Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I come from

I come from cream colored ponies in English saddles,
dusty outdoor arenas with weathered jumps sprawled in the middle,
brushes and bridles, hoof picks and halters, and the smell of saddle soap and leather and oil.
I come from grooming boxes and hairy Islandics with coats thicker
than the rug on my grandmothers wall and the Draft crosses that
won’t turn until they come to the corner and see the fence.

I come from the thrill of riding bareback for the first time, and mucking stalls
at seven in the morning while the horses are munching down the hay
and snorting through their noses into water buckets.
I come from jumping over cavalettis that turn into oxers
and steering from A to C in a straight line
with a perfect halt in the middle.

I come from cantering down the field and falling off
into the bush where the thorns scratch my face and the mud
sticks to my breeches, but don’t stop me from getting back on.
I come from clinging to the saddle with my thighs
as I attempt my first medium down the diagonal
without stirrups and the horse weighs seven tons in my hand.

I come from braiding the mane at five in the morning and
driving across the country just to have a go
at winning the championships and loosing it by a fraction.
I come from wrapping the front hoof with duct tape
twice a day for a whole two weeks
to take care of the abscess that developed over night.

I come from holding onto the horn and chasing down a calf in California
letting the horse take over because
he knows more about cows than his English trained rider.
I come from galloping over the moor in Sussex on
an old racehorse that suddenly remembers its past
and hoping it will know how to stop on its own.

I come from warming my fingers under the bareback pad
in the midst of a cold winter and the fresh snow
that sticks to the bottom of the hooves giving the horse five inch heels.
I come from watching a baby horse walk for the first time
and then three days later sprint like a pro while I hand walk
a gelding for the third month wishing his tendons are healing faster than possible.

I come from the vet saying that nothing much can be done
what already has not been and leaning into my
thousand pound friend trying to make sense of what is happening.
I come from trying so hard not to cry because
you know you are losing something you
can barely understand yourself but must address anyhow.

I come from just once trading money for a horse but
trading my heart more often and the love that always
seems to find me in the form of a four-legged animal.
I come from friendship and kinship, respect and gratitude,
and the incredible beauty, healing, understanding and peace that
was not only given as a gift, but was also achieved together.

I come from horses.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lessons from a horse's heart

The first time I met Kapia, I didn’t know who she was. She stood in the middle of the pasture as if she owned it. And I suppose in many ways she did. She certainly was the equine boss of that particular grassy meadow; this chestnut horse knew her place in the world, and it was not behind someone else. But at that moment, when I watched her over the fence, she was still just another horse to me.

I was in Belgium and about to take part in the workshop titled “Reclaiming Your Authentic Self – An introductory workshop to the Epona Approach”. Before the three day course started, however, I was scheduled to have a private session with therapist and life coach Kathleen Barry Ingram and, well, with a few horses.

Kathleen started the session by asking what it was that I wanted to “work” on. I replied that I felt I had some underlying guilt and sadness of unknown origin; I was not exactly sure where this emotion was pooling from, but wanted to explore it further. Kathy suggested we head to the horses and ask for some answers.

At this point I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe I was a little skeptical; what could horses tell me about myself that I didn’t know yet? And how would they even do that? On the other hand, I was eager to discover something new. I was also nervous; I was used to “working” horses, but to just be with them and feel? This was somehow intimidating. What if I failed?

There were two horses in the pasture: Kapia, the undeniable leader I had been watching from afar and Luna Nour, a small and delicate looking Arab mare. Both were grazing peacefully as we sat down. I watched the horses for a while and Kathy asked me to describe the thoughts coming to my mind. I said that I didn’t feel like I ever had enough space to be sad, that I was always the one to hold everyone else afloat, to support them through life’s ups and downs. This thought led me to thinking about my life over ten years ago, when I had ovarian cancer, something that had obviously been very hard for me, but had been even harder for the people close to me, I felt.

Now, I had not come to the session thinking I would talk about my bout with cancer, I had long time ago dealt with that part of my life and felt it was behind me, in every sense. But there I was, talking about it again as if it had happened recently. I looked at the two horses and they both blew air out of their nostrils and shook flies off their heads before settling back to eat. Was this coming from them?

Kathleen asked me to elaborate on the subject and I became very emotional as I admitted that during my illness I had dealt with feelings ranging from fear of dying to worrying about my loved ones, but I still vividly remembered the deep sorrow I had felt when I realized that I would never be able to have biological children. And even though years later I had been, with the help of modern medicine, blessed with a child, I still somehow felt “childless” in my heart; despite motherhood, the feeling had never left me completely.

“What do you want from the horses?” Kathleen asked. I looked at her quizzically. Was I allowed to want something?
“Support, I suppose,” I said.

Kathleen sent me into the pasture to “talk” to the horses. I stood in the middle of the field with my eyes closed and when I opened them Luna, the younger mare, came close to me. Without being pushy in any way she wrapped herself around me, bringing her delicate horse body literally into my lap. I had never been hugged by a horse before and was choking with tears when I felt the love that radiated from this little mare. She was so incredibly pure and honest and undamaged, and it was refreshing to be close to a horse of that quality, her innocence reminding me of my seven year old son at home.

Then Kapia walked over. She pushed the little mare out of the way and marched right to me, settling her large head in my arms. “Scratch my head” she seemed to say and as I lay my hand on her wise forehead I was filled with a sense of motherhood radiating from this strong mare, as if she was there to take care of me, to show me the way. I could feel my own emotions whirling around in my body and there is was again, the “childless” feeling. Why was I even dwelling over that? Why did I feel so sad? I had a child, I was a mother and loving every minute of it.

Kathleen, who was standing along the fence with the owner of the two horses, called me back for a brief discussion.
“I think you need to know something about Kapia,” she said. “Because of a structural problem, the mare cannot have babies.”
I glanced at the brown mare grazing in the pasture and let the words sink in. This was no coincidence, I knew it then and there. This is why I was digging so deep for these long lost emotions of childlessness; Kapia had brought me to the edge of these questions because they were not just my questions, they were hers as well. Because she knew what was inside me even when I didn’t.

Kathleen sent me back to talk to the mare and as I walked towards her, my body was shaking with emotion. Kapia sighed and touched my hand with her nose and then suddenly there it was – the truth. I started crying quietly next to the horse that had opened up my very soul. Kathleen looked at me from over the fence.
“I know what it is now,” I said. “I know where the guilt is coming from.” I choked on my own words. “I feel guilty that I have my son.” I paused, shocked by what I had just said, what I was about to say. “I feel like I don’t deserve him.”

Just to say the words was hard enough, but to think them, feel them… I could see my beautiful son waiting for me at home, his sunshine eyes, the ripple of his laughter. How could I even begin to feel guilt? Why could I not accept this miracle, this gift that had been given to me after all the hardship I had endured? With the tears came a wave of relief, an ocean of understanding. Kapia leaned into me and our hearts touched. You deserve him, you deserve happiness, you deserve the world. I could hear the words the old, wise mare told me; you deserve every bit of it.

Luna appeared from behind and crept quietly to my other side. And soon I was surrounded by two warm horse bodies, their hearts and spirits opening up a sacred space of possibility for me, just for me. Here was the not only the answers I had been looking for, but the support I had asked for, as well. I was receiving it tenfold.

What I walked away with from the session with Kathleen and the two horses is the realization that I need to support myself more, we all need to support ourselves more. Like Kathleen says: “Healing begins when you reclaim and embrace yourself.” Yes, we all need to do that more.

Since, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the teachings of Kapia. My relationship with my son has changed from good to even better. Every moment in his company fills me with light. I am working on liberating all the guilt I did not even realize was affecting my relationship with him and other people. I am learning to accept life’s gifts as they come; I am letting the horses in my life teach me that I deserve them all.

My relationship with horses has changed as well. They are no longer just my animal friends, they are more than that; living and breathing and feeling beings with a deeper consciousness we could ever imagine. I am no longer looking to teach a horse how to be in this world, I am looking at the horse to teach me.

Thank you Kathleen for leading me to the water, and to Kapia for showing me how to drink. This experience opened up a passage in me I never knew existed.


PS. To learn more about Kathleen Barry Ingram go to her website www.sacredplaceofpossibility.com

Sunday, June 7, 2009


My good friend tells me how she often grooms her horse in liberty on the barn aisle. Most of the time he agrees to stand there without being restrained, but one day he decided to visit his friends with whom he goes out with. Except this time those friends were in their boxes behind bars and he was on the barn aisle, loose.

My friend quickly interrupted the sniffing between the horses and pushed her horse back into his place. Because… (she said to me) she had been taught to do so. And it is true. When I walk Little Love through the barn to the indoor arena and she stops to sniff another horse who is greeting her from his box, I urge her forward, pulling her away from the situation. If there was something I learned as a child, it was that horses should not touch each other when humans are handling them - ever. And this habit is engrained in my brain, etched into my behavior permanently, almost as if chiseled in stone. It is the unwritten rule of all barns.

So what is so bad about letting horses touch and say hello?

I guess someone would argue that horses could get excited, they could hurt each other or themselves or even the human holding them. Obviously letting two stallions touch might result in some sort of a commotion, but to let a gelding sniff a mare through the bars of a box – why not?

Does everything we do with these animals have to be about control, separation, deprivation of freedom?

Humans have put a lot of effort into imprisoning horses. Not only do we separate these herd animals into small boxes, we often also deny any contact whatsoever. I have seen barns where boxes are constructed of solid walls made out of wood or rock or cement, and horses cannot even see each other, let alone touch. I believe in the human world we call this solitary confinement, reserved only for convicts who have committed heinous crimes.

The barn where Little Love lives has beautiful green pastures, but each horse has their own and never under any circumstances do horses go out together. But fortunately they are able to see and touch with their neighbors through the metal bars of the box, which obviously is not much, but better than nothing. They can also stick their heads out of the small window on their door, at least the ones whose owners have not decided to keep the window closed to prevent accidents.

Most horses accept this order, either retreating to the privacy of their stall or occasionally sticking their heads out to look around. But there are some horses, that have learned how to bend the rules.

For example, there is a gelding, I’ll call him M for short, who hates his box with a passion. He also has a small window through which he can poke his head into the aisle, but because he likes to let everyone know loud and clear what he thinks about living in that jail of his, this window often has to be closed to stop him from kicking the door, not to mention all the halters and other reachable equipment he has destroyed with his teeth.

When you take M out of his stall, however, he doesn’t try to run outside, but instead pushes towards the mare that lives opposite to him. And almost as if planned ahead, she quickly meets him at her window and immediately, almost frantically, the two horses start to groom each other on the shoulder. This happens fast, with an air of madness as if to say “hurry before they break us up. Hurry, hurry!” So this is how they get their ten seconds of closeness before the gelding is torn away.

One day when I arrived at the barn, I discovered Little Love longing for the touch of another equine as well. She stretched her neck out as far as she could (and she has a long one, to her advantage) and reached with her nose towards Chispero, the gentle stallion across the aisle. And as I watched him meet her in the middle and kiss her softly on the nose, my heart broke a little bit more.


Monday, June 1, 2009

When the black horse sings (talking to Lilo)

When the black horse sings…
she sings a melody
so powerful, so profound,
even the sky bows in silence.

When the black horse sings…
she sings a tune
so vulnerable, so exposed
a single note can split open the earth’s core.

When the black horse sings
she hums a tune
so deep, so dark
that all humankind vibrates
to its core.

Human child,
she sings.
Human child of all origins,
why are you so afraid?

Do you fear you have not
enough control
that you might
surrender to