Saturday, April 11, 2009

Four-legged Zen

Dirt and hay and horse manure mingle so sweetly in the air
I can almost taste them.
Light reflects off multi-colored manes, glinting on dark, beautiful eyes.
Snorts, sputtering lips, chomping, rustling of hay.
Fur under my fingertips, each piece smooth and coarse, warmed by the sun,
gritty with earth.

I start by greeting each of my friends by name and petting their furry heads just under the forelock or on the soft end of the nose. Sometimes they give me a quick acknowledgement and return to eating. Other times I get a lick or a nudge or my arm receives the blessing of being used as a scratching post. I love when the horses push their heads against my stomach or chest, trying to get as close as possible, ignoring physical limitations, ignoring that they outweigh me by several hundred pounds or tower over me in size.

This is my therapy. This is my Zen. I volunteer at two local riding therapy centers working with riders who have both physical and mental disabilities. The riders come out to connect with and learn from the horses and they do benefit greatly. I get to be a witness to their experiences. But I benefit too, just from being near the horses.

They are such magical creatures. Just being in their presence calms my soul, re-balances my unbalanced and erratic energy, quiets my chattery mind. Breathing in fresh air, soaking in the elements, being present and aware with these wondrous creatures. They are Calm. Quiet. Playful. Honest. Their emotions are fully legible on their bodies - their eyes, ears, nostrils, tails, muscles are flexed or softened. They have nothing to hide. They are vulnerable, inspiring and beautiful.

After I greet each of my friends I begin grooming the horse who will participate in class that day. Grooming is so intimate, so close, so demanding of mutual respect and trust and of being fully engaged in the moment. If my mind wanders or my intentions become unclear my horse may move away from the brush or may refuse to lift her hoof for me. The same is true during classes. If I falter while leading the horse she may turn the wrong direction or come to a halt and refuse to walk on until I refocus my intentions.

Here in this sacred space with the horses there is no room for doubt or frustration or absent-mindedness. What ever I bring to the relationship with them they reflect back on me more clearly than I sometimes like to admit, but they do not lie. If I approach them with hesitation and doubt and confusion they will absorb all that I project and respond accordingly.

If on the other hand, I approach them with joy, love and gratitude I receive a full heart in return. What greater gift could be shared between friends?


  1. I've had horses off-and-on since I was very little and it always amazes me when I hear horse people, who are supposedly highly knowledgeable about horse behavior, refer to them as just dumb or stupid animals. This is usually used as a excuse for some horrific behavior they have already or are about to commit. Horses are capable of a variety of complex emotions; love, anger, jealousy, fear, joy. During my time volunteering at a therapeutic riding center, it was amazing to see the bonds formed between the horses and their riders. It truly is as you said, a gift.

  2. Stephenie,

    Beautifully put! I've had the pleasure of working with (and offering my shamanic writing workshop with)Melisa Pearce, of Touched by a Horse. While you clearly have far more experience than me with horses, my experience matches yours. Horses can spot human inauthenticity in a second, respond to our intentions, resonate with us if we send love, and always remain in the present moment. They're good teachers.

    Melanie Mulhall