Gently Teaching A Human to Trust: the language of horses


[Since horses can’t text, they communicate with us in their own language. Besides messaging us with their body language; they, as sentient beings, also speak to us in many other ways. The true story below with my own herd on the Mendocino Coast shares the sweetness of everyday interactions rich with opportunity for personal growth.]

The horses were munching new Spring grasses on a hill a long way from the barn when I arrived. Shaman is easy to see because he is a paint with a white coat. To see the others, I squinted my eyes to determine whether I was seeing a horse or a bush in the distance, counting to make sure all 5 were together and safe. All was well. I had been gone for a few days to recover from the unending back to back storm systems we’d been having in California. Seeing the horses quietly grazing in the distance soothed me with peacefulness.

Donning my new well-insulated coat that had recently been given to me and my new Christmas boots (that leaked!), I set out on a long hike through the swampy lower pasture to join the horses. When I finally arrived up the hill where the grasses were thick and plentiful, the mood was tranquil as the horses continued to eat. I stood motionless feeling the quiet of a library setting where we whisper and almost feel the need to tip toe. I didn’t make a sound for fear of breaking the spell as my eyes caressed each horse, enjoying the lines of their beautiful bodies, noting how good they looked. At last one by one, they silently walked over to me, stretched out their necks, and reached their heads toward me for interaction and kisses, then retreated back to the grasses.

These moments were reassuring. I had worried during my absence. Even though the horses had been under the watchful eyes of both the ranch owner and the caretaker, I had worried. Even though the herd had sent me imageries that they were okay, I had worried.

One image they painted for me was of the 5 of them, heads together grinning from ear to ear, holding signs and waving banners of celebration. At first puzzled, I quickly realized they were applauding me as their spokesperson for finally posting their stories on our blog, a serious assignment given to me years ago as their advocate. During my recuperating time away I was in fact posting their stories. They were happy. It helped me chuckle and relax. For awhile.

Soon after, another picture came that was more literal and less comic. They were all standing in their favorite grove of trees with heads drooped in that goofy way, and all were sound asleep, meaning tummies were full, and it was time to rest. They were content.

During my time away I was learning a lesson in trust taught by the horses with their pictorial tutorials! Now that we were all together again, my somewhat crusty attempt at trust had been validated. None of them panted in my ear, “Where the hell ya been?” Nor had they come gushing over me like I was the wayward one that at last had returned, rolling their eyes behind my back! Perhaps they hadn’t really noticed I’d been gone. They were happily entranced in their own world. I’m thinkin’ a break from the human element was a good thing!

But, there was one more concern


Over the years, Shaman Tal, the “paint” horse that’s so visible in the distance, has been prone to hoof issues. In the past he has given me signs when his hooves are becoming uncomfortable. One of signs among others is isolating, staying away from the herd.

On this particular day, Shaman Tal was not isolating. He was in the center of the herd and had come a long distance to this spot in the pasture, and the few steps he had just taken in my presence were smooth and without trepidation. His countenance exuded contentment, but I wanted to be sure. This, by the way, drives my horses a little crazy. They do not want me to continue looking for something wrong after I have been reassured everything is okay! Time and time again they emphatically walk away from me, a blundering human in training.

Lately, I’ve been re-learning a lesson I had been taught by Shaman years ago. That is to expect the best which actually helps create it; and to trust more deeply my inner messages. But….but…today was different. Well. No it wasn’t. I had already noticed Shaman was okay. Why did I habitually need to prove that maybe my observations were wrong by checking again and again?! Wow. I took a deep breath and walked away choosing to trust instead of insisting he lift his hooves for me to prove or disprove what I already knew to be true in my heart.

As I started back toward the barn, the words came as a reminder, “He will show you if he is not okay,” meaning, of course, I didn’t have to keep looking for it. That resonated with my spirit, and with my experience. I relaxed and was free to enjoy the herd as we walked together back to the barn. I did a quick glance over my shoulder at Shaman to see if he were coming, and simultaneously he took steps showing me again a beautiful stride. Oh ho! Yes! I turned back and kept walking with a better stride myself, and whispered a “thank you” that I had actually been given another confirmation, unsolicited I might add, that he was okay. But there was more.

Half way back to the barn as we were moseying along together, Shaman Tal, this very horse I had been concerned about, suddenly, in a spurt of racehorse energy, took off running across the pasture flinging his head up and about and then dipping it into a figure eight. Running! What can I say?! The joy of it all! This is not the horse I would have expected to take off like that! How much clearer could it be that his hooves were in fact okay. He had gone out of his way to show me! I could only whisper “thank you” again, as my heart joined him in the frolic all the way back to the barn.

A new trust was born.

[As of the writing of this experience, I had not idea that this was only the tip of the iceberg. The horses had plans for teaching me more about trust than I could have imagined at the time. Some day that will be another story. They are digging deeper and I’m still in process!]


Trust, the most intimate thing in life, is the hardest to gain, and the hardest to hold. – John Holt





I found him this way; the lead rope had been on the fence!


Other playful stories:
Four-legged Flower Child: short Or short link:

Goofy Mariah, Divine Comedienne:

Introducing Four Pages: Healing Portraitures; Sketching Horses; Problem Horses; Equine Guided Personal/Spiritual Growth Sessions

The Art Of Healing Through Portraiture:


Sketching Horses: Equine Guided, An Introductory Class



“You Talkin’ About Me?

Problems With Your Horse?



*Kaheka and Amoura”

Equine Guided Personal /Spiritual Growth And Healing Sessions:

What My Horse Taught Me Today

Kaheka Boy

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.

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.


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]


Bad Behavior or Wiser Than We?


Kaheka, my leggy thoroughbred, was getting pushy. He was shoving me with a hint of aggression, definitely not a soft and gentle affirmative nudge that the horses offer me when I “get it right.” Feeling vulnerable and small, I got big and authoritative. I surprised myself with a husky voice that emerged from my lungs trying to overpower him with volume and crisp diction. He needed to know that pushing me wasn’t allowed! He did it again! That sure worked.

Not given to impulsive whacking here at this safe haven where horses have come to escape abuse, again I puffed up big and started to reprimand him in a more forceful voice. A reminder found its way like a meandering ribbon into my menagerie of thoughts and surly emotions that held me earthbound to my old habits. Like a friendly whirlwind the remembrance lifted me into that place of clarity that reflects the freshness of the blue sky above.

The questions were whispered, “What was Kaheka mirroring to me? Who am I pushing around or what is pushing me?” The answer came as quickly as the questions. I was letting life push me around. I was being overly complacent and allowing life to batter and taunt. This was one of my deeply ingrained behaviors that kept me chained to the obsolete patterns of abuse. I no longer needed to swallow what life was bringing me. [The Horse That Couldn’t Swallow] While in some situations, acceptance is what is needed, it was not for me.

Kaheka was calling my divine self to take charge…not of him in the usual way, but of life. His “shoving” theatrics were waking me up to take action and to make my life happen the way I wanted. It was time for me to embrace with determination, the divinely-planted desires deep in my heart. They needed to be watered, weeded, and the fruit eaten with joy. Timely, I thought to myself. He affirmed with a lick and chew…and I think I saw a knowing wink. His pushiness stopped.