Mark and Camino.
First Serial Rights
HEALING FOR A TROUBLED PASO FINO ©
The 15.1 hand Paso Fino was at the far end of the paddock. The very far end. Trembling in fear, every muscle of the Palomino’s body quivered and jumped as he stared wide-eyed at the people talking about him on the other side of the fence. One of these humans was his owner, Catherine Corona; the other was a well-known trainer, Mark Rashid, whom she had called in a desperate plea for assistance.
Rashid, author of Considering the Horse and A Good Horse Is Never a Bad Color, has worked with all types and breeds of horses and with all types and degrees of “horse problems” for close to thirty years. He has worked with horses that have problems easily resolved and others a bit more complicated. He has started countless horses and trained hundreds of humans in his gentle methods. He has even worked with his share of Mustangs. Probably over 500 horses in all. He grins as he tells that the biggest complaint he’s received about his training methods is that he is “too slow and too quiet”. All that recounted, his experience with Camino left him shaking his head and describing the Paso as “the most troubled horse I’ve ever worked with”. Despite that claim, Catherine eventually sat proudly atop a calm and relaxed Camino and later watched as Rashid slowly worked him under saddle in the round pen.
When a contract employee claimed he no longer had time to ride his horse and was simply looking for a good home for him, Catherine Corona took him at his word and accepted his offer to give her Camino. Thrilled to have the opportunity to get back into horsing, Catherine was smitten with Camino the first time she saw him, “He was so beautiful to me; I just couldn’t believe it.”
Once she allowed Camino to get settled into his new environment, she quickly learned that this deal was not nearly as innocent as the employee had made it sound. Not only was Camino extremely difficult to catch, he was so afraid of his surroundings that Catherine immediately found herself in two very dangerous encounters with him. Although not inexperienced with horses, Catherine said she knew then that, “I was in way over my head”. The emotion was still clear in her voice as she explained, “Honestly, I just wanted him to have some kind of decent life. He was so agitated and wearing himself out. It was heartbreaking to watch. I just had to do something.” Thus began her search for help for Camino.
It was a journey for Catherine as well. In 1987, she was involved in a serious car accident. So serious that her head injuries left her with a seizure disorder. She was unable to walk, could no longer read, and lost 75% of her speech. After the first eighteen months of rehabilitative therapy, the doctors encouraged her to place herself on disability and to accept the fact that she would always be handicapped. “I don’t think so”, proclaimed this determined young woman as she walked out the door. She tells this story today as the owner of her own construction company and as she coherently and animatedly rattles off the details of Camino’s saga. “As you can tell”, she laughed, “I have no problem talking!”.
The road to Mark Rashid’s door was circuitous but, perhaps, inevitable. After having gone to every clinic she could find in her area, talking to any friend or acquaintance who would listen, and asking any horse professional she could find, Catherine kept getting the same responses about Camino. “What’s his breed? Oh, they’re so high strung no matter what you do.” “Ma’am, I’m afraid this horse will never be right. You won’t ever be able to ride him.” “No, nothing can be done.” At the clinics, she watched each trainer with his or her own horses. It was Catherine’s feeling that they all had an angle: "Here’s what I can do in a day." Or "Look how fast we can go." She said, “I just knew that wasn’t going to work. My gut was so strong on this. With the wrong person, Camino would have no chance. He’d surely be a lost cause.”
The first time Mark Rashid walked into the paddock, Camino was so terrified that it took Rashid 45 minutes to catch him, put the halter on, and lead him. He then taught Catherine how to do the same thing by putting pressure on Camino when he walked or ran off, by stopping when Camino stopped, and by stepping back when Camino came toward her. Soon, Catherine was practicing this technique on her own and seeing some progress with Camino.
Even with all the horror stories Catherine related about Camino and all the negative predictions given by others, Rashid agreed to take Camino in for rehabilitation at his barn. Just when Catherine was seeing some success with Camino, small as it was, the arrival at a new location set Camino back even farther than she’d seen him before.
“Camino just fell apart”, she said. “It was so sad. I remember thinking, ‘This horse’s life is so miserable. What a horrible way to live!’ I was just more committed than ever to seeing him get help.” Rashid is a strong believer in building trust with a horse. This means that the human must show trustworthiness. From the simplest task of being reliable by showing up at the same time every day to feed and completing each task in the same way each time, so the trustbuilding process began with Camino. “This is what a horse understands,” said Rashid. As could be predicted, Camino started off at the far end of his pen, shaking and watching the humans who came in with feed and muck buckets. And each day, Camino came just a little bit closer. With no one insisting or prodding or demanding, Camino eventually met the humans at the gate at feed time.
After months of small successes and a six-month interruption of winter pasturing, Camino was still stiff and afraid in most situations. Things that had worked so well for Rashid in the past were either not appropriate for Camino or simply did not relieve the horse’s fears. “Very early on,” related Rashid, “I made a deal with Camino: I won’t do anything to him that he isn’t comfortable with.” This approach ultimately served Rashid well but not before he spent many a sleepless night worrying about Camino. Said Rashid: “I kept trying to figure out the next step. If I do this, “x”, will it set him back?”
Then it happened. One day, Rashid walked into the round pen ... at a loss. “There I was. One of the few times in all my experience with horses that I just did not have a clue as to what to do,” he said. “And then,” he goes on, “it just came over me. It occurred to me that this horse seemed to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. No matter what we did, how reliable or trustworthy we were, Camino always seemed to believe that the next thing would be the bad thing he was expecting.”
So, after what had turned from summer into winter and then into spring, Rashid thought he would just have to prove to Camino that when the other shoe did drop, the human would still be trustworthy and reliable. Standing in the middle of the pen with Camino less afraid than a year before but still wary and tense, Rashid crouched down in a ball and began to growl and make any horrible noise he could summon. A frightened Camino began to run around the pen; Rashid continued his noises. Camino slowed his pace for an instant; Rashid slowed his noises. Camino moved; Rashid continued. Eventually, Camino stopped for just a moment; Rashid stopped as well. And suddenly ... there is was.
A breakthrough. A change of expression on the horse’s face. Camino took a step toward Rashid and then and there was the true beginning of Camino’s healing.
With a deep sigh from this trainer well-known for his kind ways, Rashid wiped a hand across a pained expression on his face and explained, “I’ve never had to do anything like that in the past and, frankly, I can’t imagine ever doing it again. This was not an ordinary situation and folks should not even remotely think that this is an option for them. Trust me, after this many horses, I feel confident saying that Camino was the very rare exception that something like this would work for.”
It was just a few months after this remarkable event that Catherine found herself once again outside a round pen watching Camino. “Wanna get on him?” Rashid asked Catherine. Even as she said yes, Catherine said she knew she was more nervous than Camino. “All those memories of how he was before”, sighed Catherine, “ ... how afraid he was, of the close calls because of his fear. I just sat there for awhile. I never thought anyone would get on him, especially me.” Sitting on a calm Camino’s back, Catherine felt the immensity of the moment. “To not be afraid,”declared Catherine, “to have this confidence in myself, that Camino was truly so calm ... for both of us, the mountain had been climbed.”
With the hope for Camino’s recovery with Rashid, Catherine sought help for herself as well. It seems she, too, had come to a healing. With new neurotherapy, she has now been seizure-free for months and expects to remain so for the rest of her life. “You know,” she said, “Camino was always willing. Even when he was terrified, you could see that he wanted something. This has been a great transformation for him. And for me.”
Camino, taking a little rest.
Photos provided by Linda Bertani who also wrote the story of Camino.