Cloé Lacroix - NHE official representative in Canada, Dean of School
“Here are your mittens, Cloé! You left them at the barn”.
“Thank you for finding them” I replied to my boyfriend. “I guess I forgot them this morning when I was playing with Thunder”.
“Don’t thank me! Thank your horse! When he saw me arrive in the field he walked towards the paddock, picked up the mittens you left on the railing in his mouth, and brought them to me”
Let me tell you the story of my first horse whom I tenderly nicknamed Big Boy.
I was told that to be a good horse owner I should keep him in a stall, have his premolars removed and put shoe on his feet.
Although I provided my horse with all the "right" equipment and a "good" home, nothing went right. Thunder was not happy. After a week of watching him in his stall I decided to face my fear, to saddle Thunder and to go for a ride.
I mounted him in the field. He didn’t move. That’s good, I thought to myself – but there was just a little problem. He didn’t move at all! For twenty minutes he refused to take even one step.
A lady told me that she knew someone who could help me. She gave me the phone number and I scheduled an appointment with the man for the following week. It was the beginning of a beautiful journey for the two of us.
Monday morning 8:00 o’clock was my first lesson. The "trainer" asked me to groom my horse. I put Thunder on cross-ties and started to brush him.
Thunder was agitated because being on cross ties in the morning usually meant that his stall was being cleaned and breakfast would be served shortly after. I was really unsure of what I was doing and each stroke of the brush was mechanical. Although the "trainer" was talking to my boyfriend, I knew he was watching me. Little did I know how much he learned about me and my horse just by observing us.
As we were walking to the paddock he told me that he noticed Thunder was shod. I was proud of myself, I figured at least I did one thing right – but then he asked me the killer question: “Why?”
I was getting confused. First I was told I needed to control my horse with a bit and to nail shoes to his hooves. Now this man was telling me just the opposite. For some reason I cannot explain I had the feeling that he was right. I trusted this man, and I know Thunder did too.
I never knew quite what to call him "trainer" was not an appropriate word to describe how he worked. "Teacher" was more accurate, but because I like to give nicknames to people I decided to call him "The-Hippie-Trippie-Horseman". He didn’t seem to dislike it, but his real name is Michael Bevilacqua.
Michael taught me many things about horses. How they live, their needs, their world and the most important lesson I retained is to be in the moment, to observe and to listen. I know that might seem too simple, even superficial, but it’s not so easy to put into practice.
Between my lessons I was having fun just hanging in the field with my horse and his friends. By then Michael had explained to me all the harm of stabling, so Thunder was on "pasture board" and living in a herd.
Our favorite game was to hide few carrots or apples anywhere in the field and to play "treasure hunt". One day as we were walking to a tree to find the hidden apple, I stopped to push a big round bale of hay that was stuck in the mud. I was pushing on it with my whole body, but nothing was budging. It was wet and heavy but I was determinate to move it and I kept on pushing and pushing with all my strength. Thunder approached and I thought that he was going to eat the hay but to my surprise he leaned his chest on the bale and start pushing too. I was laughing and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I continued to encourage him “ Come on Big Boy, push!” He turned around and started pushing with his rear, which made me laugh even more.
I continued taking lessons from Michael, and I remember him talking about a Russian man and a discussion forum. One October day Michael showed up for class with a slightly deflated ball. Needless to say, that the cowboys at the barn thought that he was a weird and strange man and they made fun of him, but Michael didn’t seem to care at all. That’s one of the things I liked best about him.
He told me how important games are in a horse-human relationship. The following lesson Michael asked me to try to show Thunder how to lift his leg and to put in on a rock. I had no idea how I was supposed to do this and I was waiting for more instructions.
“O.K, weird man tell me the trick now!
I drove back home after the lesson with the feeling I wasn't learning anything. I was even thinking that maybe it was time to put an end to this, but then something suddenly clicked in my head. The pieces of the puzzle came together, everything became so clear. "There is no method! There is no trick! All I have to do is observe, listen and try... and do my best to make myself interesting for my horse, make him want to spend time with me and try to understand his language rather than impose mine.
"I joined the NHE forum in December 2005, five months after Thunder came to my life. I have never stopped learning and I know that I still have a lot more to learn. Horses became my passion and I acquired two more within the same year. Although I love them all, Thunder and I have a particular bond because we learned everything together. He is my school boy and he loves it. He knows some NHE exercises and takes great pleasure in learning. He knows colors and can differentiate many objects and pick them up for me. I don’t ride Thunder, I don’t ride any horses. I derive pleasure and satisfaction from groundwork and games. People who used to make fun of us look at us differently now. I think they envy us. I am often asked, “How do you do this trick?" Or, "how do you make him to do that?”
My answer is always the same, “every single horse is exactly as special as Thunder is, if given a chance.
Every horse can dazzle you with his brilliance – if he is educated, stimulated, and respected. It is that simple”.
I can’t finish my story without thanking Lydia and Alexander Nevzorov for so generously sharing their vast knowledge, and Michael Bevilacqua, who believed in us and made this all possible.