12 years ago we saw an advert in the local paper for a mare and foal desperately looking for a home, due to the owners ill health. As they were living in a nearby village we decided to go and have a look and of course once we saw them and their living conditions, we couldn’t turn a blind eye, even though the owner was asking 1000 euros for the pair.
Capri was living with her 1 year old filly Bonny in a small enclosure, cared for by an elderly man who admitted that he had no idea about horse care. Capri had not been ridden by the man at all and Bonny was a very large, strong willed filly with no manners what so ever. It was obvious that they had just been left to their own devices. They were healthy enough though, and though we knew we were taking a risk with Capri, not knowing her history, we felt that Bonny had great potential and in any case, we could not leave them there now that we had seen them, so we agreed to buy them and by the following day we had two new additions to our herd.
Capri was about 14 at the time and seemed a very nice, kind horse. Once we got her home we tried riding her in the arena and she was absolutely fine, very responsive with nice manners, so we were pleased that the risk had paid off. As she had lost a shoe (at the time we still had our horses shod) we waited for the farrier to come before trying to ride her again. Poor Capri, it turned out that she was terrified of farriers (which is not surprising as they can be quite brutal here and often hit the horses with whatever tool they have in their hand if they don’t stand still – one of the reasons we later chose to go barefoot). She was so traumatized that she was rearing up and almost falling over backwards, so the farrier decided to sedate her.
The following day, when we tried to ride her, it was clear that something was very wrong. As soon as I got on her she started to rear up and it was obvious that she had pain in her head.
I called the vet, thinking that perhaps it was a problem with her teeth but when the vet prepared to sedate her to file them, to her horror she discovered that when the farrier had injected her in the neck the previous day he had blown the vein, and this was what was causing poor Capri so much pain, it could have even made her blind!
Luckily for us, and all of our horses, this was to be the start of the decision to ride the horses in bitless bridles. Capri has been the greatest teacher, as from this day on, she could not bear any contact with her head, even if someone, thinking they were helping, tried to hold her while she was being mounted, her eyes would roll in terror and she would start to rear up, she really was so terrified. This meant that I had to learn very quickly how to ride without contact and of course once I saw how it could be achieved with Capri, there was no reason not to ride all the horses this way, which has been so lovely for our youngsters, who have never known the feeling of a bit in their mouths or shoes on their perfect little feet.
Now, aged 26, Capri is a kind, gentle horse, a great role model to Bonny, and also her subsequent foal Picasso, fathered by Leo. She still thinks she is a race horse, she loves to gallop but though ridden in just a head collar will stop with the tweak of a finger. You can also see her panic still, when you pick her feet out, even now I have to be very sensitive with her and always allow her to put her foot back down if she wants to, never letting it feel like a battle to her, it just proves how deep routed a horses fear can become, and that they have an incredible memory for past experiences – I am so grateful to her for teaching me that it is possible to ride bitless, and also glad that I have had the chance to give her a home and help her recover from her trauma, as I dread to think what her life could have been like, if she had had to continue living with her fear.