Life in our Foothills April 2022 – Turquoise Cowgirl – The Power of Perception
Published 12:51 pm Wednesday, April 27, 2022
Rehabilitating Distressed Equines in the Landrum, Campobello and surrounding areas for over 30 years
A keen sense of perception or intuition is a gift that few of us have, but those who do can use it for extraordinary results when training and rehabilitating traumatized animals. That’s where Helen Bland Gardner thrives and has the most gifts to give. She has worked to rehabilitate distressed equines in the Landrum, Cambobello and surrounding communities for over three decades.
“I adore my job. Especially when people are having really serious issues with their horses, because both the owner and or the horse can get hurt and I can see a wreck coming and I think I have to help these people!” says Helen
On any given work day, Helen says if she had a videographer in tow, she would have her own YouTube Channel. Only a couple of weeks ago, Helen was training two wild and rascally donkeys while potential clients looked on. Behind her, near the tree line, some chickens were walking along minding their own business when suddenly, a giant Hawk noisily swooped down from the trees and took one of the chickens airborne. Helen screamed and then by very quick instinct clapped her gloved hands together to make a “gunshot” noise. The hawk quickly dropped the poor chicken and went on its way. The clients were dumbfounded and impressed. “They were like, you were just working with two donkeys and saved a chicken from a hawk all at the same time…? You’re hired!” Helen laughs. One of the donkeys is shy and afraid of everything, and the other one is very aggressive and mad at the world. Helen knows how to navigate through all of their difficult behavior issues.
Helen says “All of these things are human-induced. Because a donkey is born only knowing how to be a donkey, and a horse is born only knowing how to be a horse. And then a human comes into the picture and says I’m here to wreck the day. That’s where I come in!”
Helen’s family on both sides were hard-working farmers and instilled a very strong work ethic in her and her six siblings. She was adopted by her mother and father, who lived in Gaffney and the family then moved to Daytona Beach, Florida when she was very young. It was while they were in Florida that Helen was first introduced to and fell in love with horses. It was during this time that Helen really began to pay attention to how horses react to people and situations, reading their body language and movements and understanding how their minds work.
Much of her intuitive nature comes from observing human behaviors. She says being adopted and not having a frame of reference for her own mannerisms would cause her to closely watch her adopted family members. “A family reunion would fascinate me. I would just sit and watch and just take mental notes about how they interacted with one another,” Helen says. This is how she works so well with horses and other animals, by being an outsider looking in, and understanding what makes them tick.
Helen’s dear friend, who also owns a mule, sat down with her one day and said, “You know Helen, I’ve met a lot of horse people, and you are not just a horse person but also the most free-spirited person I’ve ever met in my life.” Helen says “I know how to bend and sway like the Chinese talk about. ‘Be like bamboo.’ A lot of people don’t end up being like bamboo, and they pop and break. They kind of get stuck in some places and that’s what actually also happens with horses or mules or donkeys. That’s what I call it, their feet get stuck.”
Helen trains in enclosed safe spaces such as arenas or a round pin. She uses items such as flags and sometimes even employs essential oils, treats and music to calm the animals she works with. She sets clear boundaries with the animals early on in the process. Helen is also very good with goats, birds and dogs. She even trained her dog Rocky to ride a horse.
Oftentimes an abused or traumatized animal gets the medical attention it needs, but not the trainer that it needs. “If you don’t have a really good trainer in place and then the animal gets adopted back out, then the people who took the animal don’t have a clue that the animal has been traumatized before the shelter or the sanctuary and then they begin to have to deal with serious behavior issues,” Helen says. On her farm that she once owned in Chesnee, Helen would rescue and rehab horses from dire situations.
The people who owned the horses she rescued “Helped me in realizing that you know what, more than likely these people have some sort of trauma as well. And I felt a lot of that,” Helen says. Developing these remarkable skills is the result of a lifetime of learning by working with horses, and you cannot just teach someone these skills without them being steeped in the experience of being around these animals for a lifetime. So – If you have a distressed equine in your life, Helen is the person you can call for help.
You can contact The Turquoise Cowgirl, Helen Bland Gardner at (864) 590-6138 and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/helen.blandgardner
Photographs by Suzanne Camarata and courtesy of Helen Bland Gardner