How Pippa Led to my Emotional Re-education

How Pippa Led to my Emotional Re-education
Pippa and Angie *Photo by Maureen Garrity

The Start of my Journey

I remember my first ride; I was five or six and from that day I was hooked. I am sure that my family, who was not horsey at all, regrets the day I went on that pony ride at the zoo. I started formal lessons when I was eight at a local riding stable. Within a couple of years I started leasing a horse and participating at the local shows. I was, and still am, a very competitive person and would have done anything to win that class and the high that went along with the 10-cent red ribbon.

I took a break from horses from the ages of 16 and 23, and when I came back I knew I did not want to be with horses the way I was when I was a teenager. An Ango-Trakehner mare, Kelly, had been gifted to me, and she started my journey into Natural Horsemanship in 1997.  When I look back on that time I realize that Kelly was not the horse I should have taken on as my trail horse. I was blinded by her beauty and size and thought the bigger the horse the better. I can assure you don’t live by that motto today now that I am almost 50! Kelly had been a high-level dressage horse who had spent her years going from stable to ring and back again. She had never been taught how to be a trail horse and I didn’t know how to cope with her anxiety when we went out. I don’t think we ever once had a relaxing ride out together and due to a series of injuries with Kelly I was not able to make the progress in Natural Horsemanship with her that I had hoped for.

Things were completely different with my next horse, Scarlette, a Polish Arabian mare, who was my companion in the next phase of my journey. She came to me at the end of Kelly’s time with me and we had a wonderful 16 years together. We would ride out for hours together she preferred riding alone rather than in a group. I had a very close bond with Scarlette right up until the time I had to euthanize her in February 2015. That loss was devasting for myself and my family, and to this day I feel her passing immensely. After losing Scarlette I struggled with even thinking of having another horse, but I had kept my spot at my boarding barn, just in case. In April, a trainer came to our barn to put some first rides on a few local horses. I remember so vividly the first time I saw a skinny chestnut mare who had been brought to the clinic. Half her mane was rubbed out to the skin and other bits were standing on end. Her coat looked motheaten and her feet were a horrible mess. She stood with her head in the corner and would not make any eye contact with me. I felt compelled to stay and watch this mare’s time with the trainer. It was difficult to watch as there was no care taken in saddling her, everything was forced and fast, and I could see her retreating even more into herself as her time with the trainer went on. At the end of the hour she was lathered in sweat and her nostrils were flared as she tried to take in as much air as she could. It turns out that the poor chestnut mare had been purchased from an auction by people who were unable to handle her so a neighbour took her and decided to start her and find her a home. That woman, the one who brought her to the clinic at our barn, spontaneously asked the barn owner if she wanted her. The barn owner immediately looked at me. I think it was the fastest horse deal ever worked out and in a very short time I had agreed to free lease her. If I liked her, she would be mine. I still chuckle at the “free lease” as we all knew it was already a done deal after the first day with her. The unnamed chestnut mare had found her forever home, and after a barn naming contest we settled on calling her Pippa.

Back then I didn’t know about shut down horses and what they looked like. We all thought Pippa was a quiet mare with some quirks. I thought, “I can do this.” I had worked through some behavioural issues with Scarlette, I also had the support of my barn friends who I could talk to and lean on for support. With Pippa I went right to groundwork while doing some light rides to get to know her better. A couple of months later we had our first trail ride with friends, which went really well. During that summer there were many moments of what I know now was Pippa “waking up” from her shut down state. She began to strike out defensively,  I was at the end of her teeth and hind feet coming at me a couple times; another time it was a visiting vet. Over the summer she also developed a very big opinion of having her feet trimmed (my farrier at the time ended up firing me and said I was crazy and not equipped to take on a horse like Pippa).  Luckily, I found the right farrier and I am fortunate that he is still looking after Pippa today. He was always fair and kind in her early days as we worked through her trust issues, and this spurred me on even more to be successful and have Pippa become a good horse member of society.

In our second year together, we went to our first clinic with a friend and her gelding from our barn, whom Pippa knew well. Pippa spent the three days of the clinic in a total state of panic with the pressure of the other horses and the enclosed indoor arena. By day 2 we were able to leave the arena without bolting out in fear. Progress! I did win the prize for being the most emotionally fit human, which I still laugh it, internally I was mortified and just barley managed to keep it together.

Sometimes Things Need to get Worse Before They Get Better

Pippa was, and still is at times, not naturally confident. She is highly sensitive and anxious, and also very strong willed. It was a challenge for her to find any true relaxation and she could go catatonic very easily.  A few months after the clinic we had a parting of ways on a trail ride that ended up with me landing in the middle of the road on my head. I had always been a brave rider, but this fall shook my confidence. But even worse, I lost all trust with Pippa. I started riding her very defensively as I waited for a spook, spin or run backwards. Our time together was not enjoyable for either of us. We were stuck and I didn’t know what to do. For the next couple of years my emotions ran the gauntlet from anger to fear, sadness, a lot of tears, and everything in between. I had constant thoughts that maybe I needed to find Pippa a new home, but I knew in my heart I could not do that to her. Pippa’s ongoing insecurities and fear overwhelmed her, and me, at times. Not every ride was bad and that did keep me going. But when she would “act up” on trail rides my anger would get the better of me. I had been faithfully continuing with what felt like thousands of hours of groundwork and couldn’t understand why it still wasn’t working, I would be embarrassed if we were out riding with others and yet full of self doubt if we were alone. I admit that at times I treated Pippa unkindly. I had made it about me.

Our journey together was also complicated by Pippa’s multitude of illnesses and injures. Recurring coughs, hives, eye issues, surgical removal of a lump, etc. plagued us for the first four years, but in 2019 it reached a new level.  The year started with a suspected lateral collateral ligament injury on her front left which meant she was off for two months. A myriad of other health issues popped up, including another surgery. Then a re-injury of the lateral collateral ligament resulted in our first six-month rehab. It was an exhausting year emotionally and physically. 2020 was a better year medically until November when she re-injured her lateral collateral ligament for the third time. I was devastated. I was devastated. This was going to be Pippa’s most restricted rehab yet, a year with no groundwork or turnout and the first six months in a small paddock. Our one saving grace was that I was allowed to start hand walking her out on the flat trails by the start of the third month. This was the beginning of my change.

“Its not a method, it’s a mindset” – Warwick Schiller

The first four months of rehab we walked and walked. We walked a lot. I became obsessed with tracking our walks with my Fitbit and we logged 260 kms! But as we walked and spent this undemanding time together, I began noticing a change. This time gave our relationship a restart and it was a chance for me to really dig into to explore the changes I had begun noticing in the horse world. I had been intrigued by what I was learning about, but I didn’t know how to implement them in my relationship with Pippa. Plus, change is scary for me, and my identity is intertwined with Natural Horsemanship. If I changed my approach, would my identify change too? But I knew what I had been doing was not working for either of us, pressure and release was not working for Pippa and it no longer felt right to me. I had begun to watch videos by Warwick Schiller as he was making his change in his way of working with and seeing horses. The idea of a horse being seen, being heard, feeling felt, and getting gotten really resonated with me!

I then started discovering the work of other teachers – Josh Nichol, Sarah Schlote, Jane Pike, Nahshon Cook, Kerri Lake, Adele Shaw, Alexa Linton, and so many others. Seeing the way horses were being considered was inspiring and I knew I had to change the way I had been interacting with Pippa rather than trying to change her. I asked myself what part did I have in Pippa’s behaviour? The answer was “all of it.”

Pippa had been screaming at me for years, but I wasn’t listening. I was stuck in the mindset of believing that I needed to be the leader and always in control. “Get after them,” “don’t let them get away with that,” “be the boss.” Those were the directions I grew up with and the belief of the Natural Horsemanship figures I followed and even admired at the time. You weren’t meant to have a relationship with your horse, it was a dictatorship. The cool things I did at liberty and was so proud of weren’t Pippa’s ideas, they were demands. I was understanding that demands are not at all what a healthy partnership should be. This quote sums it up perfectly for me:

Leadership isn’t really about us getting horses to do things, it's about us being able to be together in a way where we are empowering each other to grow. There’s moments where my horse is leading me, there are things they lead us to and there are things we lead them to. When there are dominant mind frames, we miss out on the depth of the relationship (Josh Nichol on Warwick Schillers podcast).

As Pippa continued with her physical rehab, I dove headfirst into the mindfulness practices I was learning about. This brought an entire new awareness to my being. It helped change my thought pattens from the fear-based “what if she spooks and spins and I fall off and hurt myself again,” to trust and positive thoughts such as, “we will have the most wonderful ride on this beautiful day?. I came to learn how many negative thoughts run through one’s mind on a 2-hour trail ride!

After all our hand walking and my emotional re-education, it was time to start riding again. I started riding out with friends at first, and then in May 2021 I felt ready to go out for a ride on our own. In the past solo rides rarely went well, but this time was different. Our relationship wasn’t what it was before her injury and this time when I got on, I immediately felt a difference in myself. I was calmer and aware of my body and any tension that crept in. For the first time I really gave Pippa my trust and promised to be her partner. It’s hard to give control to a 1000-pound flight animal and be truly relaxed while doing it. But I allowed Pippa to have a say and asked for her consent, she was now considered. Being ok if Pippa chooses to not participate has been humbling for me. Now I find she truly wants to interact with me and tells me if she wants to do more! I welcome Pippa sharing her feelings with me, it is all valuable feedback and tells me if I am doing right by her. We have one trail that Pippa was always quite worried about when we used to ride it, but now she asks if we can take this trail almost every ride. The changes have been life altering, for us both.

The most rewarding thing is that Pippa is emotionally and mentally balanced. I didn’t do anything special; she knows she can trust me and that I will hold space for her in moments of uncertainty. In the past she would get anxious and go over threshold that I couldn’t bring her back from, which led to more anxiety on both our parts. Now she very rarely goes over that threshold and if she does she is able to come back to the parasympathetic state (rest/relaxation) quickly. I don’t get anxious if I feel her approaching the threshold. I trust that she will get through it with my support and understanding. The few times in the past 2 years when something extreme is happening in the environment around us, I simply get off and we continue with a hand walk. We are slowly building up to longer rides further away from home alone. She used to rush home as soon as we turned back toward the barn, but now we walk home on a long rein, at times at such a leisurely pace that I have to encourage her to walk on. It’s an amazing “problem” to now have.


We are out riding after 2 months off from another injury, this time a hind leg high suspensory strain. It’s another winter rehab and we are in month 6 of walking and maybe 45 cumulative minutes of trot. Pippa has been amazing throughout this latest rehab. Riding out on the cold windy days she has rarely put a foot wrong. She isn’t “wild,” “winter frisky,” or needing daily long sessions of groundwork like I used to think. She is balanced and happy in her own body knowing how to work with her own emotions. What a difference from the first rehab that I thought I would never get through!

It has been two years since I changed my view of how to be with horses. Pippa now has a partner in me that she deserves, and I have to pinch myself that I have the relationship with her I have always yearned for. These days I am not interested in what my horse can do for me, but rather how I make by horse feel.

*Angie Furtado lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada – you can follow Angie and Pippa’s journey on Instagram @pippa_horsemanship

Angie Furtado

Angie Furtado

Born and raised in Victoria, BC, Angie has been a horse lover and avid trail rider for as long as she can remember. Follow Angie and Pippa’s journey on Instagram @pippa_horsemanship
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada