In the midst of a “cyclone bomb,” as meteorologists deemed it, contrary to what I expected in such harsh conditions, Taj’s ill health improved. Winds were gusting between 20-30mph and daytime highs were in the teens, which, with that wind chill, felt like less than zero, and at night, your nose hairs would instantly freeze. I was feeding the horses six times a day and always put hay in slow-feed nets around 10:00-11:00pm. I thanked my lucky stars that I had a water heating device in the water trough, which had been moved to the top of the pasture closest to my house so I could plug it in. This weather was the worst of the Maryland winter so far.
This tough, California paint mare had grown a thick, soft winter coat, and only the delicate skin around her eyes seemed slightly frostbitten. For more than a month she had been miserable with chronic runny gut problems. She had taken to glowering at me with her deep brown eyes, as she stood cribbing on the water trough, presumably bored and lashing out a bit at me about her discomfort, her unhappiness with the lack of grass and the lack of interesting things to do.
At this same time, when no one on the whole east coast wanted to be outside, I decided to try taking the Equine Guided experience online, and started with inviting a small group of friends to send questions for which I could ask the horses’ insight. At first, Taj hesitated to get fully involved. But with the second inquiry, she demonstrated that she was very interested and wanted to engage in the process of finding new perspective and giving advice.
In the 48 hours that I brought those questions to the field, Taj’s extreme frustrated attitude and digestive issues both improved dramatically. Having tried a lower protein feed, a hind gut medicinal powder, and an anti-parasitic over the last few weeks, all to no significant avail, I also began giving her an herbal supplement I’d used to help her gut in the past. It had ceased having any helpful effect, but perhaps reintroducing that was an additional, physical boost to her gut health. However, I am certain that addressing her physical issues alone would not have been sufficient. Despite the harsh winter conditions, this horse began to heal and thrive again when her entire health was addressed: body, mind and spirit.
It is for the sake of improving overall well being, for humans and for horses, that I do equine guided work. There is an unmistakable “magic” about gaining insight from a horse. Even the fact that the horses show interest in us and our inquiries sends signals to the human heart that result in feelings of hope and joy. When I pull out a slip of paper inscribed with the words of someone’s heartfelt question, they are drawn in. The horses listen as I read the words, evaluating the energy of the inquiry I’ve brought to them. One or more of them then step up to help me explore possible ways to approach the challenge.
I do my best to step into the shoes of the person inquiring, and to experience the horse’s responses as if the question were my own. Undoubtedly, there is some part of the question or the struggle that is familiar to me; the human experience is rich and varied, but the essence of our challenges and our quests for more joy in life tends to be woven with unbreakable, common threads.
My mare, Taj, who had been shut down and averse to doing almost anything but eating and cribbing for several weeks, opened up and wanted to engage again. Witnessing this shift in her re-introduced the magic of this work to me.
I call it “work,” for lack of a better term. I call it “magic” for lack of a better term. In fact, there’s not much about what I do with horses that can be described easily in words. I’ve often felt that people have to take a leap of faith and just try it to understand it for themselves. It is my hope that the online “Advice from the Field” forum will provide more people with an easily accessible window into the potential for self-discovery, possibility and change that horses can offer. In the process, horses like Taj who have struggled through multiple owners, trainers, competitive demands and injuries, both physical and emotional, find something they can enjoy in a life where enjoyment has seemed so hard to come by.
I’ve had people see how “easy” my horses’ lives seem, and make comments like: “How could they possibly have stress?” or “What on earth could they have to complain about?” It strikes the same chord in me when people assess other people’s lives as “easy,” and therefore make judgments about the difficulty or validity of their problems. None of us knows what kind of challenges or pain anyone else may be grappling with at any given moment. Many people, and horses, put on a brave face and a tough exterior, not wanting to appear vulnerable. Yet it is precisely the willingness to be vulnerable that opens up pathways for compassion, empathy, connection and trust.
In my current conversations with Taj, I am searching for ways to earn her trust in situations where she is particularly triggered and defensive, such as putting on a saddle or asking her to stop cribbing. It usually boils down to acceptance and patience. I need to show up, meet her wherever she is, and continue to gently make suggestions. There is not a lot of room for an agenda in this scenario. There is a need to make for room for outcomes different from what we originally envisioned – to let ourselves be surprised by what can be created in the space we open with our efforts.
There is also room for goals and for dreams. In my view, the goals I set are the specific changes I want to make or activities I want to be able to do together. The dreams are the heart-and-soul-felt visions and desires I have for our experiences and broad accomplishments together. In the most recent inquiry I took to the horses, Taj jumped at the opportunity to help. At its core, the question was about how to stay true to one’s dreams. Life throws at us a barrage of distractions, derailments and stumbling blocks. How do we stay the course, through it all?
As I stood with Taj in the round pen, my hand lightly near her heart, I realized that she embodies my dream of reaching thousands, no, hundreds of thousands of people and horses around the world, engaging them in a new way of seeing and being with horses… and a new way of seeing and being with each other. Horses are a gateway to the soul. The health of one’s spirit is an essential piece of the quest for feeling good. So how do we stay the course? First, we must be sure to identify our dreams, our true heartfelt longings and callings. Second, we must cultivate confidence in believing we can live those dreams – the confidence that we are strong enough, smart enough, good enough to live into what we long for and what we are called to do.
And then, we keep showing up for our lives, meeting each moment wherever we are, continuing to gently make suggestions.
Here is the video for the “How to be true to your dreams” session in Advice from the Field:
If you are interested in joining the “Advice from the Field” group online to try the virtual equine guided experience, please click the Visit Group button on this page: https://www.facebook.com/horsesforthesoul/