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Bullies: Human & Horse

Most of us experienced bullying when we were children. It doesn't feel good and, at the most basic level, leaves us wondering, "Why me?" It's hard for bullied people not to think that something is wrong with them, that they are inherently flawed, different, and unlovable. Such was the case for me.

I encountered one of the tamer forms of bullying as a child, yet it still had an outsized impact on how I felt while it was going on. For a year, when I was in elementary school, a girl on the bus relentlessly teased me. It didn't matter where I sat on the bus. She moved directly behind me to taunt me for the ride to and from the school.

Part of her taunt involved her calling me "knit-one-pearl-two." It means nothing to someone who has never knitted, but my mother taught me to knit at a young age. So, when I took knitting in Home Ec class, I had these basic stitches under my belt.

Initially, I was proud of my knitting, but once the bullying started, I made a significant effort to downplay my skill. The girl took exception, with the teacher praising me for my knowledge of knitting and ability to execute these basic stitches.

I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was six. I repeated the first grade and attended special education classes to develop my reading and hand-eye coordination. Confidence was not something I experienced in the classroom, and the bully quickly stole the glimmer I felt in that class.

I did my best to play "small," hoping the girl would find something or someone else to focus on. I dreaded getting on the bus. I got a pit in my stomach when I saw her at the end of her driveway, and the squeak of bus brakes halted us in front of her.

She climbed on, scanned the faces till she found mine, and parked herself. From there, she proceeded to humiliate and embarrass me for the ride.

She eventually found someone else to make fun of, and while I felt terrible for the new victim, I was relieved to no longer be the object of her attention.

A few years into my journey with Rudy, I noticed nicks and cuts caused by bites and kicks from a horse in the herd he was with. I didn't think much of this initially, but I worried for him as the days passed. I spoke to the barn owner. She said, "They'll sort it out."

I learned that horses don't always work it out, particularly when confined and unable to get away from each other. Rudy bore the brunt of my lack of knowledge and confidence in those early days.

Rudy sustained physical and emotional wounds while he shared a paddock with the bully. His personality slowly changed. He was less playful. He exhibited signs of stress—head bobbing, tension in his face, and chewing on the inside of his mouth. He clung to me at the gate and pleaded sadly for me not to leave him.

I didn't realize how miserable he was until we walked back to the paddock one day, and he planted his feet and refused to move. At that point, the severity of his situation was apparent, and I became the advocate he needed.

Rudy moved into a new paddock with a horse named Mayday. If you follow us on social media, you know Mayday. He is a draft-cross with an even temperament. He and Rudy have been best buddies for five years.

It took time for Rudy to unwind and heal. It turned out that the stress of being picked on daily caused stomach ulcers. It was weeks before he recovered and returned to his goofy, playful self.

I wish I could say that was the last time I listened to someone with "more experience" instead of my gut to guide my path with Rudy, but it wasn't.

Trusting myself is one of the many lessons Rudy is here to teach me. Eight years into our partnership, I know what's best for him and stand firmly in the face of well-meaning horse-people's advice.

There is much to glean from the messages in this blog.

  • Trust yourself, first and foremost!

  • Stand in your truth even at the risk of angering others. Their reaction is theirs and not your problem.

  • When something feels off, it usually is. Act on this feeling instead of allowing it to simmer.

  • Be the advocate for the people and animals you love.

  • Victims of bullying, whether human or animal, may experience anxiety and depression. They also may experience a host of physical ailments from the abuse. In Rudy's case, he began bucking under saddle when we asked him to canter. This behavior was uncharacteristic and tipped me off that something was wrong. Ultimately, he was diagnosed with ulcers.

  • Call the vet or other equine practitioners if your horse suddenly displays new and undesirable behaviors.

  • Human and animal bullies are part of life. Ultimately, they teach us to stand up for ourselves. They also force us to realize that we are worthy and loveable.

By Diane R. Jones

October 20, 2023

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