Tonight I tangled with Kaheka Boy. Again. Every evening I put the halter on him before turning him out into the interim pasture to eat his supplement. Every night he throws his head at the very last minute just as I am buckling the halter, jerking it right out of my hands and propelling it to the ground. Each night I yell at him, “Every goddamn night you do this!” all the while I’m cringing inside with poisonous shame and guilt. I knew I was being a bitch and not solving the problem even a little bit. Even though I knew there was a better way, taking the easier road, I persisted in my reactionary response.
My goal for the past 20 years has been to work cooperatively with horses. But I still forget. Tonight, I not only yelled but I picked up his halter from the ground and threw it back down. Hard! I don’t think I could ever hit this horse but throwing the halter on the ground like I did felt like the same harsh energy. Even though he is in his 20’s, an older guy by now, he has a youthful innocence. Like a teenager, he can be challenging but endearing at the same time, and extremely sensitive. In this instance, he simply rolled his eyes, turned his head and looked around as if embarrassed, to see if anyone was watching my foolishness, then patronized me with a “guru” type superior nod as he patiently observed my childish tantrum.
A few months ago Kaheka walked away from the new-to-us but old-in-years ferrier as he was trimming Kaheka’s hooves. I mean, he didn’t casually saunter away, he was on the move and ignored my efforts to stop him. In response to this horse’s one time “un-ruly” behavior, the ferrier made a stud shank out of a soft lead rope for Kaheka and put it over his head and muzzle. Then he yanked down on it to discipline him. Seemingly, it worked! Kaheka stood statue still. Exactly the behavior the ferrier wanted! Done. Wrong. Unfortunately, the ferrier wasn’t done. He also wanted to educate me in how to use it, as if I were interested. I wasn’t. My preference is to look behind the scenes at the real message the horse is bringing rather than resorting to harsh physical techniques assuming malicious intent. The ferrier, however, continued to give a periodic yank on the rope which was wrapped around Kaheka’s muzzle attempting to get a point across to me. After about 4 more times, not only was I paralyzed with a feeling of chaotic confusion and not wanting to get into a fighting match with the ferrier, something I must get over, Kaheka too was bewildered as to what the hell he was suppose to do or not do as he stood there absolutely still which was the original intent of the ferrier. By the last yank Kaheka had enough and immediately headed toward the barn door. The ferrier, to his credit, tuned in to his own Native American wisdom quickly laying aside white man authoritative “I-need-to-win” mentality. Realizing his error, he pulled the shank off and Kaheka immediately calmed down. But the impact had not dissipated. Kaheka spent the rest of his hoof trimming session with his lanky thoroughbred legs trembling noticeably.
A few days later I noticed that he, a normally friendly horse, drew away when a man he didn’t know came for a visit. My heart felt like it had been cinched a notch too tight. Kaheka was experiencing the aftermath of a disciplinary action from the “strange” ferrier a few days earlier that did not have to happen. Had the two humans involved stopped to examine what the horse was communicating to us about our own interactions, what a different outcome we would have all experienced. That is why I would never hit this horse. But my throwing a halter harshly to the ground was not a good option.
When the halter hit the ground in a puff of dust, I wondered at how I had regressed. It seems the closer I get to responding to ordinary behavioral issues in nontraditional ways, I backslide more ruthlessly into the very tradition I am hoping to abandon. But all was not lost.
In my efforts to work cooperatively with horses, Kaheka communicated to me now that I was listening with intent to learn from him. He had been throwing his head nightly when I haltered him because he was nervous about the other horses nearby. When I started buckling the halter, he felt constricted and more confined. Instinct for flight overtook him and he threw his head ready to flee. As he explained what was going on with him, I began to feel compassion and understanding. I instinctively lowered my voice, reassuring him that he was safe. “You’re okay, Kaheka, you are okay,” I was reminding him that all was well. And it was! We breezed through haltering him that night.
The next time, he threw his head again! My heart sank after thinking we had found a solution. “Wait,” he said, “This is a process. Don’t give up on me.” He meant don’t give up on yourself! I took a deep breath, let it out slowly, then, spoke softly again and reminded him to try to keep his head down, and that he was safe. After more coaching from him, I gave him space to stand in a position that helped him feel more confidant, where he could see the other horses. I whispered reminders to keep his head down, and to reassure him. All has gone smoothly since.
We are now both getting what we want. I get to buckle him without hassle, and he gets to feel confident and safe. I can feel him still on the alert, but putting every effort into keeping his head from flinging upward. He gets buckled more quickly, and then gets to his food sooner. There is a new camaraderie between us instead of antagonism.
In addition Kaheka also has shown me how I do the same thing in my own life. Throwing my head when I’m starting to feel constricted and unsafe, and slowing the process of forward movement by giving into my fears. That is his “guru” lesson for me.
Gratefully, the connection and the cooperation between Kaheka and me has grown deeper and at the same time more transcendent. It is another step forward on our horse and human journey, to work together in cooperation.
[This post was published briefly months ago so may be familiar to my followers. It has been rewritten and edited]
There was sweetness in the sorrow I felt when my memory took me back to the day my first horse, Apolinaire, died. At the end of his recent visitation through Dollar,l my emotional balloon was stretched to full capacity. Knowing I needed to release my tears, I was driven to walk the pasture paths that the horses have created through the wooded areas, revisiting the different places where Apolinaire and I had been together during the last four days of his life. Retracing our story together, I lingered at the very spot where many months ago he lay in exhaustion.
He had sent me home that day to paint.
To leave him in such a condition was difficult but I had been through this drill many times before with the other horses who were having acute or chronic physical issues, with miraculous results. Each time I had been guided to write, sketch, paint, to simply stand nearby and tune into nature, or to “please leave and let me work this out myself.” The malady magically disappeared time and time again.
Knowing his directive was not one to ignore, I left.
Once home, I painted with a restless spirit but with spiritual awareness, sensing that Apolinaire and I were most likely walking his death journey as companions. It was premature he told me that night and reminded me of the day years ago when he’d shared the way he was to die.
At that time, he had wandered away from the herd which was unlike him. He stepped over to another pasture and stood alone silently calling to me. I responded and stayed at a distance giving him space and dignity. Since it was late afternoon, the coastal fog had found its way inland and dimmed the light of day, creating an appropriate mood for what he was sharing. When he finished, I had thought his death was imminent, that he would likely disappear during the night. There was no distress. Sadness, yes, but most of all I felt a deeper closeness to him. He had trusted me with something intimate and sacred. But, the time for manifestation had not come.
Now, years later, I understood that it still was not time for Apolinaire to go, but an ominous feeling was pressing in. He was giving me continuous instructions as to my role in the partnership and in the process.
I was to hold space for him while he did his intercessory work which was very serious and challenging would make the difference in whether he was to live or die. For the most part, the magnitude of his cosmic work was not revealed.
I was to hold the belief he would recover as the other horses had done many times before. This time, however, my growth was in the believing. It was important even if there was never a manifestation of that belief. That one was tough for me. It didn’t make sense to me nor can I make sense of it now. All I know is that deep down there was a powerful freedom in it and there still is. I gave up attachment to results, and was free to hold space for his recovery and allow the Divine to flow. There was no more resistance to “believing” because it might not manifest since that was no longer a part of my formula. This is new to me and there is much more for me to discover about that practice.
Back home after putting away my paints and returning to the pasture, I quickly found my way to the spot where I had left him lying on the ground. My breath caught with new hope when I saw he was no longer there. There were indicators that reminded me of the “yellow brick road” that helped me find him tucked in the thicket, well away from where he had been lying. His eyes were brighter, there was new energy in him. I was encouraged.
As time went by, I continued to work on my painting and holding space for Apolinaire. Each time I returned, he showed improvement. My hopes were running high. Things seemed to be progressing.
On day 3, an acquaintance stopped by the pasture. I was not able to tell her that I was in an important process with Apolinaire. In fact I tried to hide it from her not wanting to talk about it. I surrendered to her arrival thinking maybe it was meant to be and might bring the ultimate healing. I completely forgot about my deal with Apolinaire. My only hope was that he would stay hidden.
Forgetting I was on a sacred mission with my horse, I lost my connection with Apolinaire that day as I followed my distraction. It can happen to me so easily. I suspect I am not alone in that tendency.
I had not spoken up which was a disservice to my guest, to Apolinaire in particular, and to myself. I lost the day with him. I lost my sense of confidence and holding space. I didn’t paint. Didn’t even think of it. From that day, he went downhill extremely fast and I forgot everything I’d been learning and went into crisis mode.
The next morning, he waited for me to arrive. When he turned and looked at me, I knew he was dying. My heart sank, and I gave up. In less than an hour, he was gone.
I had known it was a challenging task. I do not feel guilty nor that it was my fault as one might expect. We were on a treacherous journey together. I had known that.
My painting had brought continuous improvement for Apolinaire as it had done for the horses over the years. This time there was a bigger challenge. I became distracted and stopped painting. He went downhill. He died. It is sometimes a tough journey.
When he sent me home to paint, he sent me home to that other worldly place where the soul sighs with relief. There I find my joy and the peaceful pool of healing. There I am out of the way; the Divine is free to flow and the extraordinary follows.
The whole herd is on the move. Literally. We are relocating in a few days to a small ranch with a lovely homestead feeling. And it’s for sale! I’ve always envisioned an opportunity like this. Depending on how things evolve this is either a temporary stay on our way to a more permanent place or this will become our permanent place as the magic kicks in. That is my desire. And the magic is working lately even in finding this place.
Revision: Since writing the above post, the magic has taken us on a detour at the last minute. We have not moved to our dream place after all, but maybe there is something better, or maybe something will change and we can buy it or find a buyer that would lease to us. In the meantime we are still on the move, and need a place now. Time is of the essence.
I am including in this post a link to our Gofundme site that a young and supportive friend set up on behalf of the horses all of whom have been rescued; and myself, and not to exclude Henii, the rescued Airedale mix). We are in transition and would welcome support for feed and care of the horses for a few months until the vision becomes self sustaining. This would be a “bridge” like entrepreneurs use during a start up.
We also need funds for trailering the 5 equine beauties, as a friend calls them. If you are inspired to be a part of our journey by contributing or by prayers in whatever way you do that, we would be grateful.
Mariah (left) and Kaheka
Mystic Mariah, one of two mares in the herd, is a vivacious teenage dancer; light on her feet, easy to plop to the ground for a feel-good roll, bounce back to her feet, then off on a run with head flung high to the wind.
She’s also a bit mischievous with a dry sense of humor that I forget sometimes when I get annoyed at her dramatic flair for throwing hay ever so flamboyantly out of her food bin. And not just hers, but everybody elses’ as she goes from bin to bin taking over their spot.
But I couldn’t help feeling endeared by her the day she coyly deposited a tiny bouquet of flowering grasses in the middle of the sketch I was doing of her. Or the day she made me giggle and laugh when I was doing a charcoal sketch of Shaman Tal and she sauntered over with a gleam in her eye to have a look. She proceeded to erase the whole thing with her mouth, bringing me spontaneous laughter that filled the spacious stall with healing. Something about the whole scenario, my sketching and our laughing brought the restless Shaman to a peaceful quiet, and out of discomfort.
Mystic Mariah has been an active healer often through her humor and her presence alone. Recently, however, I discovered something new that came out of a problem. Mystic Mariah has always been a “noisy” breather from the day she arrived here about 10 years ago. Her audible breath would come and go and I never quite found the pattern for certain. Probably it happened most often when she was feeling a little anxious about something, just like we humans.
In the past year her breathing has become more noticeable on a regular basis but she hasn’t shown stress. But most of us have viewed it as a problem which has distracted us.
A few days ago, that all changed. A bright spirited young woman from Nevada was here on the western coast for respite. She came for a visit with the horses. Arriving ahead of me, she had some time to interact with the horses while I quickly finished my breakfast.
When I finally met her at the gate, she greeted me literally beaming with excitement. Unable to contain herself she blurted out that Mariah was teaching her to breathe! This Mariah with the breathing problem, was teaching this young woman how to breathe?!? How could this be?
I was unexpectedly swooped up and away in an invisible tornado, and swirled into a sudden shift in perspective. I was filled with curiosity, and at the same time a dance of delight. The whole pasture suddenly came alive with a song of triumph, and an otherworldly illumination sparked by this young woman, Steph. There was an intriguing sense of celebration of something new that I later discovered was more expansive than I could have imagined at the time!
Surprisingly, I had not noticed, consciously anyway, that though Mariah’s breath was noisy, each was slow and deep. That is what Steph had tapped into…long breath in and slow breath out. Whhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh….. This is how a horse normally breathes, we just don’t hear it. Mariah’s just happens to be audible. The long slow breath is a challenge for typical human patterns to sustain. But, Steph was trying to master it.
When I quieted from the sudden and involuntary change in my perspective about Mariah’s breath, I began experiencing it as strength instead of weakness. I, too, started letting Mariah teach me, breathing long and slow breaths with her as Steph had done. A powerful new understanding began to emerge and take root.
Here at the ranch, I’ve known for years that the horses are insistent on giving to us. They are determined to offer us deep healing, and don’t take kindly to clients, nor to myself, when we try to fix them. One very friendly horse, Kaheka, abruptly walked away when one guest reached out her hand to energetically fix and heal.
The healing they offer is often wrapped in symbolism and metaphors that require interpretation. Mariah’s breathing appeared as a problem and a weakness to most humans, then Steph instantly decoded what was presented to her and she received it, then passed it along to me and others with a recorded version.
After Mariah literally breathed life and transformation into human beings, it was her turn to receive but not in the way one would expect. A few days after Steph had been here, Mystic Mariah went through a healing crisis. I at first was ready to call a vet but Mariah interrupted swiftly and spoke firmly that what she was experiencing was a good thing, a healing was taking place. I felt it to be true without question.
After Mariah’s message, I felt strongly grounded with a new sense of courage and boldness in embracing her healing. Twenty-five years of equine mentoring, coaching, and hardcore training converged in that moment. Internal arrows darted through my mind in a review of the many lessons from my equine mentors over time, reminding me and connecting me with all they had taught me regarding healing. I was most certainly taking a master exam for my doctorate in mystical living in the trenches, I say laughingly but with some seriousness. For that very day I had been prepared par excellence by the equine teachers.
I had been shown that doubts, and the very act of seeking proof would chase manifestation away. I was able to easily reject my inclination to do so this time, but a remnant of doubt caused me to struggle with trying not to listen to Mariah’s breathing for fear that I would be disappointed. Mariah interrupted again quickly and succinctly informing me that neither audible nor quiet breathing were the proof of whether or not she was healed. The healing took place in another dimension unscathed by whether there was manifestation or not. Freedom rushed over me in refreshment like a clear mountain brook bouncing lightheartedly over rocks. It quenched my thirst for something more. I could listen to her breathe and make no judgment, and stand simply and firmly in her healing.
That being said, after many weeks I have noticed that Mariah’s breath has softened…not always, but mostly. A few days ago when her breath was especially quiet, we put our nostrils together and I breathed in the sweetness of her pure and gentle breath.
She and the herd reminded me that healing comes with our receiving what they offer us. Our healing and theirs. Steph was able to receive from Mariah. Others, myself included, had not seen past her weakness or her problem..noisy breathing.
Steph started the cycle of healing by receiving from Mariah, and then sharing with others. Then healing came back around to Mariah. For years I have been experiencing this cycle of healing with horses once they brought me to the place of simply receiving from them.
This is the equine art of healing.
(I just came across this letter to the editor in The Anderson Valley Advertiser (AVA), Mendocino County, California on July 28th, 2010)
To whoever accused me of being “severely neglected”—
My name is Filly and I am the equine equivalent of a 95-97-year-old woman. I know you have this beautiful image in your head of what a horse should look like: smooth muscles rippling under a glossy coat perhaps. Just strike that from your mind! Unfortunately, I am never going to look like that again.
I am a skinny, bony old lady with wrinkles, a sway back, stringy muscles and some gray hairs. But if you had taken the time to look me in the eye you would have seen the light in them that has nothing to do with pain and neglect. Maybe you did look but just couldn’t see.
I am still enjoying myself. I have a roof in winter and 75 acres of freedom and grazing during the dry season. My humans keep an eye on me to make sure I have all four legs under me and am not in pain. I am wormed and have all I can eat. Despite my arthritis, I am still quite mobile. Being skinny helps with that. I can even still manage a short canter on occasion.
I wish the general public was more aware of what a normal appearance is for a truly old horse. There once was a time when people had “horse sense,” and it was synonymous with “common sense.” That seems to be in short supply now. Having this unrealistic expectation of equine beauty for all horses is unfair. I don’t look like the horses on the cover of Horse Illustrated with their young, muscular physiques, glowing coats and lush manes and tails.
If it offends your fine sensibilities to find me in your viewshed, look somewhere else. I don’t go into your human rest homes and complain about your 95-year-old great-grandmother, so don’t come into my pasture and complain about me. I am enjoying what little time I have left to me. My human would like me to live out my days and die a peaceful, natural death if possible. As long as I have a happy expression in my eye, she says she’s not going to bump me off. My fear is that if people make too much of a stink about having to look at me, she may have to put me down.
So, please, I know you probably meant well, but give an old lady a break. You could have asked anyone who works and lives at Ferrington Vineyards about me and they could have told you I’m just ancient. I don’t want to be rushed into my grave. I may be getting senile, but I am not stupid.
Severely Old at Ferrington Vineyard
Filly (via Colleen Kobler)
PS. Oh yes, the Animal Control officer said I look pretty good for my age.