Dreams are answers to questions we haven't yet figured out how to ask. ~X-Files
She sees me driving by in my car and trots to the gate. Her head is high, her ears tightly pointed forward. She has been waiting for me, I know.
When I approach the pasture, she nods her head and chews. Hello, my human friend, she says. I put my hand on her neck and breathe in her musky horse smell. A light breeze tickles my neck while we spend a moment doing nothing, but feeling everything. Then, side by side, we walk back to the barn to groom and hang out. The sun is still low, the morning only starting, the insects still resting.
“How about a hike in the woods,” I say and immediately feel Little Love’s emotional message. Yes. She touches my arm with her nose to confirm, a sign we use to communicate. I get the saddle and she accepts it, another sign she wants to go out today.
I grab the reins of the bitless bridle and lead Little Love down the road. I like to walk with her until she tells me she is ready for me to ride. Some days we both end up walking, which is just as well, I enjoy it either way. We hike up the road; it is getting warmer and the flies are now out. Little Love touches my arm with her nose. A sense of peace floats between us, or perhaps it is trust or love – it all blends together and forms a lake, a pool of unlimited soul food I have just recently rediscovered.
When I was ten, I fell in love with horses. I had never ridden a horse before, nor had I ever touched one, but the moment I did, I was awestruck. That very day that I made my first contact with these four-legged creatures I biked home with my oversized bike and ran into the house like my butt was on fire.
“Mom, I want to ride horses,” I shouted from the front door. “Do you hear me? Horses.” She has later recounted that she had never seen such conviction in my eyes or heard such determination in my voice.
My mother knew nothing about horses; in fact, like most people, she found them slightly intimidating. But she did know one thing: if she didn’t find a barn for her daughter to ride at, the ten year old would find it on her own. Once I had made the initial connection with a horse, nothing, and I mean NOTHING, was going to get into the way of my relationship with these beautiful animals. I had to be with horses. It was not a choice, nor was it an option – it was my destiny.
My parents were able to scrape together enough money for one lesson a week at the local riding school. I was ecstatic. I loved riding, but even more I loved just hanging out at the barn. For the first six years I rode once a week for 60 minutes, but I went to the barn every single day, seven days a week. I lived and breathed horses.
I was like any other girl who gets bitten by the horse bug. People who witness it from the outside call it a disease and in many ways it seems like one. There is something horses do to certain people, they sort of bewitch them. And when you are bewitched by a horse, you have no other option than to follow your desire to be with these beautiful animals.
I’m still convinced it’s not about the riding; riding is just what is offered to kids when they want to be with horses. At ten, it didn’t matter that I couldn’t ride every day; I still wanted to be at the barn, close to horses. And it really didn’t matter what kind of horse, either. A horse was a horse and when I was near one, I felt peaceful, whole.
It all changed of course. You grow up and suddenly it’s all about being a good rider and riding the best horse in the barn. My riding teachers were merciless and sometimes, hiding in the stall after a particularly hard lesson, I cried bitterly. Hadn’t my drive to be around horses been so strong, I would have quit riding a long time ago. But if there is one thing I’m not, it’s a quitter. So I joined the movement. Soon it was all about the next dressage move, the higher jump, the more difficult horse, the ribbon and the acceptance of the equestrian community. At sixteen, I was selected to join the special training ring at my barn and I became the groom for the feared riding teacher – an honor that brought me even more training in the saddle.
Looking back it’s hard to see when I lost my peace and became so goal oriented. Perhaps it was gradual, rather than something that happened overnight. Suddenly I was riding up to five horses a day (none of them mine). I was still at the barn seven days a week, but instead of slowing down to spend time with horses, I was busy tacking them up, training them, shaping them. Being with horses was all about riding, and riding was about bringing out the hidden potential of each individual horse, making that horse stronger, more beautiful, and above all – trained for success.
Now, at age 42, I am desperately trying to find my way back to that feeling I discovered over thirty years ago. It took me a while to realize that I, like so many others, was searching, desperately searching for something I had lost. And then suddenly there she was, a black mare, bearing gifts I never knew existed; gifts that are earned, not simply received. I suppose it took a horse like Little Love to show me the way, I’m not sure I could have found it without her.
I can feel the sun warming my back as we trot on the edge of the field. Little Love is alert and energetic, yet she listens to my seat, my voice. Do you want to canter? Sure. We pick up the canter as we enter the forest. I can hear her hooves beating on the ground. Her breathing gets heavy as she flies up the hill with such spirit; it feels like she is growing wings. And with Little Love carrying me through the woods, I enter the place of absolute stillness. I can feel everything around me, as if the whole world is underneath a magnifying glass. No past worries to think about, no future endeavors to fret – just the present, the glorious present.
I bend forward and her mane is in my face as she speeds up, catching up with the wind. This is what I dream of at night. Not the arena, not the dressage work, not the competitions, not the successes or victories, but this feeling of freedom and love and connection.
Thank you, Little Love. Thank you for sharing your world with me and helping me remember.
Ps. To read more about the first horse I ever met go back to my blog from April 27, 2009
If you surrender to the wind, you can ride it. ~Toni Morrison