During my recent workshop, Horses and the Mystical Journey, an issue came up with the human participants regarding “not being heard.” This topic had also been a major issue for me in earlier years, and is especially common among females. In the past as a child and young adult I used to have an excruciating and repetitive dream in which I was screaming for help and could see my father but he could not hear me. I would awaken drenched in despair and the feeling would impact me for the rest of the day. As the symbolism was addressed and the healing took place, that dream subsided.
However, in more recent years I experienced a different level of it as I sat in a small claims court room. The other party blatantly lied about me and the actual circumstances as he spun a captivating story to make himself look good. I was so shocked and taken aback that someone would do that and especially under oath, that I did not speak up with the truth. The real reason besides the shock was that I didn’t expect to be heard and it was my word against his and I assumed the judge would not believe me. I looked at the judge in helpless despair and said nothing. All because I didn’t think I would be heard. The judge, of course, ruled in favor of the one who lied. It was a searing moment for me, but one that awakened me to deal with the absurdity of that situation. The horses in their dramatic style launched me out of my silent and protective cocoon where I had been cloistered for most of my life.
There are, of course, many reasons for not being heard depending on an individual’s own story. One possibility might be having experienced a trauma in the past and no one was there to answer the heart wrenching cry for help. We become stuck in that emotional place and the pattern perpetuates throughout life in varying scenarios. Other reasons have to do with our not listening to ourselves, our calling, our intuition, the deeper desires of our hearts, etc. In that case, if we aren’t listening, no one else will.
After this subject came up in class, I went to the horses who are prone to theatrics as one of their ways of communication, and asked what response I could offer to the class on the topic of not being heard. One horse answered my request. Amoura, who represents love. It was meal time. The herd was snacking on hay while I was preparing soft foods for their dinner. Amoura walked away from them and came to the gate of the corral where I was inside the gate preparing their supplement. She started banging against the gate quite aggressively somewhat out of character for her since this was excessive and was the first in a long time. Assuming she was being impatient, I was annoyed and asked her to stop. She continued. Suddenly I realized she was doing theatrics, and I had to smile inside because she wasn’t very good at acting out the message. She was rather awkward. In my story mind, I surmised she had reluctantly volunteered for the job on behalf of the herd.
I described the story to the class, suggesting they look at it as dream symbols. One member gave this response (with permission): “Amoura and the question of not being heard (herd). In my imaginary dream I am the one behind the closed gate, love is trying to get through my barriers but I am annoyed and connecting on only a lower level. Perhaps if I really wanted to be heard I could make a ruckus like Amoura did, but normally I am not heard because I am unsure of myself so I come across too quietly. Maybe if I loved myself, and let love (Amoura) in, I would project that love outward in a loud and clear voice that would be heard.”
I too, had a love issue. Only months ago, I had just opened to new understandings and experiences of love awakened by the horses. I was on a honeymoon with love, feeling it for everyone and everything, sending it, and receiving it, learning new expressions of it, noticing that some unseen barrier had been removed, and a new gift of healing was manifesting. I was living high on the mystical life. Then, my horse died. Dollar. The one who had jumpstarted me. In self-protection I slammed the gate closed. On love. On Dollar. I became disconnected from the life I had been experiencing. Stopped listening, feeling, and believing in the new part of that mystical reality.
When I re-opened the gate, there was a flicker of light as I let Dollar back into my life as a new expression of love as he merges with the whole herd, and me.
The pasture is quiet, not a sound, just long stretches of swampy grasses, clumps of trees in the distance, rolling hills beyond a pasture gate. The herd is no where to be seen. On overcast days it is eery. On days filled with coastal sunshine, there is promise.
One horse lingers. Alone. Day after day. Alone. The herd has gone to the hills, or a ravine, or beyond behind a grove of trees. Yet she stays nearby but not visible from the barn. My wonderings tell me it is her lameness though I’ve seen otherwise. When I call, she comes to greet me. My thoughts tell me it is because she wants food. And of course she does. But these reasons are not why she lingers near. They are not why she comes when she is called. There is a cosmic reason. I can feel it. Sense it. There is a bigger plan still hidden from me.
Tonight was one of those nights! I share it with you because you will no doubt relate to those brief and almost insignificant ordinary moments when there is a burst of joy and connection. It was Kaheka and Amoura meeting me, not only meeting me but sandwiching me. They were coming just for me, not for themselves. Amoura wanted a head rub, but tonight that was for me. She is stand-offish, and it was her way of inviting me to touch and connect; and also her way of letting me know I was in good favor. I was more than that. I was her partner!
What happened before that was remarkable. When I arrived at the barn, there was no horse in sight. They must have been so hungry that they were out in pasture, I thought. Wrong. When I opened the barn door all of them were standing there in the barn as a big surprise because the August storm was sailing through with all of its rumblings, boomings, and fancy but scary fireworks. Seeing them all together in the barn was a first and I was stirred by joy even though it was somewhat bittersweet. They were all allowed in the barn because of the new head guy. Dollar, the former, died a couple of weeks ago, and he was not so kind about sharing the barn shelter. That was burdensome for me. He would not allow the herd in the barn even during the worst storms. What do you do with a horse that does that? Lock him in his room? Ground him with deprivation of privileges for a number of days? I was actually addressing the issue spiritually but it was not resolved before he died. No matter that flaw, we all miss him, a lot! But to find the remaining 4 horses huddled together sheltered from the rain was heartwarming. This was a sweetness that Dollar left for us, probably one of his many instructions he left behind to take care of me and his herd.
The evening was abundant with more surprises, the ordinary becoming extraordinary, or the other way around, the extraordinary becoming ordinary as it just kept happening even up until minutes before I left when Amoura came to the gate just to say goodbye. Mariah who rarely makes a point to come up to me, came with her big eyes glowing in the partial moonlight. She taught me something new that I think has been presented to me all along but I hadn’t yet been aware. She walked up to me and just stood close facing me. My instinct was to reach out and touch her, but something stopped me. Often in similar situations, reaching out turns them away. Many years ago my first horse and guide taught me to stand side by side one of the mares without touching her, just standing near in silence. Last night was the first time I realized that is what the horses do with each other and also with me. They come to stand near, not to touch or interact beyond just the connection of standing beside each other. When Amoura came to say goodbye, I knew not to reach out but just to simply say, goodnight. It was so quietly powerful and deep.
Amoura was a strong player in the splashes of serendipity. I had opened the gate for one horse to walk out of a small corral where he eats. Amoura went in to scavenge. I use halters rarely and mostly find that my body gestures help move them if necessary and lately invitation is working at times which is quite fun! I also look for synchronicity, that moment when they are ready to move when I am ready for them to move and vice versa. This time I invited her to come out. She ignored. Finally I explained to her I was letting another horse in that is more dominant than she and that she probably didn’t want to be trapped in there with him. Much to my surprise, she turned and walked out. I love that wave of happiness that rolls gently through my heart when these easy synchronicities take place. Mariah did that for me as well when I forgot to take the lid off of her supplement bucket. In the past she would get frantic and turn the whole bucket over spilling her soft food all over the ground. Tonight she walked over to me to remind me. I acquiesced immediately.
There were three horses that needed to change positions in order for me to close up gates before leaving. I invited them but nothing happened. I stood still not as a technique but just to enjoy the warm evening and the after smells from the rain, and to simply hang with the horses. All of a sudden, responding to some hidden signal, they moved away in sync as if choreographed, each to new locations. Gates were locked up and that same wave gave me the delightful feeling I would get as a child while riding the horses on the merry-go-round at the carnival. But this ride tonight was better than any carnival ride.
Shortly before my departure, I headed out to pasture around the corner from the grove of bushy trees to look wishfully for Dollar to come back to life and come trotting to me through the foggy night even for a brief moment. I just wanted to see him again even in the distance, even only his dark form through the mist. He didn’t appear but he was there and I had another cleansing session as my grief poured out on the trampled dry grasses and my sobs dissipated into the droplets of water in the air that surrounded me.
As I quieted, I heard a munching sound behind me. The herd was a distance away at that point, but I knew who had followed me. It was Amoura allowing me my space but being close by. She often quietly appears tiptoeing like a special fairy when I am sad and crying and will softly let me know she is there. This time it was her grazing sounds, sometimes it is a simple soft twirl of my hair, a nudge on the back of my head, my shoulder, my arm. She does not seem to want interaction when doing this so I assumed that this time also.
I walked by her and continued. She then came past and intercepted me, stopping in front of me broadside. I stood still as she maneuvered her body very close like a car backing up then moving forward a little closer to the curb. I did not reach out to touch. She then wrapped her neck around me in a most incredible and unique hug. She did not touch me, she only gestured the hug, honoring both of our issues of trust when it comes to touching each other. She’s been slugged by another and I’ve been bitten and kicked by her. That was a hug that will live with me forever. After all, she and I are on a love journey together. She, a most challenging horse when it comes to physical interaction, but she gave me an evening rich with connection and safe touch.
It was that same Amoura that minutes later said goodnight at the gate, and then disappeared. It was another splash of serendipity, but it was a whole evening swim in the gentle mystical waters!
I was giving Shaman Tal a rub down before he left for the far pasture to graze. I noticed his body fragrance. I told him he smelled like a flower, like perfume in a horsey sort of way. Maybe he’d been using an aftershave, I teased. I pressed my nose into his coat and took a long breath and began thinking about what smells tell us, and how they make us feel. Sometimes when one of my horses is not feeling his best, I detect a metallic odor, or sometimes sour. Most often though, it is delicious and pure.
In the book, “What Horses Say,” by Julie Dicker, it is mentioned that different breeds and even different colored coats smell differently. Tal is black and white and sure enough his black coat has a different smell than his white. Apparently sometimes other horses don’t like the smell of a particular horse. And it makes me wonder about those highly fragrant fly repellents we humans insist on using. I learned early on that some of my more expressive horses didn’t like the fragrance. They would run away when I started to apply it, until I finally found one with a more natural fragrance.
My favorite smell on the ranch is the seasoned horsey smell mixed with crushed apple breath. I inhale deeply and hold, savoring the feeling it evokes. I’m transported through time to memories and places like old homestead ranches and abandoned apple orchards where the nature spirits run freely. It taps that familiar home feeling that was interwoven through my childhood years and is now a tie to my past. It makes me want to ride the top of a wave until the sun sets in the western sky.
For the past few years I have had a love-hate relationship with the domestic geese at the ranch where my horses are pastured. On the one hand they are storybook creatures and I find much humor in their way of strutting around chests out, and heads held high with beaks lifted in arrogance. In my mind’s eye, I see them wearing reading glasses and peering at me over the top as if they were my superior. And maybe I am not enlightened enough to see that is true. No matter, I do not find humor in their eating the horses’ supplement (though chickens are even worse). If there were only one or two it might not be an issue, but a flock of 17 or so can devour all the spills which for one horse represents half of the supplement that started in his bucket! I see wasted $ signs in my mind, and even worse, deprived nutrition for my horse. Because of this, I have moved into an antagonistic relationship with the geese always shooing them away and then, even further away (they are very easy to herd and fun if one has the time). I cringe as I admit that I’ve been known to send them away with water from a hose. I know they are water birds, but rain, or perhaps I should call it manufactured rain from my hose is not their forte’. It makes me feel very guilty, and I have become their enemy. That is not how I work with my horses nor is it how I want to work with other beings. I tug-o-war with myself about my predicament.
A year ago when the geese were gathered for a community meeting in the common area near the horse arena (which they often do), I stood big and tall in front of them feeling very self important as the standing-room-only flock of geese all focused on me in total silence. At that time there were more than 17, so 50 something eyes were all looking at me as an interesting curiosity. I told them I did not understand their language as I do the horses,’ but I would like to appeal to them to stop eating the horses’ supplement because it belongs to the horses (and me), for gosh sake, and the horses obviously needed it more than the winged creatures in our midst. There was no applause nor “amens”…nor “boos” for that matter; only silence which is not always the case with geese who can be obnoxiously loud when they all talk at once. After my speech, I naively had high hopes, but nothing changed except for a little more temporary tolerance on my part perhaps demonstrating to them that I am truly a good person. As time went by, I gave up on being that good person and gave up my desire to work together. I turned into a bully fulfilling my role as enemy of all winged beings, and guardian of my horses’ feed bowls and my pocket book. There was no love for these arrogant beasts. Except for their eggs. I love them!
Before I tell you what happened next, first a little background. A few years ago, I embarked on a love journey with with one horse in particular, Amoura, the most unlikely candidate for this role in my opinion, but that is for another story. She is definitely not a warm, fuzzy horse, and speaks her mind quickly and succinctly embellished only by pinned ears or a threatening kick or bite, and will deliver if necessary! But hold the judgments of her loosely; she is an amazing horse and an amazing teacher.
She is giving me new definitions of love beyond the familiar to which we humans are tethered, and so I have been soaking in new experiences of love these days and less guarded about feeling and expressing it all. Whatever inhibitions that had been there are gone, and it is refreshing and free flowing like a powerful dance between two world class dancers. Amoura whispers, “That is love.” Standing at ocean’s edge and experiencing the delicate and pearly blue of water and sky, along with tranquil waves, I breathe it in deeply. Amoura whispers, “This is love.”
That brings us back to the story. Three geese had been hanging out in my work area in the barn at night, and sneaking some horse supplement from time to time. I would repeatedly shoo them away. One night, they were standing near a horse that was eating and spilling his soft food on the floor mat. I was preparing to scold them when I realized that they were further away then I’d thought and were more engrossed in something other than the feed. They seemed at that moment, so sweetly innocent and vulnerable. In relief, my heart welled up with loving appreciation and I said with spontaneity and pleasure, “I love you!” to these three geese. Well! That set off a chain reaction. A few minutes later the whole flock of geese appeared in the middle of the corral wanting to meet this human that had said, “I love you.” They huddled together so closely to each other, I wanted to wrap my arms around the whole flock at once. Instead, I only stood there and felt it. Not one of them attempted to eat the horses’ feed. Not one. My heart got even bigger as love seeped into all the nooks and crannies.
By then all the horses were eating, and I was free for a little while. This whole love experience was becoming quite mystical. I saw myself, even at 76, as a young maiden carefree and lovely dancing in the meadows. Singing seemed appropriate. Making up what I thought was my own language and melody, I sang. They listened. All 17 geese and the horses stayed peaceful and quiet while the lyrical songs came in high soprano. We were transported into the home place where there is all beauty and unity. The place of love. The only movement was one goose who saw the cat at my feet as a threat and moved up close and sent him away. Perhaps the young feline was not entering into the love fest.
That night they brought me a story. As the flock of magical geese stood nearby, I was massaging one horse’s tail and had my forehead pressed into the cushiony part of his butt. The two of us zoned out, and the story I am writing was born.
I thought this gathering was the grande finale of the evening, but the rest was to come. After all cleaning up was done and I started saying goodbye to the horses, they drew their heads close to each other as they dropped into slumber. The geese took the cue and moved as close as they could get to both horses and me. Some even bravely wandered under the horses’ drooping heads. It seemed they couldn’t get close enough like squiggling and cuddling under the covers with someone you love. We snuggled together in silence under the starry night. The horses, geese, and me. I went home a little later wondering if this all really had happened. Amoura’s whisper came again, “That was love.”
The next night the flock was not there, but the goose who nests near my work area had left me an egg. Usually I have to sneak it which adds to my guilt, but this time, she got up from her nest immediately when I walked in and then gestured to the egg, “For you.” She was the only goose there to greet me along with her two cohorts, a male and a nanny I surmise. I wondered if the night before had been a one night’s stand since the larger flock was nowhere around.
Moments later they all came waddling into the center of the corral again. Some were a little feisty and threatening with their offensive hissing, but I said as if a little horrified, “Oh no, what about this love thing we’ve got going?” They quieted. Truly. I did a double take in surprise. The flock pressed close to each other and gradually moved within 3 feet of where I was standing where they became one big lump of geese.
They stayed bunched together, and again not one ate the horses’ supplement. I noticed, though, that if I were irritated with a horse for some reason, or raised my voice even in the slightest, the whole flock disappeared in an instant, and then returned shortly after. This night when they returned, they brought me a song. I sang it for them. It was filled with bewitching and dissonant intervals, somewhat like a jazz vocalist might sing but even more enchanting. Like automatic writing, my voice moved from interval to interval without interference from my mind. In the end, the song had been sung; all of us in the barnyard had absorbed it, and there was peace. There will be no repeats. It is gone from memory into worlds beyond, making room for another.
That “another” one came a few nights later when only three geese showed up for the magical meeting. They were waiting for me to sing their new song. It was short but with the same gratifying and softly dissonant intervals. While singing to the geese, I was standing near one horse who nudged me affectionately when I started their song, and then he dropped his head and licked and chewed as he drifted back to sleep….divine contentment. We all felt it. The horses, geese, and me. And the whisper came to my heart, “This is love.”
If interested in animal symbolism for the goose, see the following: Excerpt from “Animal-Speak, The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small” by Ted Andrews: Goose: Keynote – The Call of the Quest and Travels to Legendary Places “…Most people have heard of the legendary Mother Goose whose stories and rhymes were designed to quiet children. Myths, fairy tales, and other stories capture the imagination of children and adults alike. The goose is thus a totem reflecting a stimulation of the childhood thrill and belief in stories and legendary places. The story(s) we most loved in childhood often reflect the life quest we have come to take upon us in this lifetime. That is why it resonated with us so strongly. Going back and rereading the one or two stories you most loved will often help you to see the patterns in your life. …”
When I arrived last night, I could see 3 horses on the hill, and 2 in the flat marshy area. Immediately, those in the upper pasture disappeared behind trees on their way down the hill to join the others as they headed for the barn! I stood watching them with some nervous anticipation, still learning to trust. What would I find? Dollar’s weight, Mariah’s weight, Kaheka’s weight, Amoura’s weight and lameness issues, and Shaman’s hooves.
Here is what I experienced. Shaman with hoof issues over the years, was happily prancing around as the herd edged closer to me across the marshy pasture. He was expressing a happy enthusiasm as the herd merged together. Amoura with a lameness challenge, from afar looked like a photo I had of her in midair that had come to life. She was dancing across the pasture with her head turned toward the barn and a huge smile on her face, her countenance sparkling with anticipation of all of us being together again as the movement headed homeward.
What a bright homecoming for all of us. Shaman so comfortable in his feet, Amoura with decent weight and comfortable in her body. Kaheka’s weight was in the middle, a little on the thin side which tends to be his thoroughbred status quo. Dollar and Mariah are both too thin, and we will fix that, but our inner connection was deep.
Shaman all the while back at the barn was extremely affectionate. He was thanking me for posting the stories. In years gone by, Shaman’s hooves would heal when I posted the horses’ stories for the public. It was amazing! I am their advocate; it is their stories I tell.
Today he is thanking me for preventing his discomfort this time around by my new commitment to living our lives together in a way that I have postponed for the last 10 years, hanging out with them, writing and sharing their stories, and moving forward with new life as in the Mary Oliver poem. We are becoming home.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!
each voice cried
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left the voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
-by Mary Oliver