9: The Miracle Mare

9: The Miracle Mare

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen

The Miracle Mare

There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.

~Winston Churchill

On a cool fall day in 2010 I had the pleasure of meeting an elderly mare who would change my life and the lives of many others in profound ways. We had moved our original company, Spring Reins of Hope, to a farm in central New Jersey within the heart of Hunterdon County. Shortly after, we started a sister company, Spring Reins of Life, a nonprofit to help raise funds for equine assisted psychotherapy (EAP). We offer EAP to at-risk youth, veterans with PTSD, and bereaved children.

When I met Straw—a twenty-two-year-old Quarter Horse with some physical disabilities and deformities, I, like most people, couldn’t help but feel sorry for her and wonder how she managed to get around and live a productive life. Somewhere around 2008 Straw had been involved in a bad accident (we presume a trailer/transportation debacle). She broke both of her front legs and her neck in two places. X-rays showed fusion of Straw’s right ankle, fusion of the C4-C6 vertebrae, and a shattered left knee, which healed crooked and bowed. If Straw lies down to roll or rest on her right side, she has the ability to pop back up on her own. If, however, she loses her balance or slips onto her left side, she is grounded (unable to get up on her own).

At first glance, most horse people gasp and wonder how this horse was not put down after such a horrific injury. I wondered that myself. Straw’s first career was as a champion-producing broodmare. In fact, I have learned that she is somewhat like “royalty” within her breed. Plainly after these injuries she would not be having any more babies.

As time went on I realized that Straw might really enjoy being a teacher and a healer in the EAP arena. We brought in a specialty farrier and an equine dental expert to ensure her stability and balance so that she could safely be loose in the arena with clients. The EAGALA Model of EAP does not permit any riding/mounted work, but clients interact heavily with the horses from the ground.

As we started integrating Straw into our work and the herd of equine therapists, it became quite clear that she was the one teaching us, not the other way around! I personally have learned so much and have grown in my own heart as a result of knowing this horse. And that pales in comparison to what I have witnessed her do with the clients who come to Spring Reins of Life, dealing with so much trauma and heavy scars from their lives.

In minutes and without saying a word, Straw teaches at-risk and gang youth the meaning of compassion and empathy. She shows PTSD veterans that while you may feel, look, or even be broken, you do not have to live broken. Straw provides a way for grieving children to feel peace. She does all of these things with ease just by simply being herself.

Straw makes no excuses and therefore does not accept any either. We all, staff and clients alike, have learned quickly that pity is a four-letter word in her book. Countless times someone will go to lead her and say or think, “Take it easy now, be careful now,” only to feel themselves pulled off as she turns up the pace as if she’s saying, “Worry about yourself, I’m just fine and going over there.” Giving up is not an option in Straw’s world—go around, go over, go through, go under, take a break, but do NOT give up!

Several of the veterans that come to the farm for EAP are hospitalized for PTSD when they first visit, and sadly, we are notified some are “on suicide watch.” One group had a soldier who had completed several tours of duty in Iraq. I saw such torment in his young blue eyes. He was quiet and kept to himself. That day Straw seemed to pick this young man out of the group. Later on, he began to talk. And talk. About his farm growing up, his horse, his donkey, his divorce, and the color of the grass, etc. We later learned that he had hardly spoken in nearly six months. Seeing what Straw had overcome was like turning the key in the ignition; it revived him.

Another Iraq veteran had severe shakes from anxiety and we were working on a leading exercise so he could experience being in control of something, even if something changed while he was in control. When we asked this young man to change pace as he led Straw, he became anxious and upset. He said there was no way he would ask her to go any faster and abruptly stopped. She stopped promptly by his side. Relief washed over his face as he petted Straw, realizing that to stop was a change and that she stood right there in support of his choice. Later he saw her trotting with another veteran and asked me, “That mare with the legs, she really, really is okay, isn’t she?” I let him answer his own question, for Straw and for himself.

I look at Straw now and think back to when I first met her. She looks so different to me now. I see true strength. I see survival. I see wisdom and compassion. I see love and beauty. Straw is a living miracle that provides a pathway for others to find their own miracles.

~Christianna Capra

More stories from our partners