Piper is still on the waiting list for a conservation project although the urgency has gone away. He became quite sleek over the winter and is still able to graze in the big field with the other horses at the moment. Chancer is doing what he can to keep Piper slim and fit, they seem to play all day - it's a delight when both of them, for different reasons, were rather remote. Piper borrowed half of Chancer's rug throughout the winter and is now sharing the field shelter. I have done very little work with Piper, resigning myself to the fact that he will always struggle to be around people and might need to go wild again at any moment. Luckily his feet don't grow like other horses and he only had his feet trimmed for the first time when he was seven and under general anaesthetic being gelded. Due to the wet weather, his feet have suddenly grown again this year and today I arranged for him to be fully sedated so that John Adams the farrier could attempt to trim his toes. Despite my best efforts Piper is still very wild - I can get a headcollar on him easily enough but he is desperate to get away as soon as he is approached and I have never been able to touch below his knees on his forelegs. One person is a person and two is a gathering (Exmoor round-up) as far as he is concerned. He was horrified to see Chris Pearce the vet who did an amazing job to get an intravenous sedative into him. With Piper almost completely out of it, John was able to pick up and trim his feet with Piper doing his best to be a tripod while he was so droopy. I couldn't believe it when John put Piper's foot between his own legs and finished the job as beautifully as he does with all the tame horses - that's one brave man.
Trimming over (and bottles of wine handed out accordingly) Julie, Sheila and I all spent the next hour or so stroking and rubbing Piper gently while he came round. This is an experiment I have wanted to do for some time but felt it was unethical to sedate him just to touch him. With a legitimate purpose to sedating him, I didn't have such a problem with exploiting the situation and using this time to get my hands all over the pony always taking care not to behave like a predator. Three hours later, Piper was still half asleep and Julie and Sheila had gone home. I had continued to work on him, putting my arm over his neck and massaging his neck, running my hands down his front legs - wouldn't dare do the back ones even if he was practically unconscious - and stroking his face. At times he was asleep with his head in my lap and I just worked my way all round his face trying to imagine what he would like the most. I talked to him calmly throughout and tried to breath as deeply as I could. Tomorrow I have got the day off and I will be able to check out whether it has done any good at all - if nothing else, I have had the opportunity to express how I feel about him and to touch him in the way that I have always wanted to. There's a song with the words "I stand alone without beliefs, the only truth I know is you" and I would love to dispel the beliefs that Piper has about people and to become his truth. At the moment he is more like "The Boxer" - in a clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down, or cut him til he cried out, in his anger and his shame, I am leaving, I am leaving but the fighter still remains. Piper, who in the end is actually very passive, is that fighter.
Being objective for a moment, there have been experiments before whether ethical or not, which have tried to investigate whether near death experiences can bring a horse round. In the States, a couple of men had a specially designed horsebox into which mustangs were driven and then, with only their head protruding from the side, totally immersed in grain. They reckoned that afterwards the horses were tame and this is some of the basis upon which some so-called horse whisperers lay horses down on the ground and on which some commoners used to put their horses in a bog to get on them for the first time. One can only imagine the psychological effects which may in fact be to shut the horse down completely - sometimes termed learned helplessness. Nevertheless I have had two occasions where due to accidents, animals were close to death and I soothed them and helped them and thought healing thoughts and the animals were totally amenable from then on.
The first was a stray cat that used to burgle my house when I was out and pee up the walls to mark his territory. One day he turned up when I was there and was obviously in trouble. He had a broken leg and for the first time I was able to get near to him and take him off to the vets. The vets fixed his leg and I brought him home and just lay next to him gently stroking him for hours. From then on he was my best friend and when he wasn't claimed I took him with me when I moved house and he lived until he was 18 and was an adorable cat.
The other concerned a New Forest pony called Beatrice. She had always been elusive on the Forest and came in on a round up. She was one of six ponies that I worked with for my MRCPH project. The first time I went into the pen with her she was very aggressive towards me. During the night, she was badly injured in her owner's field, tearing a 1" strip of fur and tissue off her face leaving the bone exposed. It was a real mess. Fortunately her owner decided not to have her put down and called the vet. Vicky from Endell's sewed her face up in some sort of mosaic whilst Beatrice was sedated in a crush. Obviously we couldn't put a headcollar on her to restrain or support her so throughout the operation I stood with her head in may arms and stroked her neck. The following day I approached her in the pen thinking she would probably chase me away. Instead she seemed to say "Oh thank God you're here, I've got such a headache - can you find me some painkillers and a fly hat?" Thereafter I spent hours designing a fly hat which stood off her nose which required countless fittings and I could groom her, pick up her feet and later go and catch her in the middle of the Forest.
I'm not holding out too much hope with Piper but watch this space.....