Welcome! My name is Diana Kelley. I am considered the barn manager here at home. I am also the one that keeps our virtual presence here at Healing Horse Touch updated. Basically, I am the human that you will likely be interacting with the most - whether online or in person. The pages on this site are our story. Continue reading to learn more about us.
My parents tell me that my love for horses was evident by the time I was two. I loved prancing around pretending to be a horse - play that continued throughout my childhood. When asked "what do you want to be when you grow up?" my consistent reply was "a horse trainer".
We moved a lot while I was growing up, as my Dad was in the Air Force. Owning a horse was not an option. But, my parents did what they could to support my horse dreams… they bought me Breyers, books, and magazines. One year, my sister and I got to enjoy riding lessons (I was soooo jealous that she was a better rider than I!) and we became friends with people who had horses and let us ride.
For my 18th birthday, my Dad bought me my first horse. Gypsy was a lovely roan Tennessee Walker cross. He had retired just a few months previously and we had settled in a spot where we could have a horse. Gypsy and I remained partners for 25 years before she died old age. She had been born in Ohio. We lived a few miles away in West Virginia when we bought her. She also moved with me to South Dakota, North Dakota, California and Oregon.
I dabbled in horse breeding and training during the early years of my first marriage. During that time, I bred a half-Arabian filly that I dearly loved. Ishtar was a wild thing though - her response to having a halter put on was to throw herself to the ground and thrash about screaming.
I didn't want to sell her, but my then-husband didn't want to keep her. So, she had to move to Minnesota to be with my Dad for a while. While she lived with my Dad, she loved to go bucking and racing on the ice.
One day, she slipped and pulled a muscle in a front leg. My Dad did what he could for her. But, her leg remained swollen and she was on stall rest for several months. She became moody and threatened anyone who tried to touch her. It appeared that she would never recover.
I came to visit and won her over with the aroma of essential oils (she LOVED the smell!). She allowed me to start massaging her leg with quality premium essential oils. Within a week, the swelling was gone and she could confidently walk again! I took her back home to California and she became the cleverest, most willing to please horse I've ever owned. Sadly, she died suddenly of some sort of internal, fibrous cancer. Remembering still brings tears to my eyes.
My Battles with Personal Horse Time
My then husband, who was, at this point, having medical issues, had previously told me that Ishtar would be my last horse. Gyspy was old and had become unrideable. We had to help her stand up several times a week. I had become depressed and had had a nervous breakdown. I trembled all of the time. In a desperate attempt to help me regain my mental health, he bought me another horse. His explanation on his change of heart was that Ishtar died before her time. Plus, he said, the only time I was happy was after I spent time in the barn, so it became a necessity.
Before this moment, it had been a battle to get time with the horses. My priority was my family and homeschooling my children. Personal time was seen as selfish and unnecessary. Barn chores were assigned to the children and I wasn't supposed to help them. Riding had become strictly a family event that no longer happened. However, the kids were allowed to ride in the pasture - as long as everything else was done. So, this declaration that I would be getting a new horse AND spending time with it was a shock… a pleasant one… but still shocking!
The biggest problem with this idea was that, at some point over the years, I had become afraid of riding. Me, a person that had dreamed of becoming a horse trainer…. one that had successfully saddle trained three horses (including Ishtar)…. Me, a person that LOVED riding… I had become afraid to ride. Not afraid of horses - just riding… mostly falling… or being on an unresponsive runaway. I cannot explain why. I could not pin point a specific event that triggered it. But, it had become my reality and if I were going to have a new horse, it would have to be very special.
Abby was a little Morgan whose owner had passed the Parreli Natural Horsmanship Level 2 with her. I thought it would be a perfect way for me to quickly pass my first two levels. Abby and I would just need to learn to communicate with each other. I played with Abby for two hours when we met. It was so much fun that the time just flew by! Finally, I decided that I was ready to ride. Once I got on, she was very responsive and I felt safe. Of course we bought her!
The very next day, she was super focused on my youngest's horse, Chrissy. She would not do anything for me. She had eyes only for Chrissy. It was a struggle deciding whether to keep her or not. We thought that, surely, she would relax after being with us for a while… two years later, when we decided that a divorce was necessary and Ben and I decided to move across the country, she still refused to focus on me. So, I left her behind. She behaves much better for her new owner as the only horse in the barn. Sometimes, the relationship just doesn't work - horses and humans alike.
My Emotional Support Horse: Destiny
A year and a half went by. I quit trembling. I had become involved with a wonderful man, whom I now am pleased to call my husband! My confidence was budding. My youngest had two horses that I helped take care of, but I wanted to RIDE and I did not feel safe riding either of them. So, we went horse shopping and found Destiny.
Destiny is a wonderful, laid back horse. We have had him for nearly three years now. I have sat on his back about that often and that has been the extent of my "rides". But, we all have to start somewhere, right? I have wanted to do more with him, but the farm where we were boarding at was 10 miles away. I have Retinitis Pigmentosa, am legally blind, so I do not drive. I have felt self-conscious about having my husband wait around for me in the truck while I play (even though he has told me numerous times that he doesn't mind). Yes, I have issues. There have been a few other setbacks too (being gone helping my oldest through her pregnancies, injuring my back, the weather, etc.). But, this feeling of being undeserving of having someone wait for me has been my biggest struggle.
Even without riding, just walking up to the barn and have Destiny greet me with a whinny causes any anxiety I had that day to drop a minimum of 50%. I find that just being near him or listening to him eat is relaxing. The thought of not being able to see him that day causes a heaviness in my chest and tears to spring to my eyes. I have learned that the relief from my anxiety that I experience is the foundation for requesting a letter for an emotional support animal. Ideally, an emotional support animal lives with you. However, horses are a little big to keep in the typical back yard, so I never pursued this option.
Recently though… we have moved onto a place of our own and I will soon be starting the Parelli Natural Horsemanship program… (Read Discovering Natural Horsemanship? If you'd like to know more about this program)
Ben is my son. He grew up riding and caring for horses.
Ben was born in a remote area in the mountains of California. We lived an hour away from the nearest hospital, so he was born at home (with the help of a certified nurse mid-wife).
He was home schooled as we lived half an hour from the closest school. We went to the school once a month to submit paperwork and make sure we were meeting achievement standards.
Needless to say, being so remote and having very limited contact with the outside world, we had no [human] friends.
First Riding Accident
When Ben was 12 years old, he had his first riding accident. His horse, Pearl, decided she was done listening and ran away with him. She went under a low-hanging fruit tree limb that swept Ben right off her back. It was a very valuable lesson in wearing a safety helmet! Be sure to ask Ben to show you the helmet - he has kept it as a reminder.
In Pearl's defense, she had been an ideal children's horse. She was "bomb proof", was a wonderful pack horse when we went camping, and was even happy pulling a buggy. She was great! However, we had moved her from California to the Oregon coast and she developed a lung problem. It made her rather cantankerous and we should have paid closer attention to her mood that day. We sold her soon after to someone in a drier climate where her lung condition improved.
Ben started riding Ishtar and a love for racing the wind was born! He started talking about wanting to do more with horse and maybe make some friends. I wasn't the only one who was devastated over Ishtar's sudden death.
Second Riding Accident
While we were still reeling from the shock, we bought another horse. Peggy was advertised as a safe, beginner's horse. She performed well when we looked at her. However, she showed a different side when we got her home. She started ignoring her rider's cues and going her own way. One day, in her demand to have her own way, she took Ben into the neighbor's barbed wire fence that lined our driveway. We reached out to the sellers about the behavior since she was sold as a "beginner's" horse only to be told that all sales were final and she was our problem now.
Peggy went to a new owner, who was fairly warned about her malice behavior. She was perfectly behaved when the buyer came to look at her, so she was taken to a new home. The owner was hospitalized with a broken collar bone, arm and leg within weeks. I think Peggy must have been bi-polar or something.
Despite the trauma of the barbed wire injury, Ben was sure he wanted to try another horse. So, we started looking for a reliable horse - one with an owner that was willing to take the horse back if we had trouble again! After several months of searching we found Chrissy - a bit accident prone and flighty, but willing to please.
The Search for Friends
Reluctantly, Ben's Dad agreed that we could be a little more social in the hopes of gaining friends. We joined 4H and went to several horse gaming events. We looked for a local home schooling group and even tried attending several different churches. However, everywhere we turned, we found that the people in the region had close knit groups that had no interest in expanding their circles.
Third Riding Accident
During this time, Ben had a third horse accident. The saddle slipped on Chrissy, Ben fell, and broke his leg. When I told various people what had happened and why we would not be attending meetings for a while, there were no words of sympathy. No one checked in to see how we were. Nothing. We had made zero friends.
We were considered to be too different. No one wanted to travel to visit our remote home. We home schooled and didn't watch all the latest TV shows and movies. We couldn't afford the snazzy clothes or super-fast horses. Plus, we are vegetarians and go to church… at home… on Saturday. We really did not fit in. Being quiet and shy did not help. It was quite frustrating. So, we turned to the internet for social interaction… that's where Ben and his sister eventually met Bob.
Healing from Trauma
Once Ben's leg had healed, it was discovered that a deeper healing had to take place. The accident had been traumatic for both Ben and Chrissy. Although they were happy to be together, various actions triggered a panic response. They were both afraid of Ben falling again.
Ben has shared that if I hadn't spent so much time patiently working with them to move past the trauma that that would have been the end of his interest in horses. Instead, as Ben and Chrissy worked on their trauma, they formed a perfect bond.
We are all glad that that was not the end and they have since been able to enjoy many years of partnership which include bareback riding as well as gaming events.
Bob has a quiet nature that animals are naturally attracted to. Many people have marveled when he comes into their home and their pets rub up against him. A common phrase is "that never happens" or "that cat/dog usually hates strangers".
The horses respond well to Bob. He is gentle enough to calm the anxious, yet firm enough that the pushy ones respect him too. As a child, Bob's family had horses and he fondly remembers his mom taking him riding. As with many families, there came a time when the horses, sadly, had to go.
Bob was befriended by my teenage children via an online game, during a difficult time in our lives. My oldest, especially, annoyed him tremendously; but, he defended her in game and taught her how to interact better with the other players - turning him into a father figure to her. She, in turn, also challenged him to become a better person. (I did my best to monitor conversations a bit to be sure nothing terrible was happening).
Once my daughter became an adult, and having had years of being friends online, they decided to meet in person (public meeting with supervision to be safer). Later, he was invited to her wedding and to temporarily move in while looking for a job.
As it turned out, my divorce took place a few months before their wedding. I was able to meet this Bob fellow myself, which, eventually, led to our own wedding!
Bob says that if he had chosen to ignore that annoying teenager that his life would not be as wonderful as it is now. So, yes, we absolutely believe that one person's act of kindness can change the course of a life.
That said, although our story turned out to have a happy ending, we do believe that befriending people online and meeting them in person is dangerous and should NOT be encouraged and parents absolutely need to monitor their children's online activity to be sure they are safe.