I had a philosophy teacher who believed that vulnerability was our greatest strength. I debated her; my shell was pretty thick back then and I had a lot to defend. When I was worn out from being tough and arrogant, I gave in. I knew she was right or I wouldn’t have been so afraid of being vulnerable in the first place.
Horses are eloquent on this topic. They are the very image of power and strength, and at the same time, intelligence and intuition. In art through the ages, and still today out in the pasture, the sight of a horse gives pause, our backs straighten a bit taller and there is a mutual look of acknowledgement. Horses are in our blood.
Do you still watch those horse movies that you’ve seen a dozen times, just for the scenes of the horse galloping in slow motion? Do you still tear up?
It’s because horses embody so much more than muscle and bone. They evoke a full range of emotions like hope and courage and valor. They can gallop straight to you, with neck arched and tail flagged , and instantly melt to a stop- just to share your breath.
In that bold moment, we know how delicate and fragile a horse is, as well. From their first steps to the geriatric years, every day we have them with us is a kind of victory over the impossibility of their beauty and frailty.
Then it’s our turn to stretch. Good horsemanship is being vulnerable to our horses, and the more advanced we get, the more intuition needed. We have to turn off the ego (if we are smart) and grow some physical awareness of the now. We learn to speak Horse and then listen with compassion. If there is a problem, we know it’s probably our fault, or at least our responsibility to fix, because it’s the lead mare’s job to look out for the herd.
And if all of that is working, we get to ride. Meaning our feet give up their firm grasp of the Earth. And if you want your horse’s best work, you have to open your heart and lay down your fear.
“In riding a horse, we borrow freedom.” -Helen Thompson.
Freedom sounds great, right up until we get too think-y about it. Then it’s intimidating. Some of us don’t thrive on air racing past our faces and we might have enough years that common sense asks us to be cautious.
Humans are often self-critical, in limiting ways, that we feel guilty about later. Left alone, we can become fairly cynical, stiff, and artless, (especially if we are over 30.) We count on the natural world to inspire us to something higher, to help us expand to our full potential.
If the beauty of a horse is the sum of his bravery and vulnerability, then sharing those qualities puts us at least 15 hands closer to the Infinite.
In my circle of friends and clients, I know six horses who have passed since the first of the year. It’s brutal; we think they were all taken too soon, even the elderly ones. Horses are heart breakers, in beautiful and wondrous ways. It’s the price we pay for sharing the ride.
In the face of such loss, a hard shell would feel like protection for what’s left of a heart. Instead, remember the legions of horses that came back from the most abusive experiences imaginable and still find the courage to be vulnerable and reach out to the species that was the original cause of the pain. Can we do less?
Are you mourning a good horse? We see your courage and commitment. Honor his legacy with bravado, and use the strength learned from your horse to stay soft and present.
And when his memory fills you up to over flowing, don’t hold it in. Breathe and your heart will expand as big as his. Like a rally call to a charge, let the truth stand proud: I love horses.
With condolences for everyone dealing with loss~
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.