I met Lukas, my horse, when he was nine years old – considered past his prime for much change; he was set in his ways and had many issues by that time. Certainly, his dismal background contributed to his fears and difficulties: three last place race finishes accompanied by severe injuries, multiple owners, and being rescued from starvation and neglect. He was by all accounts a depleted failure, but his lively spirit belied his past traumas. His enduring example of acceptance, resilience and forgiveness gave me the inspiration to match his transformation. As he absorbed and advanced in his lessons with me, I discovered within him an immense desire to please and succeed.

Two years ago at the age of fifty-one I had planned on a peaceful retirement – Lukas was then fifteen and our playful games had evolved from advanced liberty movements (the horse is free and loose) to cognitive tasks. I had long been convinced that animals would be treated better if people realized how intelligent they are. As a result I taught Lukas to identify shapes, numbers and letters, and discriminate colors, and also to understand the concepts of spatial relationships, object permanence, same/different, proportion and absentness. With no personal aspirations in mind, I posted Lukas’ videos on You-Tube, and our peaceful retirement vanished.

Within weeks of Lukas’ internet debut, he became somewhat of a web sensation. Since then he’s appeared on NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, HLN and Inside Edition, and in feature articles released by the Associated Press and America Online. His story has been heard on Pet Talk Radio, Pet Talk Live Radio, Animal Talk Radio and RFD-Radio, among many others. He’s received a certificate of recognition from California State Assemblyman Curt Hagman for his contributions, and he’s been nominated for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the 2010 Equine Vision Award. Furthermore, his web-site has had over one million visitors from sixty countries.

And how have my views changed as a result? I’ve arrived at a deeper dedication to promoting Lukas’ journey for the improved treatment of animals.

“How old are you, anyway?” is a question I'm less frequently asked these days as people have become much more interested in what I do, rather than how long I’ve been doing it. Nowadays, I’m often asked instead, “Can we see that again?” or “How in the world did you teach him that?!” Both Lukas and I are considered “aged” according to commonly held opinions, but together we're helping others understand that age has little to do with learning and hope.

Sharing Lukas’ message has confirmed a strong belief that this will, in turn, provide practice for kindness toward each other as well. Lastly, I hope that someday age will be measured by happy memories, cheerful contributions and a fulfilled purpose.

Author's Bio: 

Copyright 2011 Karen Murdock is a retired psychiatric nurse, who has been fixing problem horses for over 30 years. Owner of PlayingWithLukas.com. She uses a combination of shaping techniques, a specialized version of clicker training and positive reinforcement. Her unique approach uses games and play as a way to connect and bond with horses to develop confidence, increase focus, improve performance as well as build willingness and trust. All of her services and proceeds go to benefit the horses.