Horses know pain, sadness, and suffering. They sense fear, anxiety, and they sense joy and happiness. Even when you don’t recognize your feelings, your horse will know.

It was a difficult year. I experienced a traumatic fatality at my workplace that shook me to my core. It’s something that will stick with me forever.

Following that day, I was numb. I struggled to sleep, but also struggled to get out of bed in the morning. I wasn’t fully present and was merely getting through day by day. There were a lot of emotions, but at the same time a feeling of nothingness.

Bring in the cavalry

I would generally ride my horses five days a week, but throughout these days had very little time and energy to spend with them. I’d stop in once or twice a week to give them a pat, soak in a quick hug, and be on my way. It took me a few weeks before I forced myself to ride. Naturally, I chose Geo.

This grey horse is my go-to guy. He’s a challenge that makes you work for what he gives you, but he can always be relied on. I saddled up and got on with zero expectations, just needing a sense of normal.

For a horseperson to truly connect with a horse, you need to be able to give the horse your focus and have an open mindset. On this day with Geo and the days that followed, I had nothing to offer him, and he knew it.

Elan Hansen and Geo.

Start the healing journey

I wasn’t able to leave my emotions at the door; I would bring all my thoughts and emotions with me in everything I did. I was putting time in, but wasn’t allowing myself to be present. The barn and horses have always been a sanctuary for me, but I wasn’t aware of how much I needed them during this time.

A good friend watched me ride Geo and said, “You need to let go of your emotions; forget whatever is going on in your mind and allow him to fill you up. Let him heal you.”

I couldn’t do it. Maybe it was because I wasn’t ready or that I didn’t want to push forward through the reality of it, but I couldn’t and therefore my ride wasn’t great. Obviously.

Over the next couple of months Geo began going through struggles in his own life, too. His living routine changed, adding to the fact that my constant routine had also stopped. He would stop eating intermittently and started to have sudden spooky reactions. He lost a few hundred pounds and now had very little proper muscle.

It wasn’t easy, but as the weeks went on I allowed myself to focus on the quality time I was able to spend with my horses. I began working through my emotions and was more invested in the time I was able to be with them.

Even then, I still wasn’t sure what was going on with Geo and was oblivious to his issues. I was riding and making progress, but I could not get weight on him. A couple of respected professionals shared their thoughts with me before I started to clue in. Both mentioned his ulcer points were reactive. I had done minor ulcer treatments throughout the winter, but with little change. The tipping point was when I attended an ulcer seminar at the vet’s. I sat through the lecture and it all became clear. This horse needed to be scoped for ulcers and proper treatment.

The penny drops

This shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I knew Geo was very susceptible to ulcers. His previous owner had shared with me his history of ulcers and management of them. I was well aware of this and paid attention over the past couple of years to manage him accordingly with no signs of ulcers rearing their ugly head. This past year, I let it slip.

I took Geo for a scope and sure enough, they found ulcers. One was a bleeder, living in the acidic part of his stomach. That explained why I could not get weight on him. I began treatment right away and saw change immediately. He put weight on, his coat started shining, and his personality perked up.

Shortly after, the pennies started dropping. It was due to the events in my life that I had allowed this to get as far gone as it had.

Geo, my boy, is not a quitter. One of the things I love most about him is that he gives you 110 per cent every time. He tries his heart out and he does it for you. I thought about all the months that I was grinding the rides in, and not once did he protest or show pain … even with the ulcers. He carried on and did everything I asked and more.

It was October when my life was rattled. It was November when he started losing weight. It was the months when I had nothing to give and this horse was giving everything he had to hold me together. He was healing me ‒ soaking up all the emotions and trying to give back to fill me up. In doing so, the ulcers progressed.

It’s hard to deny the strong connection between horse and human, and looking back at the events of the year, I cannot explain it, but I know in my heart what this sweet grey horse did for me.