Last winter my OTTB (Off-Track Thoroughbred) mare Rasa, suffered a fracture to a bone in her foot. She required five months of stall rest. This is the equivalent to an eternity for a young horse with a strong work ethic who had only just begun her second career. After this long and difficult lay-up, she really needed some time off to just be a horse. She was brought home and turned out with my older mustang mare. I wanted so badly to get right back to riding her, but I knew this down time would be good for her soul. I had no idea how good it would be for mine.
As someone who touts and teaches the myriad benefits equines provide us, I should not be surprised when I learn a few lessons myself, from a herd I am with every day. It’s not as much a feeling of surprise as it is awe and deep gratitude that these horses are in my life. It never gets old. They never stop amazing me with their insight, and it always makes my heart smile to see them run in joyful celebration, or nuzzle each other in moments of quiet.
On a typical morning I rise with the sun. Often a thick fog would set in overnight, diffusing the sunlight and allowing me to see only a trace outline of the horses. My humble corner of the world was just waking. In these quiet moments the feeling of Expansiveness was almost overwhelming.
Still in my pajamas I would slip into my boots and begin mixing up various concoctions of mash and grain, minerals and supplements. My feeding routine seems far too complicated to me some mornings. But my horses thrive and I’m proud of that. Being equitable and honorable doesn’t mean treating everyone alike, but rather seeing that everyone’s needs are met.
Carrying their buckets I would fumble to open the gate. At the first rattle of the chain, low, soft nickers would echo up to me, every sound and footfall lingering in the dense, foggy air. Gratitude. On occasion I would be running late because I had chosen to have that second cup of coffee or finish reading that chapter in my book. Those low, soft nickers would escalate to high pitched whinnys, accompanied by stomping hooves. A gentle reminder that every action has consequences which often affect the lives of others.
Hay was thrown, water buckets were cleaned and filled with fresh, cool water. I would sit with the horses while they ate, breathing in deeply the sweet scent of fresh hay. I adored feeling the warm breath of my pony on my cheek, and listening to the sound of horses munching hay. The sun would be up, burning off the fog, revealing the verdant landscape. Peace. Serenity. Calm.
By this time of the morning, if I’d not eaten breakfast I would feel tired, unfocused, and nauseous. With a nourished belly however, I could remain present and felt invigorated. You must take care of yourself before you are able to offer care to others.
As gratifying and rejuvenating as this was, the most insightful part of my time with the horses came next! After finishing their buckets and taking turns at the water bucket, they would meander out of the barn and mill about in the lower pasture. Often they would roll. Occasionally they would pop up from that and engage in the classic “buck-n-toot” followed by a happy run about, always settling down into a space of calm.
Horses have developed a communication system which at times I think is at a higher level than we as humans have been able to attain. I know this because I was able to enter their world on days like this. I would squat in the center of the pasture or walk about, mingling as if at a cocktail party with a very relaxed dress code. A horse would approach and gently slide in next to me. I’d reach to scratch at her neck and in response she would turn her head and use her dexterous nose to rub the low of my back. You get what you give. Another horse would approach and I could either push them away, or accept them into the circle. Without a word spoken or a sound made, much was said. Over 90% of face-to-face communication is non-verbal.
The Honesty with which horses communicate is refreshing. If a horse said to me “go away” or “no”, that was exactly what it meant. And these messages were simply information. No anger. No guilt. Just information. In the human world “go away” may mean “I need your help and I’m too proud to ask”.
Much time would pass while I was with the horses. I wouldn’t realize it until I returned to the house and looked at the clock. Then I’d remember what just happened. It felt like a dream. Time had stood still. Being with the horses makes you fully present. They do not dwell in the past or future and so when with them, neither do you. No worries about past mistakes, future appointments, or what that person over there must be thinking of you. Time with them was like a mental vacation. Meditation without the fire hazard of scented candles.
Summer is now drawing to a close. Rasa is healing in both body and spirit. Our two mustangs, very different in personality, keep the herd well balanced. Packing the house up to move to the new farm has been consuming in both time and energy and my moments with the horses has been temporaily diminished. But I couldn’t be happier about the start of a new chapter for my family and I can’t wait to share with you what it feels like to be one with the herd.