The Equine Art of Healing

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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.

There is a Reason

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There is a reason so many people are drawn to horses even with varying degrees of fear and trembling.  Both the fear and the draw are in part due to their sheer size; but I also think their pure magnificence and spiritual presence is something quite mighty to experience at the soul level and also touches something quite mighty in the unconscious parts of the human being. And that can be a very awesome and a fearful thing.

Even without our knowing, horses may plant a healing that we might not be aware of that will manifest days, weeks, or perhaps years later. I am learning that we can accelerate the process by developing our awareness in their presence.

They are powerful beings wrapped in beauty and grace; gentle enough to walk beside us on a simple lead rope. Their spiritual strength and eternal flow of wisdom can crumble any resistances in our soul by our surrender to it in their presence.

This morning, I am on the cusp of being financially forced to re-home my 5 spiritual healing horses, just as we are coming into our power as a herd after 25 years. As I was pondering my surrender to, and acceptance of that very real possibility, I noticed that my least affectionate horse, and the most mystical, was lingering at the water trough with her head pressed as close as she could get to me near the fence. She was standing quietly, looking softly, but intensely at me with her deep brown eyes. There was a peaceful quality about her.

My memory turned my head back to the day my mom died years ago. She was many miles away when she departed, before I had a chance to go home to be with her. Mariah stepped up to me in the pasture, and presented herself as a physical and spiritual surrogate for my mom. This normally stand off-ish mare allowed me to hug her and caress her for as long as I needed. I knew I was touching my mom while tears of grief intermingled with joy and gratitude for these parting moments through Mariah.

Was it mom visiting a second time today through Mariah? I wonder that as I write.

As I moved to a different location along the fence, there was Mariah again this time with her head lifted high on the fence hovering her peacefulness and flow of wisdom over me like a shower of radiated spiritual light. “I receive,” I whispered to her not yet knowing the full impact of what is coming. “I receive.” Thank you.

No matter the outcome of the next two weeks, I felt a sense of quiet. I sat in an herb garden and watched the honey bees busy with their food gathering from a borage plant, the sweet purple flowers backlit by the sun. Coastal breezes were playing with my hair and keeping me comfortable from the heat of the day. “This is living,”I thought to myself, “It is not for sale.” I’ll always carry that surrender to it deep in my soul. This is the reason so many people are drawn to horses.

Equine Kissing Game

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Dollar has been creating a lot of playful fun for me these days. He use to be rather aloof and withdrawn, and seemed simply the “money man,” in reference to his name and the $ brand he came with. I would communicate with him mostly regarding that topic. Lately, however, since he’s become the new leader here when Apolinaire died, he has been actively involved in significant and amazing  therapeutic work with clients and myself. In addition to that, he is also revealing his light hearted side.

I’ve discovered he understands what I’m saying without my teaching him with an action and reward system. It’s been one of his closely held secrets! The playful part is kissing. When I spontaneously asked him for a kiss one day without any expectation, he responded immediately by presssing his muzzle ever so softly against my face. Such a heavenly feeling…the warmth of his gentle muzzle nicely scented with horsey breath fresh from the earth; and the serendipity of the horse and human interaction.

Kissing has now become a common occurrence with Dollar and me. If he doesn’t feel like it, he will stand stoney faced with no acknowledgement. Sometimes though, he’ll look at me with almost human eyes and say, “Naw, I don’t think so.”  I giggle and that’s when I ask if I can kiss him. Instantly like a statue coming alive, he’ll turn his cheek or forehead to me or some other part of his face, or nod his head, “yes.”

Such fun playing his equine kissing game! It brings to me memories of childhood delights and a reminder that the earth is God’s playground. We get to experience the joys of the physical realm while our souls are dancing in unseen worlds.

Horses and Alzheimer’s

Horses are good therapy for the body, soul, and spirit.

Something new is stirring for me. In addition to working with those wanting to go more deeply into their spiritual nature, with those in the arts, and those suffering from childhood traumas, I’m beginning to explore bringing together the horses with those with severe memory loss. The following anecdote has further stimulated my interest:

When I picked up my Alzheimer’s client at her home, she was agitated. Not necessarily angry as she has been at other times, but restless and overly talkative about something that was upsetting to her. I was not able to interpret as I often do.

She was in another world. “Out of it” were the words that kept coming to me.

When we arrived at the pasture with the horses, she was not able to relate to them. She literally could not see them from afar or close up, nor did she want to help feed them. I began to doubt whether horses were the best venue for her as I had believed.

We had lunch together, and as I listened to her talk, it became clear that she was in a different story. I was one of the players in that story as sometimes I am if she is trying to let me know she’s upset with me. but this time I seemed to be a surrogate.  So I went into the story with her and became that person she was trying to convince.  I let her talk in words that sounded somewhat like gibberish at times, which I’ve been learning to interpret.

As she talked, I noticed that Dollar, our head horse, moved in behind her right on cue. I had become aware earlier that he was staying near her. Wherever she was, there was Dollar. I was curious and tried to make her aware of him but to no avail. Once again I began to doubt, and inwardly questioned whether I’d been fooling myself all these months about the benefit of horses in her life. We’d had some special moments together, she had sung, danced, and conversed with them. Her communication would seem clearer when we were with the horses. Today, however, nothing seemed to calm her. It seemed pointless.

So the 3 of us, Sarah (not her real name), Dollar, and myself were together in what I call the outdoor reception room for clients. She was sitting on a wooden bench with a bouquet of wildflowers in front of her which was sitting on my grandmother’s old laundry room bench now a “coffee” table. The coastal sun warmed us as Sarah continued to talk and Dollar munched on hay directly behind her back. She was referring to some encounter we’d had, nothing that was familiar to me, but with someone, real or imagined. I was the surrogate. She was being very mature, careful, and polite as she explained in broken words and sentences that she would never purposely offend me, but she needed to defend herself from some sort of accusation, a false accusation of something she hadn’t done, nor would ever do. She went to great lengths to explain it all, but there was always some piece missing.

Suddenly, Dollar whispered to me and I knew exactly what to say. I looked her straight in the eye and said with conviction, “Sarah, I believe you.”  That was all she needed. To be heard, and to be acknowledged. The change in her was amazing. The story stopped, she became her normal Alzheimer’s self again, and even helped put pellets in a bucket for the horses’ evening feed. We were back to our normal interactions, with a little less baggage for Sarah to carry.

Whether her story was something recent, or from years of struggle from what I know to be a childhood trauma she mentions occasionally, I don’t know. But with Alzheimer’s becoming epidemic, I have concerns but also inklings that there may be inroads we can make outside of medical solutions. Anything we can do that helps those with severe memory loss find some respite for their souls, is worth pursuing. I am speculating that childhood traumas that are suppressed might possibly contribute to a propensity to Alzheimer’s. At least in this case, knowing some of her history, I suspect it has.

What I am beginning to experience is that the horses can bridge that communication gap. They themselves communicate with a different language which some of us can understand. I credit Dollar with communicating to me, as the horses have done many times before, the very words I needed to say to her that brought her solace. I now have no more doubt about the benefits for Sarah of being in the presence of the horses without having physical interaction. I love heartwarming surprises like this one.

There is so much more I want to explore with Alzheimer’s clients. There are so many possible avenues to bring degrees of healing, and I am one to believe that anything is possible even when something is called incurable. There may not be a panacea nor ever be, but who knows what might be accomplished on an individual basis, and in this case in the presence of horses.

I can only imagine the torment they must feel when they are unable to communicate with even loved ones. We take for granted, I’m afraid, our abilities to speak out about a troubling experience or even a joyful one, or our ability to stand up for ourselves in normal family frictions. Some of us may not, but the option exists. It must feel like some kind of hell to them when they can’t and no wonder some would wander away looking for “home.”

This is only the tip of the iceberg. I am not an expert, but a pilgrim on a journey to understand more. Ohio State University has done preliminary studies and found significant evidence that the interaction of Alzheimer’s with horses caused improvement in behavior. There is more for us to know. We do not need to wait for science which often follows anecdotal records. Horses are an important avenue to bridge the gap in communication and bring healing to trouble in the soul.

I Held His Tear in the Palm of My Hand

 

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There is a magical passageway that lies between the pastures. Dollar was standing sleepy-eyed in the heart of it.  The air there is moist and cool from the shade of a small tree that hangs over the path shrouded by bushes lining the opposite side. There is a feeling of seclusion and secrecy.

I joined him there to do some bodywork along his back where he had suffered an injury years ago. By the time I got to him, he was already in a deep, contented sleep with head lowered. I quietly hovered my hands over his mane in reiki fashion, my own rendition that I discovered with my first horse.

Dollar continued to drop his head lower and lower, his bottom lip sagging, mouth softly quivering, and occasionally licking and chewing. These are all signs of relaxation, release, and good feelings in an equine. My playful goal has always been to get his head as close to the ground as possible in a full surrender to peaceful relaxation. I’m still trying.

When Dollar awakened and lifted his head, I noticed something in the corner of his eye that appeared to be a little bit of mucous. Instinctively I wiped it away with my finger, and when I looked, a droplet of water ran down down the tip of my finger. I watched it trickle all the way down until it came to rest in the palm of my hand. It was a tear. I held it there as tears filled my own eyes. There was a purity in this moment. The tear itself was clean and clear. I looked at Dollar, searched his eyes for clues, and wondered. There was no recognition from him, no connection it seemed with the tear.

I stopped my analytical mind from stirring up tohubohu as I started to take a microscopic view of all the possible reasons for this tear. Instead, Dollar and I stayed in the quiet of the moment. I continued to hold one hand over his mane. It was a relief to let go of my need to analyze and the work of trying to understand.

Dollar and I stood close as he pressed his head into my body. Then he nuzzled his way into my cupped hand where he placed his soft, warm muzzle, and held it there for a long time as he dreamed. All the while I was being taken on a Spirit-guided journey into the depths of my soul. It was a magical time together, both of us in a trance-like state.

When he awakened again, our time of interaction was complete. We both stretched and flexed our muscles merging our spirits with earthly consciousness.

With it came a memory.

I was taken back in time to Apolinaire, my first horse and spiritual guide, who was dying. When he took his last breath and relaxed into a peaceful smile, he opened his beautiful eyes for the last time and gentle tears fell from the corner. [In Life, In Beauty, and In Death]

Six months later I stand beside Dollar immersed in the emotion of the memory. I suddenly understood whose tear had been tucked in the corner of Dollar’s eye, the tear that found its way to my palm. I understood that Apolinaire had come to me this day through Dollar.

The three of us had communed in that world-between-the-worlds while standing in the passageway between the pastures. Dollar dreamed, and I listened to secret mysteries being whispered to my heart. Apolinaire had visited, Dollar had allowed, and I was being tranformed. The tear of grief that I held in the palm of my hand became tears of healing and empowerment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In Life, In Beauty, and in Death

In Memoriam, Apolinaire
In Memoriam, Apolinaire

My first and forever horse, Apolinaire, long time leader and patriarch of the herd, the wise one, the love of my life and spiritual guide left his body recently. He was not ready to go, but his body gave out. He was 33 years old or somewhere thereabouts. It wasn’t an easy passing. He suffered as I stood near with love and pain in my heart, and squeezed droplets of water into his mouth which soothed him. After bracing against going down to the ground, he fell back on his rear without his permission and the end hovered over him, then moved in quickly. After the determined and departing gallop so common in the dying process, and with my cheering him onward to his new destination, he took his last breath and smiled peacefully. His eyes had closed in a moment of heavenly slumber and then reopened partially as a few tears trickled out of the corner and joined mine in the eternal lament of unfinished business.

We shared our love. We shared our grief of parting. Together. Not alone. I laid my body over his large body and wept, filled up with both the depths of love and sorrow. I loved and wept throughout the day.

I couldn’t get enough of his body, caressing the parts I had so loved…the perfect shape of his beautiful ears, the form from rear to hock, his beefy legs with 2 white socks in the back, his very long black tail, his perfectly formed nostrils, his kind eyes… His spirit lingered with his body for the remainder of the day…and so did I.

I’m heartbroken…lots of tears…not anguish…just deep sadness and missing him terribly yet very connected.

He was (and still is) a powerful guide. At first my life with the rest of herd died with him until he reminded that he had specially chosen each one and drawn them to the herd for the gifts they bring. We will carry on, I told them. We will continue what Apolinaire has started. I said what I was meant to say, but my heart felt lifeless.

He was buried first thing the next morning. The remaining 5 stood in formation in a corner of the pasture, facing where he had just been tucked in to his new bed. I led a memorial service, just the 5 of them and Henii, the dog. There was no singing.

Years ago I use to play the piano and sing at memorial services. I always looked forward to the part when people shared stories about their friend or loved one who had passed on. We use to laugh with tears as we lovingly remembered annoying but endearing idiosyncracies. As I stood in front of the 5 companions Apolinaire left behind, I asked them what they most remembered about Apolinaire. They all looked at me in silence with wide open eyes. Suddenly, Dollar started biting Mariah’s chest and rear end creating all kinds of havoc between the two of them during this sacred meeting. How could he act out this way?! (Said chuckling)

Dollar was speaking to my question about what he most remembered. The horse he was biting, Mariah, was Apolinaire’s lady friend who was lower in the hierarchy than Dollar but nevertheless was allowed to eat with the head guy. Dollar who is the new head guy was always aced out and couldn’t do anything to Mariah when she was being protected by Apolinaire. Mariah got the extra food that Dollar would normally have gotten…and Dollar was amusingly pissed. Their memories are so base! The humor was refreshing.

The service ended on that note. One lone robin stood on the newly formed mound where Apolinaire was laid to rest.

Stepping Out of the Mess

The two human angels [In the Midst of the Mess] came back with apples, carrots, and a grater, and a pan to hold the treats for the horses. It was well thought out. On the trunk of the aging Mercedes, they went to work shredding the food for the aging herd. Most of the horses were gone to another part of the pasture. Only one was nearby. I always pay attention to which one. It is usually and probably always significant. Today it was Dollar. I call him the “money man” because of his name and the dollar sign imprinted above his left front leg. He was rewarded with the whole treat without any competition from the others. I think it surprised him. There was no flack and he was the center of attention. I could feel him retreat inwardly as he did this thing alone. Maybe a little shy about it. All reflections of my own shyness about receiving and having all of the good stuff focused on me.

The two angels had their fun, washed up the utensils, and found some mustard leaves in their stash. By then, the herd had returned, and Mariah came to the fence. Mariah is my symbol of the mystical. She seems to dwell in that world. Her interaction with a human is a mix of the playful, humorous, and the mystical. She has a handle on the earth being God’s playground for us. After eating the mustard leaves, she found her way to a very large feeding bin. It was empty. She began pawing at it until she tipped it over on its side. She has a dry sense of humor doing her stunts as if she is oblivious, our very own comedienne.  The two angels got a good laugh.  Mariah’s way of saying thank you (and probably that she wouldn’t turn down another handful of mustard!)

As the angels were preparing to leave, our conversation took an unexpected turn. In the State of California, I hold a teaching credential. It appears there may be financial opportunity as a credentialed educator, to provide “job” training for developmentally disabled as they help by preparing feed, delivering hay, grooming, etc.

Did Dollar have something to do with that?