It took an entire summer of visiting Merlin every day before he would even acknowledge my presence. Eventually, he began to trust me. And then one magical day, he greeted me with a soft, sweet whinny, and stuck his head out and let me pet his beautiful face. That was the day I put on my buck-it list “buy Merlin.”
Why Doesn’t Anyone Love Merlin?
Continued From Wooing Merlin, The Tune-Out School Horse
I spent a lot of time at camp watching kids ride; some weeks I stayed and helped out. My daughter, Lizzie, has type 1 diabetes and it was my subtle way of being a hovering mom without appearing to be a hovering mom. I also wanted to learn how to groom and tack a horse and pet them (Merlin) without getting bitten.
Time and again I heard kids complain about “having to ride Merlin.” His ears are small, his lip droopy, he was skinny and swayback and nipped at people. And, any affection offered to him was barely acknowledged; much less given back. Only one little boy ever seemed to ask to ride him. All the others argued over the ponies with beautiful manes and flowing forelocks.
Merlin’s refusal to bond with me made me want to connect with him all the more. There was something about Merlin’s life and his state of mind that I could relate to. If I was a horse, I would be Merlin: Tuned out. My life consisted of work and responsibilities; void of play time and fun. I had not made one single friend since moving to California out of fear of becoming too visible and all my family members were on the east coast, 2,300 miles away. I plodded through my own life as a school horse — just getting things done, knowing each day would be the same.
Maybe, I thought, Merlin could be my friend. I bet he had his own story to tell, like me, but just did not trust anyone to open up to yet, again, like me.
There are plenty of school horses (horses used in lessons to teach student riders) that are full of life and curiosity. Merlin was not one of those horses. He never nickered or whinnied at anyone — not even the guys who came around with food. He kept to himself, and when walking around other horses I noticed he held his head low and moved away from other horses. He was very shy and withdrawn.
He stayed to the back of his stall, head down against the wall. When I called his name he did not even look up or turn around. I would offer carrots; sometimes he would take them but as soon as the carrots were gone he retreated to the back of his stall.
I visited Merlin seven days a week. He now knew he could count on me for carrots and slowly started to come when I called him. He made it very clear: I was annoying and seemed to say, “it’s all about the carrots, lady.” And so, I began referring to myself as the carrot lady.
All summer I gave him carrots, but he never once let me pet him. If I tried, even while being fed carrots he would back away. He was not hostile, just not interested in connecting with me.
Summer was ending and I felt I had made no progress at all except that I was now insanely in love with this little horse. Then, during the last week of camp, I went, as I always did, to visit Merlin when something magical happened:
Merlin heard my voice, offered a quiet, sweet nicker, and stuck his head out and let me pet his beautiful face. I was no longer carrot lady. I had made a friend.
That was the day I put it on my buck-it list “buy Merlin.”
I believe all horses deserve to be loved — especially Merlin and all the other school horses who give give give to help teach us how to ride. But in the process of wooing the heart of a very reluctant horse, I found my own walls breaking down. The years of bearing silent, agonizing guilt over not ending a violent marriage sooner began to slip into the past. Merlin taught me how to live in the moment and enjoy each new day. I may have given Merlin a brighter future when I bought him, and he also gave me a wonderful future of happy horse times, but our bond also allowed me to do something I had not been able to do in years of recovery as a victim of domestic abuse — put the past to rest. The bruises on my heart are now as long gone as the bruises on my face and body.