My previous post on Ben & Jane detailed Jane’s accident in July 2010, when she suffered a traumatic brain injury after her thoroughbred-quarter horse cross, Ben, threw her during a riding session. Jane had never felt fully confident around Ben, whom she’d bought as a green three-year-old at her trainer’s urging. After the accident, Jane knew she would never ride again. She agonized over whether to keep Ben; ultimately her love for him trumped her fears. She knew she and Ben belonged together—the next step was to find a new home for him.
Jane started searching for a permanent barn for Ben, a place where they could establish a new kind of relationship. She browsed Purgason’s website for a directory of local stables and found a listing for Cooler Horsemanship at Fiore Farms. She’d never heard of natural horsemanship before but liked the sound of it.
In April 2011 Jane visited Fiore Farms and met Kate and James Cooler. Jane quietly related the story of her accident, tears streaming down her face—tears shed for herself, for Ben, and for all the pain they’d both been through. She watched James and Kate work with their horses and listened to them talk about the importance of communication, understanding, and mutual trust between horse and human. “Right away, I knew I wanted to be at Fiore Farms,” she says.
Ben arrived at his new home in Summerfield in early May, with one more accident to garnish his reputation: during the trailer trip to Fiore Farms, he reared and cut a gash in his forehead. He stepped off the trailer slightly dazed, ready to start a new life, preferably one that was accident-free.
In less than six months at Fiore Farms, Ben and Jane have traveled light years. James and Kate introduced Jane to ground play, in which she works with Ben on the ground rather than in the saddle—something she’d never experienced before. Although Jane still suffers from eyesight problems and bouts of dizziness, she has proven to be a quick and capable study: she lunges Ben with ease, backs him, disengages his hindquarters, and firmly corrects him when his attention wanders to nearby mares or the prospect of grass. Progress stick and string in hand, Jane exudes confidence and satisfaction.
“There’s so much I can do on the ground,” she says. “It’s me handling him and asking him to do things, not someone else. I know Ben better now, and I trust him more. I know that for every issue, there’s a solution, and it’s always pretty simple.””
Jane supplements her individual lessons by studying the Cooler Horsemanship Online Library, which offers a range of instructional videos. “”Having an agenda, with a hierarchy composed of levels and stages is really helpful. I love the library—I watch the videos all the time. In fact, I learned how to back Ben over a pole from watching one.” She and Ben have even become part of the library, starring in videos that highlight Cooler Horsemanship students.
Ben conquered the pedestal months ago and breezed through a recent desensitization session, in which James rubbed him with a plastic bag tied to a stick. Ben has progressed to a bareback pad; the next step is putting a western saddle on him.
Wait—a saddle? Wasn’t Jane certain she’d never ride again?
Back to July 2, 2011, the one-year anniversary of Jane’s accident: She spent the morning playing with Ben in the arena, and then she did something entirely unexpected. When a fellow boarder offered her a ride on her little quarter horse, Jane said yes. “She took me for a pony ride,” Jane laughs, recalling the hand-led ride around the ring. Being back on a horse made her a little anxious, but it also planted an idea in her head. Maybe she would ride someday. Maybe she and Ben would be horse and rider again, but in a different, much more connected way.
James and Kate think it will happen.
For Jane, the prize lies elsewhere. “If I don’t get to ride, that’s fine. If I do, that’s fine too. I’m just so happy I found this place—it’s an answer to my dreams.”