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. …”
There was still a little light left in the sky when feeding and clean up were done, unusual for my time schedule. I had spent the day with the horses for hoof trims, untangling Kaheka’s mane, grooming and de-ticking the 5, and wanted to have some conversation and quiet time with them before going home. I called it a conference. Some were already standing in the community “hall,” but one was missing. Amoura. Not surprising for this stand-offish mare.
After turning the water off at the faucet, and locking up the pasture gate, I headed for the horses in the barn. As I walked past Amoura, I sent her a casual invitation in my mind to join us. In concert with my thought, she nickered. I responded, “Ah ho! That was fun!”
By the time I arrived at the stall with the horses that were waiting for me, Amoura had already arrived to complete the count at 5 horses! She came! Nice! I was surprised!
Here I was in the presence of the wisdom of all 5 horses. I could feel it. I bared my soul with them as I downloaded some perplexing and unresolved issues. Better than paying a therapist! I also talked about their teeth since they are an eldering herd, and mentioned my secret wish for a miracle! Why not?!!
While I was talking, Mariah started opening her mouth wide and contorting her jaw in different directions while stretching her head up, down, and to the side. Definitely a distraction at this serious moment! At first, I just assumed she was zoned out with some issue in her mouth. A few minutes later I realized I had been talking about their teeth, and Mariah started doing her theatrics with her mouth.
It took me back to being a teacher in the classroom when a wise cracking student would do something funny during a serious lesson to make everyone laugh. Mariah is our equine comedienne, and there was significant comedy in what she was doing but her confirming action of the topic infused with her humor passed me by until later. Slow to get it sometimes, but when I do, laughter rolls out from deep inside.
Mariah reminds me of a teenage dancer. She is in command of her body and is given to being impulsive. Sometimes she responds to some irresistible urge to move quickly away from a pile of hay with food still hanging out of her mouth as she heads for the herd like a vivacious teenager out the door to meet her friends still chewing the remainder of a peanut butter and jam sandwich. Both are onto the social business at hand!
True to her whimsical nature, Mariah threw hay one time on a 4 year old child causing him and the rest of us to laugh heartily as the hay slowly dripped off his beaming face. Another time, she sauntered up to me when I was doing a charcoal sketch of Shaman and acted interested in what I was doing. I was intrigued. Suddenly she proceeded to erase the sketch away with her very nimble muzzle. We laughed and Shaman got better.
I nicknamed her flower child because of the time I was sketching her, and she dropped a mouthful of green grass on the sketch, then threw her head as in “mission accomplished” and walked away. On closer look she had left me a miniature bouquet of flowering grasses!
Thanks to Amoura and Mariah for contributing to these sprinklings of magic and whimsy which are sometimes too easy to slip by us. When I catch it, I love the surprise along with the surge of joy these moments evoke. Lingering in it sets the stage for more to come!
Who wouldn’t want to touch this body?! I was so ready; I set my basket full of grooming brushes and tools on the ground beside my gentlemanly horse. He stood quietly while I prepared to groom him. He made no movement, not even a flinch for a fly; but underlying the stillness was a subtle and invisible resistance that permeated the air around him. I felt it in my body. He did not want to be touched.
I knew what he was telling me, but everything in me wanted first to ignore it, then to simply override his message. I could do that. I could override his desire with my human agenda. We humans do that all the time, even Supreme Court Justices. We ignore and override not only with our animals but with each other and our children.
This horse would have let me, but it was clearly not what he wanted. He would not have hurt me. I could simply toss away my commitment to listening and honoring the sentient beings under my guardianship. Who would know; who would even care? I could do it. But very clearly he didn’t want to be touched. I vacillated back and forth like a human fighting an addiction. Then, I tried another tact. I slyly told myself that this time I could do it, just this one time, but from then on I would honor the horse. Right.
The reality at that moment was that I was in an internal war zone holding mental and emotional grenades in my hands ready to throw at all beliefs and intentions that honored working cooperatively or even just sensitively with horses, specifically this well-mannered horse. It was seemingly such an insignificant thing, yet one of the most important moments in my life. I was putting myself on the line. Was I serious about my commitment or not? Finally, with all my might and with teeth clenched, I stepped back away from him and took a very deep breath and as I released it, I dropped the grooming brush.
He knew immediately of my surrender, even before the grooming brush hit the ground. He felt it. Simultaneously, he turned his head as if in a well rehearsed dance movement, and reached toward me inviting me to stroke his face in one of the more intimate moments that I had ever experienced with this horse. This mutual touch brought deep connection. We were home.
More about touch…https://themystichorsechronicle.wordpress.com/more-on-to-touch-or-not-to-touch-the-language-of-horses/
My fingers were fumbling as I tried to tie a slip knot with hay bale twine to keep the corral gate open. They were too cold and numb to function. Shaman Tal, my large Tennessee Walker, was standing 3 feet away in deep mud, but even so, stepped forward toward me. He then lowered his head and put his nostrils near my fingers and breathed his warm, slow breath on them.
Before leaving the horses in the evenings, I often check in with each one. Kaheka and I have hit a few bumps in the road lately, and he was not acknowledging me when I asked playfully if he wanted to give me a kiss which I’m not prone to force. He continued to obviously ignore me as I tried to engage him in other ways asking about possible hurt feelings. He is a very sensitive and emotional horse, and that was likely the problem.
In the meantime, I sensed another horse behind me. It was Amoura. I shifted my conversation to her noticing she looked very sad. As I mentioned her sadness (which could have been mine she was reflecting), Kaheka, who had continued to act as if I didn’t exist, stepped forward briskly and started massaging her withers at the base of her mane. Amoura was reluctant at first, a bit hesitant as I am when not quite ready to release my discomfort. But her shift came faster than mine and she in turn started responding to Kaheka, both of them standing side by side looking in opposite directions as they embraced one another with their massaging hugs. I stepped back and absorbed the joy of Kaheka’s quick response to Amoura’s sadness, and the intimacy of their hugs.
This beautiful interaction made me shake my head a little and chuckle quietly in enjoyment of the mischievous trickster side of Kaheka who was listening all along and responded quickly to Amoura with love and compassion. It was consistent with his character quality of being drawn to the other horses when they are ailing for any reason.
Amoura and Kaheka not only danced with each other, they also danced with me!