Learning to Trust: Flirt’s Story
For July, I am featuring an eight-year-old APHA mare named Mystery Foolish Flirt, known simply as Flirt, for the Naturally Healthy Horse of the Month. What makes Flirt special is the complete turnaround she has made in the last five years–and this is all thanks to a young woman named Sherri Hewko. You see, in 2010, when Flirt was just three years old, her veterinarian, farrier, and trainer all agreed that she should be euthanized–she was just too dangerous to be around.
The young mare was extremely aggressive at feeding time and would often attack her handlers when they came into her paddock. When Flirt was ridden, she often became uncontrollable–bucking and rearing, and even rolling in an attempt to get her rider off.
Sherri came across Flirt at exactly the right time though– just three days before she was scheduled to be put down.
“I approached her and she bit my shin HARD. I looked into her eyes and I knew right then and there that this soul was incredibly special and decided I was going to save her. I knew she just came from a bad situation and needed someone who understood her,” said Sherri.
So Sherri bought Flirt and began the long journey of not only returning her to health, but also helping the mare learn to trust a human. At the time, Flirt weighed only 700 pounds and had a body condition score of 2. She also had pastern dermatitis (aka mud fever or scratches) and a blood infection resulting from an improperly treated hoof abscess.
Sherri was no novice when it came to working with ‘unmanageable horses’. As a teenager, she had adopted and trained a wild mustang and also re-trained an Arabian mare who reared. Through a process Sherri refers to as unbreaking, she was able to work with both horses and eventually ride them bareback and bridle-less on trails.
Even with this experience though, Sherri soon learned that working with Flirt would be her most difficult challenge yet.
“To unbreak Flirt, I had to face some truths I didn’t want to face within myself. She, more than any other horse, is so in tune to everything that she could see my anger and frustration and exasperation with her,” said Sherri.
The road to trust was paved many difficulties, as you might imagine. Both Sherri and Flirt were injured a few times, though thankfully not too seriously. On one occasion, when Sherri was teaching Flirt to tie to a trailer, the mare pulled back and then lunged into the trailer, injuring her eye and needing multiple stitches. Flirt also kicked Sherri in the knee one time and on another occasion, bit her thumb. She also bucked Sherri off while on a trail ride one day.
But despite everything, Sherri pressed on, determined to make a breakthrough with Flirt. After about a month, Flirt began to show signs of trusting Sherri. Within three months, they duo made incredible strides and Sherri was able to ride Flirt bareback and bridle-less.
“It’s still an ongoing process,” Sherri said. “Now I would say she trusts me in 99% of situations but she is still that wild spirit who has self defense so deeply ingrained that there are about 1% of situations where her survival instinct surpasses her trust for me.”
In the last several years, Sherri and Flirt have learned to do a variety of events including eventing, jumping, western and English pleasure, trail courses, competitive trail, endurance riding, and gymkhana events. One of their latest tasks has been working on bitless and bareback jumping (just for fun).
When asked what makes Flirt so special to her, Sherri responded by saying this:
“Flirt is probably the single most complex and truly beautiful creature to her core that I have every had the fortune of meeting and she truly does take your breath away when you see her move or she looks into your eyes. She is more in tune with everything than any human or animal I’ve ever known. She caused me to work on myself and these five years with her have made me grow so much as a person. I thank her for that every day.”
We wish nothing but the best for Sherri and Flirt in their future endeavors! It looks as if these two were meant for one another. Below is a beautiful video montage of the duo, celebrating all they’ve accomplished. You might want to grab a kleenex though!
Also, if you’d like to keep up with Flirt and Sherri’s progress, you can follow them on Facebook.