Read Part 6 of Mystico’s story here
In 2002 when I brought Mystico to our farm, we had been living there for a little over two years. Our animal family at that time we moved there consisted of my mare Darma (see Darma Stories 1 – 6). , her goat friend Tess, our Finnish Spitz dog Poika, and the feral kitten named Casey that we had rescued from the farm.
In the two years since we had continued to rescue many more animals. Our horse herd now numbered four, and we had rescued three llamas, three more goats, three more dogs, two pot-bellied pigs, and two guinea pigs. Mystico was animal number twenty-one. Taking on Mystico would have been daunting in any scenario, but we had many animals to care for and our energy, time and emotions were stretched rather thin.
At first glance, our herd of horses was not exactly what most people would have considered the perfect companions for a young stallion. Most people would have only considered turning Mystico loose in a herd of other young geldings who could hold their own if he turned out to be too dominant. Darma was a young and powerful thoroughbred but also a mare with all the hormones and attitudes therein. Our elder gelding Patches was almost completely blind, yet he was the herd leader. We also had two miniature horses; a little stallion I had gelded named Laddie, and a little mare named Minuette, both of them only 34” tall.
Our llamas and goats all lived together with the horses and had free range of the four acre field. I didn’t know how Mystico was going to fit into this mix. He was still essentially and hormonally a stallion, and though he had not been a breeding stallion he still might have the inherent behaviors. Gelding him might calm him in time, but we would have to see how it was for him to live with our herd. Would he cause chaos and stress for the horses and other animals?
The morning after the ordeal of Mystico’s arrival dawned cloudy and calm. He seemed no worse for wear despite his gelding surgery and the stress he had undergone being hauled in a trailer across the country. His surgical wound had bled a little from his anxious pacing the night before and I needed to clean his rear legs. . It was clear to me that his previous tolerance for being touched and handled had shifted. He was in a new environment and he had been through a lot. He was in survival mode, and he reacted more dramatically to movements, sounds, or touch. It was with extreme caution that I handled him, however I was amazed that he did allow me to tend him.
After eating his hay he began pacing the fence line. He knew there were horses nearby and he couldn’t see them. The fence line was a foot deep in mud already from his constant pacing. I debated about introducing him to the other horses yet. I was concerned that he might get worked up again given the healing he needed to accomplish. But he was restless and my intuition was that it was other horses that could help him heal the most. At this moment I wasn’t the source of comfort for him, but horses could be. After the frustrating journey we had been through where he had been forbidden to interact with others of his kind, I wasn’t going to let one more day pass without him being allowed to be a horse.
I decided to first let my miniature horses, Laddie and Minuette into the field so they could meet him through the fence. I felt this could show me his way of being near other horses without too much danger on either side of the fence due to kicking. Minuette immediately trotted down to introduce herself, and Laddie followed. Mystico reached his head over the top of the six board fence as Minuette stretched her nose up to greet him. He could just to touch the top of her head, and she swished her tail and squealed and bucked a little, but she had the freedom to move off if she chose, and she stayed within reach. Laddie then came up to greet Mystico and they touched noses and had a prolonged moment of touching each others’ faces. Mystico was aroused by all the activity and touch, but he was gentle and moved off now and then and licked and chewed, indicating relaxation and release. They continued to engage in this way, Minuette squealing, occasionally lightly bucking or kicking to emphasize her point, and Laddie was clearly interested in Mystico. Given the height of the fence they could only touch faces so that was the focus of their interaction. I was so relieved to see that they were clearly comfortable with each other and that Mystico seemed respectful and gentle.
These dynamics went on for some time. I then spread piles of hay around on both sides of the fence to help them engage in more normal eating activity together. Minuette ate hay as Mystico and Laddie continued to walk around and interact. Mystico already seemed much calmer and more interested in his surroundings. The llamas and goats came up to join in on eating the piles of hay, which indicated a positive sign to me that Mystico’s new presence in the herd didn’t disrupt their comfort level.
After a break, I chose to let Darma into the field by herself so she could greet Mystico. I had introduced Darma to stallions before and as expected, she was quite dramatic. She came up at a trot with her neck arched, and after breathing with Mystico for a moment she squealed, bucked and kicked high with both feet. They interacted and she kept her face towards him. If he grew too bold or talkative she would kick out, and at one point she whirled and kicked the fence, popping one of the boards off. Neither horse was fazed however. The dynamics continued with natural pauses and much licking and chewing for about a half an hour until both of them started to relax more and move off. Darma left first, moving to enjoy some hay and keeping a close eye on Mystico.
After things calmed down a bit I let Patches out. I had felt that given his blindness that it would be best if Darma calmed down a bit before he got into the mix near a fence line. He proudly arched his neck and after sniffing noses with Mystico he whinnied in a deep throaty roar and stood his ground. He presented his rear to Mystico several times, and then would turn and greet him again. Since Patches had been living with us we had grown used to him as the stalwart elder of the farm, yet now we got to see a new side to him. It was a pleasure to see his demeanor and grace as he presented his powerful presence and intent to another male.
He began moving in between Darma and Mystico, asserting himself as the protector and leader of his herd. Darma appeared to relax and allowed this, sometimes positioning herself behind Patches on purpose. Laddie and Minuette watched, though Minuette couldn’t resist a hello and a squeal or too, and after awhile all of the horses settled down to eat hay together at a distance.
Later that day, I let Mystico out into the field by himself while the other horses were enclosed in their barn paddock. He explored at a fast Paso Fino four beat gait, stopping to sniff the ground. He moved along the fence line to greet the horses. Patches trotted the fence along with him, and was now a little more assertive, pinning his ears and opening his mouth if Mystico got too close to the fence, and as before, moving between him and Darma. It was amazing to witness how Patches could sense where Mystico was and how he followed without hesitation, knowing exactly where the fence was and the other horses as well despite his near blindness.
The miniature horses had an opening gate in the fence that they could move in and out of if they chose while the big horses were barred by the top rail. Laddie emerged first to greet Mystico at liberty. They now communicated on the move with body language and location, positioning their bodies in different dynamics. Laddie was usually in the lead. Mystico could have easily stomped on him or kicked him, but their attitude was one of playful respect. Minuette joined in, bossy as before, yet again Mystico made no sexual moves toward her. He responded to her sweetly, respecting her light kicks and the three horses looked quite wonderful trotting together. Laddie’s palomino coloring and Minuette’s beautiful rust and black bay, contrasted with Mystico’s dark steel grey.
Then I released Patches out and kept Darma in her paddock. I felt that this way the two males could engage without a mare to protect. My theory proved useful as Mystico began to clearly challenge Patches authority right from the first. He crowded Patches and maneuvered around him at close range. Finally Patches backed up in a warning, and Mystico didn’t give way, so Patches kicked him with both back feet. It was a daunting display, and I had mixed emotions as I stood concerned for Mystico’s wellbeing, but hopeful that this would be the only challenge between them. Mystico moved away, stunned. He shook his head and neck several times, clearly it had hurt. He pawed the ground, perhaps from pain or frustration, but he was moving smoothly and I couldn’t see any visible injury.
From that moment on, Mystico gave Patches the respect he had earned, and when we let Darma out into the paddock, Mystico ignored her for quite some time. When the energy shifted and all the horses began to move at a trot again, Patches was right there, a blind horse the center of the moving ballet, with the many colored and many sized horses swirling around him. Somehow he continued to place himself at all times between Mystico and Darma. He attempted to include Minuette in his protection as well, but she was having too much fun taunting Mystico and she kicked and squealed at Patches instead.
The horses calmed down after awhile and began to graze. I took some carrots out and beckoned to Mystico and thanks to the treat, he approached and for the first time in two days he responded as if he remembered who I was. He came over to me and gobbled up the carrots, his fast chewing indicated his level of excitement, but at least I knew I could still catch him if I needed to. Soon the horses began to interact more calmly and there were moments that told us that this herd would get along just fine in a very short amount of time. This horse that was by most accounts still considered a stallion, was able to interact peacefully in the same paddock with mares and other males without any concerns, primarily because I was fortunate to have a natural herd dynamic in that there was another elder male horse keeping the peace.
Later we returned Mystico to his own paddock. We thought all the horses, and we, could use a break from the excitement and a return to normalcy. I gathered myself and breathed a sigh of relief. It had all gone more smoothly than I could have imagined.
When I went out to greet Mystico the next morning, his eyes were bright and he was more relaxed as he walked up to the fence to accept the carrots I offered. I was so relieved that he was doing so well and that he was also healing from his surgery. He greeted the dogs and the pot bellied pigs through the fence, and he walked around at a normal slow pace. I was finally beginning to see glimpse of the horse I had fallen in love with.
Later that morning I was so happy to see him laying down, finally relaxing for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. The difficult journey was truly behind us and now that I could offer him the freedom he needed, we could both begin again to learn about other without other people or limitations dictating our every move.
I felt so fortunate to be able to give Mystico what he truly deserved; to be a happy horse. He had been taken from his mother too young, then isolated from horses all his life. His sensitivities had been ignored because he was a stallion and he had been handled roughly by owners and trainers who only saw him as a commodity. Then he had been betrayed by new friends and branded as dangerous. I had no agenda for him, my goal was that he be allowed to be Mystico, this beautiful and gentle horse, who had finally had come to his herd, his person, and his forever home.
As I walked back into the house, I mused on what we had been through together in his long journey home, and on how he seemed to be teaching me to stand my ground, and how to negotiate the complicated dynamics of human relationships. He had shown me how to reserve my trust until it was earned, and to look before I leapt. He was also soon to teach me that those I had looked up to who I felt were superior in their intuitive abilities or horse handling skills, were not necessarily trustworthy or integral.
Read Part 8 of Mystico’s story here