Bhim: Through Life Drama and Training Plateaus

It’s been six months now since starting Bhim’s Training Diary online. But time is a fluid thing for a horse. Bhim came to my farm for training, only a month or so, in the fall of 2013. So yeah, it’s been nine years. Or ten.

Recently someone said, “Well, it’s not like you’ve been working with him all that time.” Well, I kinda have. He certainly had to have his feet trimmed and vet care, and I had a dream. I’d like it if one day someone else could halter him. Or even touch him. Every year we inched a little farther, only to lose some ground back the next. But that’s still progress.

So often with rehab horses, they just need time to decompress. Benign neglect is a miracle cure but not with Bhim. It was as if he was desperate to be anxious; he found a way to be feral in my peaceful herd. So we continued to chip away in small slow ways, giving him time to regulate his nervous system.

The first seven or eight years that Bhim was here, I never saw much of him. Just his feet. He held a safe position behind other horses. I had a quiet method of getting the halter on him in forty minutes or so. Every few years we cut a few minutes off that time. Some years it felt like a training plateau but we couldn’t hold our position. If he got a fright, it took a long time to win that precious ground back again. We made progress, we lost progress.

There are quicker methods, but trauma is a part of this horse’s experience and he won’t be healed by more of the technique that damaged him. And I know enough about humans to halfway think Bhim is right about us. I had to play against type and prove I was not the person he was so certain I was. But I believed in my methods even if he didn’t. So, we slogged on negotiating every inch.

Last fall I felt there was a tiny but fundamental change in him at long last. He gave a Calming Signal while on the lead rope. Just one, but he was in my proximity, and it was the first crack in his world-view of dread, a tiny opportunity. If I could stay steady, his sharp pointy edges might soften.

I did something different this time and invited everybody to come along by offering a six-month-long window into our work together. I share videos of each of our sessions, even on the days we go off the rails. Those are the days of possibility; the most important days are always the less-than-good days.

Friends warned me against it, and they might be right. Even now, it is uncharted territory. Bhim is one of the most challenging horses I’ve ever met, but I’m betting on him. Besides, if I’m not willing to practice what I preach, what do I have to lose, anyway?

Bhim and I will never be YouTube stars. If you’re looking for the drama and wild hijinks of a colt-starting competition, we are the wrong choice. But if you’re looking for a sloth-slow, patient demonstration of Affirmative Training with a horse who thinks those words are an oxymoron, we are the perfect choice.

I wear the camera on my head which doesn’t always make for the steadiest shot, but it’s important that you see him through my eyes. I’m mostly silent when I train, so I do voiceovers to explain what I’m hearing and thinking. We work in short sessions andBhim gives an advanced course in Calming Signals.

I like to think I’m a particularly courageous trainer because the horse I’ve chosen to work with is 34 inches tall, and more horse per square inch than a Clydesdale. It’s a challenge I don’t see other pros take on.

The session started in January and we’ve just completed six months. As usual, things didn’t go as I expected. The year started with a death in the herd. The last thing any of us wanted, this beautiful gelding was the hero we all looked up to. We had to navigate the huge hole he left behind.

A month later, just as it started to look like the herd was settling into a new normal, Edgar Rice Burro, our moral compass, had a dangerous midnight colic. I found out my ulcer supplements weren’t working the way I hoped they were. It took a very visible toll on our elder donkey and I made turnout changes in the herd.

For good measure, I broke my wrist, as one does, and got to do some non-dominant hand work. Hand use is over-rated, says Bhim.

There were bumps but we made remarkable progress. I bought a cart and harness because I think it’s a possibility at long last, but the work we do is fundamental to any horse and any discipline. It’s about communication. Training is the process of collecting good experiences, regardless of end goals.

Think of it as a master class, given by one horse to one human, with a trainer giving commentary. Each week, I’ll post a video of several of our work sessions, with a voice-over explaining my process and the changes I see. View them at your leisure. You’ll be able to comment on the feed with other auditors and me. Once a month, there’s a live Zoom to share and ask questions, also recorded for later viewing.

Use it as a case study for understanding the fundamentals of Calming Signals and Affirmative Training. Longtime blog readers tell me it’s the missing link; the visual study guide for what I’ve written. Now we begin the second session of training in real-time.

Warning: Bhim still doesn’t like me. I still don’t take it personally. He still doesn’t like anybody.

Finally, a word about Bhim’s name. When he came to the rescue his name was Batman and considering his behaviors, it was decided he could use a new moniker. I was told Bhim was a Sanskrit word for “great one,” but it took me till now to look it up for myself. It’s true that one definition leans toward “huge, mighty, powerful,” and that is a good fit for this horse. But another definition chooses the words “dreadful, ghastly, fearful, frightful.” That’s a bittersweet truth, too.

But don’t we always have to go deeper than the surface in our horses and ourselves to reveal who we were meant to become, before the bumps and curves of life got hold of us?

Join us in Bhim’s Training Diary, Part One here.

Join us in Bhim’s Training Diary, Part Two here.

I was able to regain my identity on my Facebook business pages, but I’m not willing to give them that kind of power again. If you appreciate what I do, please Subscribe to the blog or come join us at The Barn School.

Anna Blake, Relaxed & Forward

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4 thoughts on “Bhim: Through Life Drama and Training Plateaus”

  1. Strange that there are no comments on this! I kept checking back & refreshing but stayed the same.
    I enjoyed this & love to hear about little (he likely would hate that) Bhim.

    • It’s just you and me, Maggie. I’ve been wondering why it’s so quiet, too. Thanks for letting me know; I wont call the tech guys.

      And yes. There is nothing little about him… Thanks!

  2. Though I acknowledge the second definition of “bhim,” I prefer the first: “huge, mighty, powerful.” IMO, “huge” can be packaged in small containers though it doesn’t diminish the impact of what one considers it is to be huge!

    Had a bit of my own hacking going on which kept me sidetracked for a week or so. Someone charged over $1300 on my credit card, so had to have my number changed and a new card mailed. Added to that was the stress of being “violated!”

    Anyway, thanks, Anna, for providing the links to Bhim’s journey with you. I had binge-watched the first 36 episodes, which were stellar. Now that I’m back to normal hack-wise, I intend to start watching again. I am grateful that you care enough about us here to take the time to provide these videos.

    • Sorry about the hack… it’s crazymaking. And I have thought of that name a lot over the years. Big in my life, huge in my work. He is all that. Thank you, Lynell, for following along with us. I think we are getting to an important place, a bit of a plateau.


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