By: Lisa Schadt, President
Manito Life Center
Many years ago, when my riding school was fairly new, I received a phone call from a veterinarian who had met a Standardbred horse on one of her farm visits. The horse was at risk of being euthanized or sold at auction, as she had not met expectations in the racing world. Her grandfather had won considerable sums of money and it became clear at some point that racing was not something she would excel at.
I drove many miles to meet Myrna. Although her gaits were not the typical gaits of a school horse, there was something about her that was special. She was friendly and engaging, with deep, brown eyes and the way she connected with us suggested an intelligence that I wanted to learn more about. In the brief time she had been at this farm, her temporary home, she had won the hearts of those around her. Her pasture included mountainous terrain, and one morning her caretakers had found her licking the wounds of an injured horse who had gotten tangled up in barbed wire.
My dream had always been to provide equine therapies to children at-risk and my instincts were that Myrna would be a perfect fit for this program. We took her home.
Over the years, Myrna’s intelligence and sense of humor helped to heal many emotional wounds of the children and adults who visited our farm. At first glance, the stories about her might seem to involve simple coincidence, but there are so many of them, that one can observe a pattern of this horse’s behaviors serving as “ice-breakers”. She seems to know what will make people laugh, what will calm them down, what will elevate the emotions of the group.
Several years ago, I took a few friends to the farm to see the horses. We were all dressed as cowgirls, acting silly and hoping to unwind from our intensive work weeks. One of the ladies walking by Myrna’s pasture was holding a chocolate beverage, and before she knew what happened, Myrna reached her neck over the fence and slurped the entire drink out of her glass. Apparently the taste and smell were quite interesting, because Myrna put on a show, curling her upper lip up and showing her big teeth with a flehman response that certainly looked like she was laughing. The women were hysterical with laughter, pulling their cameras out and getting some great photos of the first horse they had met. Fortunately, there were no ill effects of the chocolate, but everyone still remembers that moment in time.
Fast forward a few years- a group of center city children came to the farm for programming. Myrna was the first horse they had ever seen and they were terrified. Myrna was watching all of them through her Dutch door window and they were standing several yards away. My presence and words did not seem to be calming the children, and I knew that this first visit might be challenging. Suddenly, without provocation, Myrna curled her upper lip, showed her big teeth and held the flehman response for a long enough time to have the children laughing, relaxing and taking some deep breaths. Everything would be okay. My equine partner had made sure of it.
Another interesting thing occurred during an equine therapy training held at our farm. The facilitator asked me to pretend that I was a troubled youth, verbally acting out in the presence of Myrna so that the equine therapist in training could practice appropriate responses. I was very good at this role! But interestingly, while the therapist was on one side of Myrna and I on the other, Myrna kept nudging each of us away from each other, maintaining a distance between us. I kept up the act and Myrna then walked us over to the clock on the wall, grabbed it with her mouth and threw it on the ground. Was she telling us time was up? She did make the crowd laugh, we ended the session, and Myrna appeared calm, content and happy to be part of the activities.
I have never forgotten the first story I heard about Myrna- that she was licking the wounds of an injured horse. She has helped so many wounded children and adults over the years, metaphorically licking their wounds and helping them to find peace, inner joy and resilience. She has a forever home with us and is valued as a great partner in our programs.