Farao threatened to kick me-gaining the horse's trust

February 3rd,  2022

By Karine Vandenborre

Farao Threatened To Kick Me

I was 15 when one day I arrived at the riding school and a young black horse named Farao was standing in one of the boxes. He was beautiful, but there were quite some problems:  Farao didn’t like to be touched and he didn’t let himself be haltered without trying to kick you first. So people were afraid of him and Farao was standing lonely in his box, without being groomed or being ridden. 

To clean his box I would open the door and go away so he would come out by himself to graze on the property. When it was time to put him back in his box, the owner of the riding school would put grains in a bucket, lure him in with food and then quickly close the stable door.

That went well in the beginning,  but after a while, I wanted to be able to halter him and take him out, and put him back myself. 

So one day, I decided to give it a try.  I took a halter and opened his door.  Farao was standing in the middle of his box, with his head high and his eyes focused on me.

I took a step forward and reached out with my hand, but as quick as lightning Farao turned his hind towards me and threatened to kick me.  He scared the hell out of me! I jumped backward and almost fell but I could grab the door and keep my balance.  I didn’t know what to do next…  I wanted to go away because I was really frightened but at the same time, I wanted to stay because I wanted to be able to halter him. 

So I stood there, with my back against the door, and doubting: will I go away or will I try again and all this time Farao kept his hindquarters towards me, with his ears flattened and he would lift one of his legs as to say: don’t dare to try this one more time!

I can still feel how my legs were trembling when I think about that situation… However,  I decided I just hád to try it again.  This time, instead of stepping towards him, I decided to take one step to the left.  And again, almost at the same moment that I took that step, Farao would turn his hindquarters with me and threatened to kick me.  That first day his threats were effective: I gave up, stepped outside, and closed his door with my heart still beating in my throat.

I didn’t want to give up, so the next days the same ritual would repeat. However, I started noticing that Farao was always threatening but never really kicked and hurt me.  So I became braver.  I took more steps along the wall.  I also started walking from left to right, while all the time he followed me closely with his hindquarters. But I didn’t step towards him, I stayed close to the walls of his box and didn’t try to halter him.  I would also just stand there, without moving, just waiting before I would go out again and continue with cleaning the other boxes. 

Then,  about a week or so after the first day I entered his box I decided to take a step forward again, but I didn’t reach out with my hand, I just took 1 tiny little step forward.  Farao lifted his hind leg and I took a step backward, and we repeated that a few times, and suddenly, the moment I took a step backward Farao turned around, faced me, and reached out with his nose to smell me. 

Now, I can tell you, this was truly a magical moment!

Again, this process would repeat for the next few days, and eventually, I could stroke him and halter him. Every day it took less time before he would turn and face me and within a week or 3 Farao would not turn around at all anymore but he would come up to the door when I entered to greet me and he would let me put his halter on.

At that time, I didn’t understand why all this happened the way it did, but now, almost 30 years later, I know very well what happened there.  Farao noticed that I didn’t react to his threats aggressively.  On the contrary, every time he said “No, don’t do that!” I stopped moving and just waited. Without knowing what I was doing, I was showing respect for his boundaries. I was very passive, not once I raised my voice or used my arms to drive him away.   In the beginning, because I was afraid, but after a while, because  I knew he didn’t kick if I stayed passive and friendly.

When I started to be less afraid and gained more confidence he noticed that I still did my thing, walking along the walls of his box.  He noticed that he couldn’t intimidate me anymore and at the same time he learned that I was not a threat to him.  If I would have reacted to his behavior by yelling or hitting him, he would surely kick me.  Instead, he noticed that I respected him, although I wasn’t aware of anything I did, I just did what felt best at that time to me to stay safe, and therefore he started trusting me, he knew I was not a danger to him.

To make a long story short: several years Farao was my best friend, I would sit with him in his box & in the paddock, I would groom him and massage him for hours and spent as much time with him as I possibly could. And what was even most amazing: I would go with him for long trail rides and Farao would not buck or run off, something he did try sometimes with other riders who rode far better than me.

I believe that was the period in my life where the seed was planted for my future work with horses…