t been able to let them go? Rather might it serve us better to leave those negative issues in the past, where they truly belong? The past can only keep repeating in our lives if we allow it. For example, Gino and I were reacting to each other through fear-based memories triggered by some current stimuli.

I started to wonder what would happen if I could begin to view Gino through the eyes of trust. First, I’d need confidence in myself. Then I could help him let go of the fear he carried around within him: the worry that was locked in his memory from his past. I knew I could help both of us build the trust we desired in our relationship by our letting go of the past we both knew.

My intention: everyday I was going to see him for the fun loving, curious and charismatic horse he truly was. Henceforth, I’d begin our days with a big horse hug and some funny boy stuff, such as: going into the tack room and finding something to hold in his mouth. He also loved to play with my Queensland, Barley. Sometimes he’d smell my entire head, beginning at the top of my knit cap, even occasionally stealing it, and finally ending at my chin with a horse lick. The result: he’s so different now, and, so am I.

It makes me wonder, how many other relationships in my life have not been permitted to be all that they can be due to fear and the past? How many others do I look at and see a person that I had a negative experience with? Thereby, allowing that previous negative incidence(s) to block any opportunity to genuinely experience a person for who they really are. How many times have I held back from someone who I really am, due to my fears from the past?

Gino and I continued to work together on his trust issues and in 2009 we had reached a point where I could ride him. He was anything but confident and I could feel that he was ready to bolt out from underneath me at any moment. He had only been able to grow comfortable with myself and my farrier catching him and working with him. Everyone else he would avoid politely, but effectively.

The winter of 2009, while riding out on the snow-covered golf course behind my house, I on Gino, while a friend of mine rode my gelding, Rondo. For no obvious reason Gino became very agitated while we headed towards home. He raised his head high and turned it. I could see his eyes roll back in the socket. He bolted. With both my hands on his left rein, gripping down by his mouth, I frantically tried to disengage him. His neck became stiff, and rigid like steel beam. He ran mindlessly.

Some unknown terror drove him in a mad dash towards a cluster of very big pine trees. At the last second, just before crashing, he veered, tree branches raked at my coat, trying to yank me off. He wildly rushed in the direction of another grove. An enormous tree, about as wide across as the crazed horse beneath me, was coming up fast. I reached out to God, “Dear God if he hits that tree I know it will kill him, but will it kill me too?”

At the last second, he dodged and swerved around it. We missed it. Still hanging on out of sheer desperation I saw he was sprinting at a break neck speed for a rocky narrow trail that lead back to my house. I had to exit this possessed steed. Leaping off in the open before it was too late seemed like a prudent choice. I kicked my right foot out of the stirrup and threw myself off Gino. I tucked into a tight ball and rolled; I felt his hind feet blast snow all over the top of me.

Finally, after trudging towards home, my friend and I arrived back at my corral. I’m covered in snow. Gino stood at the fence trembling uncontrollably. It took us 45 minutes to get him to stop hyperventilating so we could remove the saddle. All of us were shaken, my friend, this poor horse, and me. I decided he should not be ridden until I could have a professional evaluate him.

The summer of 2010, Gino and I set out for the Parelli University to spend 2 weeks, seeing if we could make some kind of a breakthrough together. I told myself that if he could make a connection with one of the Parelli instructors, maybe I could still give him the chance he deserved to have a partnership with a human. After evaluating him, the instructors and I decided Gino was a horse that would not ever be trustworthy as a riding companion.

However, while I was at the course, our unique bond continued to grow stronger during our two weeks of instruction. I observed that he loved to problem solve and play online. We spent many hours on the playground every day going over, under through and around many obstacles and sometimes we just hung out together: just the two of us, chillin’.

At the beginning of the course, he pulled out of my hands every time another horse near us either got worried or excited. I was so tired of the rope burns on my hands and the discouragement in my heart. He would panic every time we went to the water trough and there were other horses or people nearby, or if anyone tried to touch him. He would panic and be gone.

By the end of the first week, this amazing little horse began to blossom. He grew eager to greet every horse or human that came his way. He was doing everything I asked of him and now seemed so excited to be my partner. We played together, calmly strolled down trails, and sometimes caught a break from exercises with me leaning back against a tree while he grazed near my feet in the blistering heat of the Colorado sun.

During that same summer, a therapist friend of mine and I were busy providing Equine Assisted Psychotherapy for clients from the Lake Tahoe-Truckee area. Whenever anyone, whether they were clients or facilitators, were in the round pen doing a session with the horse we used for therapy, named Magic, Gino would move to the far side of the corral. He obviously wanted to be as far away from people as possible.

On one particular occasion, a young girl, our client, whose parents were going through a very bad divorce and were using this little girl as a pawn between the bickering adults. This young lady was doing her best to be a very “good” girl and Magic tried very hard to make a connection with her. Yet, he just couldn’t seem to do it. There was nothing between them, no connection.

I noticed that whenever our young client appeared in the round pen, Gino would come and stand at the fence dividing the corral and round pen. He would just stand there and watch her. He even began to recognize the cars this little girl arrived in. He’d saunter up to the same part of the fence by the time she got out of the car.

On our fifth session with this young gal, we were getting nowhere, I kept noticing Gino’s odd behavior. I finally asked, “Gino what are you trying to tell me, what is going on with this child?”

I heard him say, “She’s scared of people and afraid of being hurt.”

My heart sunk into my stomach. I told my therapist partner she needed to take this child into her office next session and question her about abuse. She did. It turned out this little girl was being sexually abused.

When I found out about the little girl’s abuse, I went out to my corral and found Gino. I sat with him and cried. I thanked him for both his willingness and his ability to connect with her. He had shown us that something was terribly wrong. I made him a promise. I would keep him safe for as long as he lived. Gino had earned his forever place among my herd.

Since then, Gino has gone on to help me raise three baby horses. He has helped teach them how to be a horse, how to be both curious and playful. The booger has even taught the little ones how to unlatch gates. But I’m a gal of my word, plus I know how to chain gates closed.

Gino is still very timid and untrusting of humans. Yet, occasionally he will bond with someone who comes to visit our mustangs at the ranch. When I watch him stretch his neck towards another human, then allow that person to touch him, I know he is connecting to them on a heart-to-heart level. Gino does this in such a special way. One that I haven’t seen another horse do.

Every horse has the ability to help humans to heal from their traumas. Gino taught me that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not just something that affects only the human race. He has shown me that even though he cannot handle being ridden, or even being handled by anyone other than me, he has a gift, he has a purpose. He has the ability to touch the hearts and souls of those who have known pain, fear, or trauma in their lives, and he does so in a way that only he can do.

Gino has brought gifts into my life and into the lives of others. He possesses the talent for helping others let go of their past, let go of their fears, and the filters through which they viewed their world.

Gino has, after all these years, blessed me with the gift of his trust and my gift to him has been to give back to him, my trust, the thing he so desperately needed, and I do so unconditionally. I grew to become the human he needed me to be. The one that showed up and remained grounded in the present moment that allowed me to see him for the amazing horse he is, a horse with a heart of gold.

He had been a horse that longed to be accepted. Now, Gino is no longer seen as the horse from his past. His gift to others is to help them be strong enough, if even for the briefest of moments, to see themselves as victors, instead of as victims.

Cindy Hartzell © 2024

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