Shadow Warrior has had some difficult experiences in his life. Bred in KY, he raced 13 times there — and then went to Puerto Rico, where he ran 70 times in four years.
In September 2017, two hurricanes devastated Puerto Rico. The racetrack barns were severely damaged — and several hundred racehorses (including Shadow) were stranded there for weeks with dwindling food and water supplies. Shadow was eventually rescued by the Caribbean Thoroughbred Aftercare organization. They raised funds to send him to LOPE (all the way from Puerto Rico). At age 10, Shadow is not only an impressive warhorse — he is also a true survivor, in every sense of the word (read his full story here).
Shadow arrived at LOPE still thin from his hurricane ordeal. We noticed that he seemed withdrawn (which was understandable, given his long journey). Shadow also had trust issues, often pinning his ears defensively when approached in the stall. He was especially wary in turnout. If I walked into the pasture with a halter, he visibly tensed and then moved away quickly. CTA staff had treated Shadow kindly and with affection — but he had only a few weeks with them before embarking on his long journey to TX.
It was a deep day of learning for the three of us, even though it didn’t look like much happened. We all just stood around, watching and waiting for 90 minutes. But sometimes the biggest mental shifts come with smallest, slowest steps.
One day last month, I decided to set aside the afternoon to help Shadow with his haltering anxiety. We were out in his pasture, just the two of us, working on the issue together. The session took a full 90 minutes. Shadow spent most of that time standing still and not looking at me. I spent most of that time just waiting on him. Eventually, Shadow began to sneak peeks at me, but never for long.
As I waited, I noticed LP’s Tiger (another LOPE warhorse) in the next pasture. She was alert, head straight up, ears sharply pricked with an intent expression on her face. I thought she was seeing some deer or other kind of wildlife visitor. But she stood perfectly still, eyes and ears alert, for several minutes, then a half-hour.
I realized LP’s Tiger was actually watching us from across her pasture, staring at Shadow and I as we did our extremely slow motion (one move every 15 minutes or so) dance. I felt like I was under the supervision of a very strict professor.
Finally, Shadow began to let down. He sighed, licked and chewed, then dropped his head. I waited until he seemed truly ready, then approached, haltered and led him away. I looked over at LP’s Tiger. Her ears relaxed and her expression softened. She walked to her trough and began to drink. Taking her cue, I took the halter off Shadow and walked away. A few minutes later, he slowly walked to his trough and began to drink too.
It was a deep day of learning for the three of us (me, Shadow and LP’s Tiger). Even though it didn’t look like much happened at all. We all just stood around, watching and waiting for 90 minutes. But sometimes the biggest mental shifts come with smallest, slowest steps.
The next day, it took only 5 minutes to catch and halter Shadow. And that was a very good change indeed!