Happy anniversary to Zoe! I guess it’s an anniversary, ha ha. She officially became mine 11 years ago. I know that this is two days late! Our anniversary was actually December 6th. After therapy on the 6th, I was on my way home when a massive panic attack started. It lasted over six hours. This… this wasn’t getting done. Yesterday I spent exhausted from it.
Zoe, while standing 16 hands (for those that do not speak horse- each hand is 4 inches and is the way you measure a horse’s height), has become my therapy “pony” over the years. Almost instantly to be honest. She was the choice I made without realizing I made it. When someone pointed it out, it was one of those moments where you go looking for your sunglasses and they’re on your head.
I had my first major episode that we (my parents, sisters, and I) knew what it was in 2005. I can honestly say that I don’t remember at least two weeks of my life. I remember not being able to stay home by myself. That’s about it. It took what seemed like forever to even remotely feel like myself again. I was despondent, unhappy, and in just kind of swimming in place mindset. Kellyn had adopted Blaze (the horse that was rescued with Zoe) already and Heather was doing some stuff with Zoe on weekends. They’d spend weekends at our friend Tim’s farm where Zoe and Blaze were taken after being rescued from the abuse/neglect situation they were in. I’d go out to pick them up or drop them off with my mom, but wouldn’t do anything with the horses. I mean… let’s face it- Horses are LARGE animals. Can be a bit intimidating.
My episode was in July. Months later, I wasn’t doing much. I wasn’t back at work completely, I wasn’t doing art, wasn’t volunteering, and was socializing even less than normal. I’d go out with my mom because… Well, the farm was quiet. It was open and calm. I could do a whole post on here about Tim’s and why I fell in love with farms after that. Why they’re a safe place. Moving on…
It was early October when I went out with my mom and found myself standing in the small paddock behind the “big barn” with Mom and Tim while Kellyn and Heather got their stuff together in the house. Zoe is NOSY and wants to know everything going on. She came up to see what we were doing and Tim told me that if I got a brush from inside that Zoe would let me groom her. I did. I have no idea how long I stood there with her. I don’t even remember much about it. I know that she stood completely still. Which she seldom does. Mom told me later that Tim told her that it was the first time he had seen me truly smile in months. Even today grooming is my favorite thing in the world to do at the barn.
I slowly started going out more and more with my sisters. I’d help feed and water, muck stalls… With Zoe, I’d groom and, between Heather and Tim, I learned to lead her correctly. During one appointment with my psychiatrist, at the time, I made the announcement that I wanted to look at getting my own horse. She made me promise I’d wait until Spring to make sure I wasn’t making some rash manic decision (since e episode was still not that long in the past). I continued working with Zoe and my confidence in groundwork was going up.
Can I tell you that I looked at THREE horses between the time I decided I wanted a horse and adopting Zoe. THREE. Spring came and the first horse I looked at was a Paint. I knew I wanted a rescue. I went to one not far from me. He couldn’t be ridden because of an injury, but that didn’t matter- riding was nowhere in my mind. Annette was all about allowing me to have him, facility is through an Animal Sanctuary network. We had barbed wire and she wasn’t allowed to, but kept my name and would direct someone to me if a horse came into her path that would be a fit. The next horse I looked at was an Arabian. Christine saw her in the paper listed “Free to a a Good Home.” She didn’t tell us how old she was. We went and Cinnamon (or Cinny) was a 27 year old. Her owner, Jen, had been diagnosed with MS the year before and it was progressing quickly. She had already had to quit her job as an art teacher and was on meds for a lot. Everyone she had had come look at her wouldn’t let her see their barn (because of her age, people were going to take her for free and then go sell her to the meat man at auction), so she was thrilled when we agreed. My sister Christine decided she would take Cinny. Cinny was being abused at the barn Jen had her at; and One morning she called when she got there (we were working on getting a trailer) that Cinny had marks on her that matched her shank chain. Jen knew someone and we got her out of there. Cinny.. she… Yeah. The third horse I looked at was a Morgan. I had looked at her in like November. We would have been rescuing her from a rescue (the place has since shut down). They lied about the amount that was wrong with her; and it was the following spring I heard she passed away.
I was devastated that none of these horses had panned out. The whole time I was looking I was going out to work with Zoe. There were days that we couldn’t get outside and we’d simply hang in her stall. Finally, Tim simply stated, “I don’t understand why you’re not just adopting Zoe,” like it was the most obvious thing in the world. I had taken over doing most of her work months before from Heather. So, on December 6, 2006 Zoe became mine.
We left Tim’s about two and a half years, or so, later when he gave the farm up after Blaze died suddenly. We had lost Cinny the July before, Ami (we retired him from a Hunter/Jumper school) in February, and then Blaze in late March. Kellyn, Christine, and I moved Carbon (Christine’s horse), Zoe, and Sabbah (a little Arab pony with her own story that we got for Tyler right before the move) to a barn that we only stayed at a few months, too long, before going back to Medina. It was good to be back in Medina with people we knew, but there was no growth for Zoe and me. There couldn’t be.
I have no peripheral vision. That means I have something like tunnel vision and I can’t pass the vision test to get a license. I had to rely on rides to and from the barn. I love my sisters, but they aren’t always the greatest for self-esteem; and being at the barn we had just left mine had already taken a hit where horses were concerned. I’d go to the barn, but… While I still loved being with Zoe, it didn’t have the same relaxing, safe feel to it that Tim’s had.
Dorothy, that ran the barn, retired. We had to find another barn again. Kellyn was moving Sabbah and Kozy (she got a Paint from work as we were getting ready to move) closer to her house in Canton. Carbon passed away a few weeks before the move, so I was only moving Zoe. The plan was for me to take Zoe and Carbon. I was able to find a barn ON A BUS ROUTE. Zoe and I moved to a boarding barn on our county fairgrounds. It was a hike on the bus, but I could get to her on by myself. For the first time EVER Zoe and I were on our own.
Joe’s lasted 6 months when he decided in December that he was closing his barn. His barn manager knew the people with the barn next door and found out they had ONE stall open. My mom went over and talked to them to let them know about my anxiety and so on. The whole idea of moving was anxiety provoking. I’d go to the barn and have meltdown in the stall at the thought.
Moving to Outback Stables… Best. Move. Ever. At Joe’s there wasn’t anything. I loved the barn manager and his wife, but other than that… it was lonely. I don’t willing tend to socialize with new people; and no one there wanted anything to do with most people. Zoe and I did fine in our own at Joe’s, but we were just kind of going through the motions.
Outback offered something far different. I no longer had to worry about getting sick. Zoe would be taken care of. We were both cared about. Hat makes all the difference in the world. Debbi slowly introduced me into interacting with the other boarders. Even got me to start going to their parties. My self-confidence started to rise for the first time since leaving Tim’s.
Zoe has become a therapy horse for me in more ways than before since moving to Outback.
She still does her job when we’re in her stall. On my bad days, she stands there and allows me to groom, lay my head in her back, cuddle into her neck. She will come and stand with her head right next to me if all I can manage is leaning against the back wall’s cornered putting her head down on her door.
We’ve discovered another source of therapy. Thanks to Debbi. Debbi got me on Zoe’s back for the first time 4 years ago this past Labor Day weekend. It was AMAZING! Her goal has been to get me on at least once a year. This year I had made the goal to start really riding. I bought my own riding tack and everything. Severe anxiety kicked in this past May. My speech became unbearable. I couldn’t work. I spent my days at the barn. I had bought my saddle the beginning of the month. One day Debbi told me we were going to get some use out of the saddle. She helped me tack up and took me to the turnout to ride in. I had to get Zoe to kick this soccer ball sized blue ball. We were talking and Debbi pipes up, “Do you notice anything?” My speech was almost crystal clear.
Zoe and I are a long way from experts on most things. We ARE experts at barn selfies, grazing while enjoying coffee, and our own custom routine.
I really hope that you stuck with me through this post. Equine Psychotherapy is “up and coming” in the world of Mental Health. Horse and human bonding been around for ages, but the benefits are just being recognized apparently. My therapist has told me that she knows here are times when Zoe provides better therapy for me than she does and that “I am totally okay with that.”
Zoe and I are okay with it as well. It doesn’t feel like 11 years with my girl, but I know that I am going to greedily take all the years that God will give me with her.
Animals are such a wonderful source of therapy, especially animals like dogs and horses. My partner’s little cousin is autistic and there’s nothing better for her than spending time at the stables, working with the horses. Likewise, I have a rescue dog who I got as an assistance type dog because my depression has been so severe in the past that I can’t be left alone at home – but having him with me makes all the difference. I’m glad Zoe has had such a positive impact on your life 🙂