Hay Bale Altar…Lessons from a Horse and Her Cohort That I Didn’t Learn in Church


After telling a friend that I felt God had let me down, she retorted that it was not God, but rather that I had betrayed myself.

I was raised Christian. Every Sunday in my church, I would hear the preacher talk about being deceived and tempted by the devil. During my early years, usually those temptations had to do with alcohol, sex, (drugs weren’t such an issue then), gambling, lying, cheating, etc., you know the list. In the church of my youth, no one ever talked about the real enemies of the soul like lying to yourself, or cheating yourself, accommodating others in ways that are detrimental to yourself, or being tempted to do something “practical” that everyone else thinks is good for you but you know in your heart it is not the right thing for you and you’re afraid to speak up…or worse, you are not even in touch with your heart and you buy into the “party line” without question. No sermon I ever heard cautioned about being seduced by the conventional and practical way of doing things when it keeps us from moving forward to our passion and divine purpose. And that one is big. Selling out to convention when it violates the soul. These are all self betrayals and ultimately betray the divine spirit within. I never heard a word of caution about that in my church.

A few nights ago, without sitting in a pew, my two mares taught me what my church did not.

Ms. Mariah, one of two mares, decided to play a little havoc as I was escorting two other horses to their paddocks for theIr evening supplements. Mariah knows she’s not allowed in those paddocks at feeding time. The reason is that she’ll eat the food intended for the less dominant horses. For the most part when I start preparing supplements, she leaves the paddocks to go to her spot in the pasture where she gets her own food bowl.

This night was different. Mariah began to behave in a way I’d not experienced from her. Even though she knew exactly where she was not to be, that was precisely where she intended to be. She waited for me to come closer to that destination where she joined me, just long enough to make sure I would be aware of her when she made her next strategic move. With mischievousness written all over her body like graffiti, she purposely raced ahead and went straight for the forbidden paddock!

She quickly found the pile of hay safely placed, I’d thought, for another less dominant horse that was on his way there. It still had the gourmet delicacies to pick through by whichever horse got to it first. She was first. Still in race mode she was downing that hay by gulps by the time I caught up with her.

I moved her away as she snatched one more mouthful. With hay hanging out of her mouth, the sight of which made me giggle at her, I escorted her out of the paddock. But, she was not finished with her evening antics.

She tossed her head thereby giving me the finger, and then went after Amoura, the other mare, and herded her out of her paddock.

Okay, she’s had her say, I mumbled to myself. But still she wasn’t finished. She ran that mare out to the pasture from whence she had come. Every time I got close enough to use my “herding” abilities, she stepped between Amoura and myself, and ran her further up the hill beyond where we had started. All the while, Amoura was wanting to go back to her paddock to await her food bowl. That was her goal, but Mariah stopped her. Mariah had the “reins..”

Pushing aside my growing frustration, I chuckled a little, threw my hands up in the air and gave up. I simply gave up.

That moment of giving up sparked a simultaneous understanding. I instantly knew! I knew. Mariah was  acting out my life patterns of going where-I-am-not-to-be, interpreted that means, doing something other than what I intended or was guided to do.

She was mirroring me! That’s what horses do.

A few days earlier I had been starting to see this pattern of diverting away from my intention, but only saw it out of the corner of my eye. I would brush it off as an annoyance like a fly, but never actually closed the door to keep the flies out.

The impact of facing it head on without any defense was huge. In relief that this issue was finally being confronted, I, in a display of drama I must admit, crumbled to my knees on the moist evening grasses and draped my body over a bale of hay in a welcomed surrender. With the surrender, amusement played in my soul and I felt my body release tension as I laughed.

I laughed at being stripped “naked” in the pasture by a mischievous mare and her cohort!

Mariah and Amoura, had just re-enacted my deeply engrained habit of going the opposite direction of my intention or guidance. Amoura was trying to get to her paddock where she wanted to be but was diverted by a more dominant mare that was taking her away from her destination to a place not intended. Both mares were metaphors of myself. Some dominant part of myself had “full reins” and was herding the intimidated part of myself who not only wanted to be but needed to be moving forward toward my life goals.

As I lay sprawled on my hay bale altar in pensive submission, I thought more about this pattern of distraction and diversion in my daily life, otherwise called self betrayal.

My inner Mariah was winning. Everyday I would set my mind to do a certain thing and immediately head for something different. This happened time and time again like an addiction. Some of you may relate.

I have a morning routine but like to mix up the order of things within the same block of time. Many times when I wake up in the mornings, I want to immediately go outside to take care of the horses without all the regular A.M. preliminaries. All I want,…just throw the ol clothes on, grab my hat, motion to the dog, sip a cup of water as we go out the door, and head for the barn. More times than I want to admit, instead of walking through the door when I was two steps away from being out in the fresh coastal air with the horses, I would head instead for the computer for a quick, just a very quick check of my emails. And you can guess the rest. Then a “quick” response to one (taking a lot longer than “quick”), and oops a new post from one of my favorite bloggers, and of course a quick comment for the inspirational read,…etc.

Since ultimately a series of quick moments end up taking a lot of time, by then I’ve already blown my goal. I finally decide to indulge my diversion and put in a few more minutes going through stuff I just brought home from storage. And I’d better throw some clothes in the washer. It goes on and on. It’s all over. I’m late going out to the horses and missed that special early morning time with them.

Sound familiar to any of you or do I have the corner on the market? My self-discipline in this area of my life is very sloppy. I don’t think I want to call it “discipline.” That feels too harsh, too rigid. Self discipline to me does not need to be rigid. It is simply making choices that honor ourselves, our guidance, and the intentions that would all bring contentment and joy.

All of these thoughts were running through my mind like a video with periodic pauses for more introspection. I hadn’t really considered before how easily distracted I am by a harmless quick this, and a quick that, each one chewing away at my day. This is not a case against multi-tasking, nor about ignoring household responsibilities, it is about staying focused, holding priorities, and accomplishing goals that refresh our spirits.

Still on the hay bale altar, the big revelation hit me. This is the way I approach my whole life!  Until now, I hadn’t faced this relentless and seemingly benign pattern as something that was inhibiting me from reaching my ultimate destiny …and had been doing so for years! For years it has continued to elude me. During this inward look, I discovered why. I head for my life goal and then take a detour often due to financial fears. Then I whimper about the next step on my path toward my purpose not manifesting!

So what a clever diversion I learned in my church. I was on the look out for the obvious distractions never noticing what the real distractions were in my life that have interfered with my reaching fulfillment of my spirit and soul. For me, It was not sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, lying, or cheating that were the real diversions for me…and it might not be the underlying diversion in anyone’s life, but rather the symptom of something more subtle but perhaps more devastating that goes undetected, the betrayal of ourselves. It might be as in my case as simple as going to the computer, my smart phone, or throwing clothes in the washing machine instead of walking out the door to do what was in my heart to do, my ultimate intention and joy. There is empowerment in that.

That same pattern detours us from our life’s calling.  There is always something else we need to do first. Often it is money, our retirement, paying off a debt, doing the “practical” thing, buying into diversions and then waiting always waiting for something to manifest. If it takes us away from our calling, it is a betrayal of ourselves and the divine spirit within. That is the deception.

[So thanks to my two horses who created the theatrics that forced me to the hay bale altar. My life has been changed. Their antics and my submission to what they brought to me has freed me to move boldly and fearlessly toward my life’s calling.

There is a story of a guy in the Old Testatment, named Balaam, who was headed for something he was not to do and was also taught by a furry 4-legged animal akin to the horse. The donkey he rode saw an angel. Balaam did not. Three times the donkey tried to avoid running into the angel each time causing Balaam some discomfort and inconvenience. Each time Balaam beat the donkey until the donkey finally spoke up to him. Then Balaam saw the angel and his direction was changed. Numbers 22:21-41]


10 thoughts on “Hay Bale Altar…Lessons from a Horse and Her Cohort That I Didn’t Learn in Church

  1. Oh, Patricia, thank you so so much. I very much enjoyed your own responses to being nominated and to the questions…and they are as you said, great questions and so were your answers. I appreciate your passing the nomination on to me but as you suspected I truly don’t have the time to respond as I’d like. I am packing to move. I’ll need to pass on it this time. Thank you for understanding.


  2. Patricia, I’m responding to your comment above about the horse and the smells of horse and barn. For some reason it got misplaced. First of all, thank you. I wish you could meet Mariah live. She is like a teenage dancer, so easy with her body, so light on her feet. She is the mystic of the group. They all are but she, the most. There is something about her eyes that isn’t quite captured in the photo…very deep and intense and I think they radiate some kind of healing. I’ll often spot her across the pasture just staring at me so I pretend I am having a mystical shower from her eyes.

    And barn smells! Oh yes! The one I love the most is the mix of horsey breath and apples just after it has been chomped down.


    1. Oh, thank you for bringing me into your life just a little bit. Like I’m there leaning on the fence looking at her.
      Just pressing my face against my horse brought such scents into my being, such grounding and joy. And of course, an apple being slobbered up off my palm… : ) Oh, how I’d love to go to the coast to visit you!


  3. Hi Bev, This is a wonderful piece. It certainly resonates with teh way my life goes most of the time. Thanks. Keep up the good thoughts and the great writing. John


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