AUBURN — Forced to run when he did something wrong, and later rescued from a slaughter auction, Bob was one of the most stressed-out horses trainer Chris Lombard had ever met.

Running was what Bob knew, so run he did.

“Very scared, I’d say — a lot of anxiety,” Lombard said.

But recently, on a freezing, windy day virtually sure to rile up an anxious horse, Bob trailed behind owner Jeffrey Carr, off halter, as they calmly walked around the paddock.

It was a wonderful moment for the trainer who’s dedicated his career to helping horses and strengthening the horse-human bond.

“When you take the halter off, you really find out what’s inside that horse. So with Bob free, if there’s a connection, if they’re really together, then Bob will choose Jeff rather than running away or trying to make it to the gate and all this other stuff,” Lombard said. “There’s nothing stronger than choice, when you’re choosing to go be with somebody when you could go anywhere else.”

Lombard, 44, grew up in Parsonsfield, but never really interacted with horses. That changed when he was 26.

“It was during just a hard time in my life, a pretty troubling time where just a whole bunch of things hit at the same time. I was feeling pretty down, feeling really lost. And I just happened to meet these horses and I realized while I was around them I totally forgot my troubles and everything,” Lombard said.

He started taking riding lessons. There too, he said, “I’d just feel completely free of everything.”

“Then the moment I walked away from the barn I’d be like, ‘Oh, yeah, I have all these problems,” he said. “So I basically just said, ‘All right, I need to take a leap of faith here and follow this.'”

Lombard packed up and moved West with the vague idea that he’d get jobs working with horses. Over the next two years he worked on horse ranches in Arizona, California and Colorado. Each one was an adventure.

“When I came back to Maine I felt like I’d lived a lifetime with horses,” he said. “I was just really fortunate to really go in-depth a lot with the whole horse world out there.”

But back home, he realized his horse philosophy often didn’t fit in with the traditional ways. His focus was on the horse’s comfort, on the animal-human bond — not dominating or forcing the animal to do something.

“A friend of mine said, ‘Maybe this isn’t about you fitting in somewhere. Maybe this is all about you choosing what you want to do exactly,'” Lombard recalled.

So he posted a small ad online: If you’re having trouble with your horse, maybe I can help you.

The ad led to four clients. It’s the only advertising he’s ever had to do.    

Fifteen years later, he lives in New Gloucester and travels throughout Maine, across New England and to spots down South, helping troubled horses and their owners one on one and in clinics that last one to five days. 

His specialty: going slow, giving the horse freedom to think and make choices, making a connection between human and animal. He typically spends as much time working with the human as he does the horse. 

Lombard has 15 to 20 regular clients. For the past three years, Bob the horse has been one of them.

“He was pretty stressed and it ran pretty deep,” Lombard said.

Bob’s new owner was Carr, a veterinarian who lives in Auburn. Although Carr had his own veterinary practice in Windham, his career had focused on small animals. He’d had little experience with horses when he met Bob through a local rescue and fell in love.

“It was one of those things where I walked in and he liked me and I liked him, so he went home with me,” Carr said.

But it was clear that Bob was anxiety-ridden. As far as anyone could tell, he’d been forced to run when he did something wrong, so at Carr’s he took off when there might be a possibility he’d displeased a human. 

Carr immediately brought Lombard in to help. Lombard worked on getting Bob comfortable, earning his trust and reinforcing the relationship he had with Carr.

For a few minutes on a recent cold, blustery day, Bob’s anxiety flared up. On a lead, he ran circles around Carr in the paddock. Lap after lap, he looked scared.

“When he first got him, that’s the way he was all the time,” Lombard said. “This is all worry. He can’t help himself. He’s literally running in circles. It’s so symbolic.”

But after a few minutes, he slowed. Then stopped. He ambled over to Carr, who spoke quietly to him and kissed his nose.

“The key is Jeff didn’t make him stop. He didn’t yank on the lead, he didn’t make his body stop,” Lombard said. “The whole key of it is Bob had to know inside that he could slow down.”

Minutes later, Carr and Lombard decided to try taking off Bob’s halter and lead. Would he choose to walk with his human or would his anxiety take over?

Down the road, a horse whinnied. Lombard’s dog barked. Bob started to get distracted and upset by the noise.

But with Lombard offering encouragement and advice from outside the fence, Carr spoke to Bob, held up his hands, moved to keep the horse’s attention. Bob calmed. They walked around the paddock together, Bob trailing after Carr like a dog.

“That’s exactly what it should be like,” Lombard said.

Without Lombard’s guidance, Carr believes his relationship with Bob would have been “observant rather than interactive.” Now Carr has started to ride him. 

“Now even when he gets ramped up, I know what he’s thinking,” Carr said.

It’s the kind of relationship Lombard would like all people to have with their horses. It’s the kind of relationship he likes to help forge.

“If you asked me to put it into one word, I’d say ‘connection,'” Lombard said. “It’s the same with a human. You know, like when you feel that magical feeling of, ‘We’re really connecting right now.’ Everything seems to just flow and snowball from there. It takes you on a fun journey with that person or animal.”

Have an idea for Animal Tales? Call Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or email her at [email protected].

Horse trainer Chris Lombard, right, connects with Bob and his owner, Jeff Carr, at Carr’s home in Auburn. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Jeff Carr said his relationship with his horse, Bob, has gone from observant to interactive since working with horse trainer Chris Lombard. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Horse trainer Chris Lombard gives Bob attention on a frigid day while Lombard works with Bob and his owner, Jeff Carr, at Carr’s home in Auburn. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Jeff Carr gives his horse, Bob, some attention while working with him at his home in Auburn. Bob was rescued from a slaughter auction. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

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