4: One flew over the Cuckoo’s nest

‘One flew over the Cuckoo’s nest’ – what a great film. Having worked in mental health human psychology has always been an interest. So I found it quite fitting that I would hear the words several times ‘one flew over the cuckoo’s nest’….it was exactly what would draw me to Bobby.



Bobby was a 14 year old ex-racer with some good winnings to his name, he was donated to the centre due to his guardians ill health…The stabling area was a large indoor building with stables running down either side and a large concrete standing area in the middle. Bobby was at the far end pretty much out of site.


Visitors would come to the centre looking for adoptions, to offer help and donations, to browse or bring children for a day out petting the ponies and horses….It was quite late in the afternoon when I was guided to see Bobby so all was quiet. I approached his stable and was greeted with a stunning dark bay horse. He was an athlete…every muscle in his body told the story of his career, but he was crib biting ( this involves a horse grasping a solid object such as the stall door or fence rail with its incisor teeth, then arching its neck, and contracting the lower neck muscles to retract the larynx. This coincides with an in-rush of air into the oesophagus producing the characteristic cribbing grunt. Usually, air is not swallowed but returns to the pharynx. wikipedia definition ).


I stood and watched him repeat this and I heard the words ‘my fault, blame myself’….and with that he quickly moved around his stable stopped in each corner, looked behind stared at something, something I could not see and repeat into the next corner, before returning to the door and cribbing again…I was stunned by this behaviour. I asked him what he meant by ‘my fault, blame myself’ and I wasn’t prepared for what I got back…most horses show some kind of ill treatment, loss of horse companion or pain. I was given a disturbing picture and the only way that I could explain this is to liken it to a human suffering with a mental illness. Someone pacing up and down distressed talking to themselves and totally oblivious to anything or anyone around them. If you have ever watched the film ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’ that’s what I am talking about. It made complete sense to me now why I heard the title of that film because Bobby was suffering a similar fate. Working in mental health had exposed me to this kind of behaviour in people but I had never seen it this extreme in a horse.


I was emotional and at the same time thinking how on earth can this horse be helped..saved. If you have ever experienced a set back in life and suffered emotionally (actually I think most of us have) then you too would understand how difficult it can be to come back from this kind of illness. This wonderfully talented horse appeared to have succumbed to a similar fate we see time and time again with famous people. Was he having a breakdown? can horses have a breakdown?… I had to regain focus, Bobby had called me to him for a reason and I was sure it wasn’t to just show me this. I was stumbling around in my mind searching for the right questions and almost as if he had put the question there himself.. out it came.. ‘had your guardian forgotten to feed you??…bizarre right?….what sort of a frigging question was that?… he wasnt under nourished he was suffering mentally and I throw out a question about food??


He looked at me intently and it stopped me in my thought process……with that came my next thought, could it be that his guardian was suffering with Alzheimers/Dementia? and with that thought I was overcome with intense love, I knew it was the love Bobby felt for his guardian. With that he returned to his corners in his box stopped looked behind and stared at something only he could see. I channelled healing and asked the powers that be to cloak him in a bubble of healing energy.


As I sat outside his stable writing my notes I couldn’t help but wonder whether Bobby was somehow trying to heal his guardian..could he have taken on his guardians illness to try to heal him?…I was sure that was a lot of it and poor Bobby was confused, separated in a strange place and totally misunderstood…I thanked him (as I do with all the horses I work with) for the visions and I went to find his carer.


I asked his carer what she knew about Bobby her reply ‘not very much’ she then stated ‘ I don’t have a lot of time for him, he is difficult to do anything with because of his vices’…what was I hearing? This poor horse had be taken away from all he knew and put in a stable where only his basic needs where met because his carer couldn’t be bothered!!!…I bet he felt like he was in prison his only crime being his guardian was too ill to look after him……..You cannot confine an athlete 24/7 and not expect him/she to feel stressed!!!!


Imagine me saying to someone about a mental health patient…’sorry I know I work in this field but i cant really be bothered with so and so because he/she has shut down and is making it hard work for me to communicate with or help them in any way..???….compassion and empathy do not require us to physically be doing something!!…If her body language and energies where telling Bobby she ‘cant be bothered with him’ how would he ever get better. I was so annoyed with her attitude I needed someone to listen and understand what I was relaying.


I totally get it, that it can seem a little weird for some people communicating with animals but these horses had trusted and confided in me, it was up to me to give this information, so that the people who where caring for them had a better understanding to which they could work with. Who cares whether that understanding comes from a physio a behaviourist or a communicator its all for the benefit of the horse…..Is that not why people choose to work in a facility like that to care, understand, love and rehabilitate??


It was time for a chat with the Manager.