Whisper Sweet Nothings
Animal Stories from All-Creatures.org

FROM

Ellie Lake, The Gentle Barn
May 4, 2017

I am blown away by her courage, vulnerability, clear loud voice, beauty, strength and softness. She did not allow the darkness to envelop her. She did not let the anger destroy her. She did not allow her abuser to extinguish her light. She had a second chance and she took it. She had someone willing to trust her and she gave it. She had a chance to get rid of her anger and she did it. She had someone willing to love her and she loved back. She had a chance to be free and she embraced it.

Whisper turned twenty-one this week! She has one of the most horrific stories of abuse and one of the most powerful stories of recovery in Gentle Barn history.

She was originally a trail horse, but was given to a rancher who used her to round up cows. Whisper had never met cows before, but she was open, smart, and willing to learn. Instead of teaching her, or giving her time to figure out what was being asked of her, her new owner beat her when she wouldn’t respond right away. Whisper didn’t understand why he was being cruel to her and no matter how hard she tried to please him, she would end up being punished. It turned from a lesson to a matter of survival, and soon Whisper was fighting back. The more she would defend herself by bucking or rearing up, the more cruel her punishments. By the time we rescued her, Whisper had multiple cigar burns on her butt, open sores on her chest, and two deep, infected holes on either side of her from his spurs.

rescued horse

Jay drove all the way to Northern California to save Whisper. She emerged through a wall of fog, blowing steam from her nose, and Jay was struck speechless by her beauty. He loaded her onto the horse trailer in the misty, purple darkness of dusk, and she practically ran onto the trailer, as if she had been waiting for that ride. Jay drove Whisper all through the night and arrived back in Santa Clarita, CA at three in the morning. He woke me up and I ran downstairs, barefoot to meet her. I approached her slowly and talked in hushed tones to her. Before I had fully reached her, Whisper extended her neck and reached her nose out to me. She put her nose to mine and we breathed each other in. We stood there in the dark like that for several minutes, and her fragrant, rosy scent filled my nostrils, my heart and my entire soul. I fell in love with her right then and there and vowed to mend her broken body, heal her broken spirit, and respect and love her for the rest of her life.

The next day I rushed down at first light to see Whisper again, and only then did I realize how broken she was, and how much work it would take to heal her. Of course, her wounds were the first things to hit me. Then, I saw how angry she was and mentally braced myself for the tremendous effort it was going to be to bring her back to joy, peace, and happiness. Whisper’s abuser would give her instructions she didn’t understand, then before she could perform them, he would beat her. So, she learned that when she was asked to do something, she would be hurt. When I asked her to take a step back so I could open her door, she tried to bite, kick, and charge me so she could hurt me before I hurt her. She was angry, panic-stricken, and desperate.

Once we allowed time for Whisper to settle in, healed all her physical wounds, and introduced her to the other horses, the real work began to repair her heart. Every time I would ask Whisper to move back or move over she would turn vicious. Every time she would act out, people would leave her alone, reinforcing that violent behavior. I had to do something to undo that behavior while at the same time showing her that she was safe. I reasoned that I could not possibly ask her to trust me, until I trusted her. One day I walked right into her stall, while Jay yelled after me, as she was pinning her ears, rearing up, bucking and striking out with her feet. I walked right into the center of her stall, closed my eyes, and stood my ground. I kept repeating, “I trust you, I trust you, I trust you.” I held my ground as she charged past me. I could hear her teeth snap in front of me and hear her hooves “wiz” past my ears, but she actually did not hurt me. After about ten minutes she realized that I was not leaving and her violence was not scaring me off, so she stopped. Whisper walked slowly to me until she was standing right in front of me. I opened my eyes and looked into hers. I told her that I understand why she was so angry. I told her how sorry I was that she had been disrespected and abused. I told her that she didn’t deserve it. I told her that we would never hurt her. I told her that when we ask for something, she has all the time in the world to figure out what we want. We would work together to heal, and recover from her past. Whisper exhaled a long, deep breath, relaxed her neck, and half closed her eyes, as if she understood me completely. She never charged us in her stall again.

The next thing we had to do was help Whisper get all the anger out of her body. There was no way she would ever find happiness while carrying around all that fury. We called in a trainer who took her back to the scene of the crime, to allow her to express her trauma, and at the same time see that it was over. He would ask for small things that she knew how to do, and the instruction would send her into a frenzy. Instead of controlling her or restricting her, he sat quietly on her and just listened. Each time she bucked, reared, kicked, or charged, she was getting the anger out of her body. Each time she raged, she was a little bit lighter and a bit more free.

It took four years to get the anger out of Whisper. Every time we would ask her to do something she would try to attack us before we could hurt her. As the years unfolded, each time was less scary as the time before. Then, one day there was no anger left. She was light, and soft, and peaceful, and full of surrender. The last day the trainer came out I put her halter on, took her out of her stall, and she readied herself for the saddle and for her days lesson. Instead, I looked into her soft, velvet, brown eyes and said, “Today you are free. No one will ever ride you or disrespect you again. No one will ever treat you like an object again. We will always hear your voice. We will always see you. You will stand beside us as an equal, as family, and as our love.” I gently took her halter off and I pointed to a patch of grass. I told her to go eat, that she was done, that she was free. Whisper stood there for a few minutes in disbelief and confusion. She bounced up in the air like a little kid doing a happy dance and ran over to the grass and munched happily while I watched and cried. I was so proud of her!

Many years later I had an animal communicator talk to Whisper. She said that Whisper’s abuse was equal to that of a woman who was abducted and kept in a basement and raped every day for years. By the time we had found her, she had such a loss of dignity and respect that she had no will to live. After the four years it took for Whisper to recover, no one will ever ride her again. Even now, we are very careful to respect her and handle her in a way that she won’t feel objectified. We never just put our hands on her; we always use our voice and ask for what we want. We never rush her; we give her plenty of time. We brush her slowly and carefully; paying close attention to her body language, so if she says anything, we’ll hear it. I still take Whisper for walks out on the trails, but once we pass the last house, I take her halter off and let her run beside me, free. I walk at a steady pace as she grazes and falls behind. After a few minutes, she’ll gallop to catch up to me, touching her nose to my face or my hand each time.

The bond and trust that Whisper and I have are one of the most treasured things in my life. Walking beside her out in nature is so much more intimate than any riding I had ever done on a horse. As much as I love all my babies and enjoy giving them cookies and kisses goodnight, it is telling Whisper that “I love her” each evening, looking into her eyes, and breathing her in as she puts her face to mine, that fills me in ways that there just are no words to describe. When I gave her my trust, when I accepted and heard her anger, when I poured my soul into hers, I gave her a piece of me that she will own for the rest of her life.

I am blown away by her courage, vulnerability, clear loud voice, beauty, strength and softness. She did not allow the darkness to envelop her. She did not let the anger destroy her. She did not allow her abuser to extinguish her light. She had a second chance and she took it. She had someone willing to trust her and she gave it. She had a chance to get rid of her anger and she did it. She had someone willing to love her and she loved back. She had a chance to be free and she embraced it. Just from my own personal experiences and from the countless stories of the wounded children that we work with, I know that these are no small feats! Whisper is, and always will be, my greatest hero and my biggest inspiration.

Happy Birthday Whisper! May we celebrate many, many more years together!

If you haven’t met her, please come visit her at the Gentle Barn in California and fall in love with her with us.


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