Monday, August 22, 2011

About the visitors

I wanted to write about the visitors we had, but needed to reflect a bit before I did it.  I'm not sure I had enough time to process everything, but here are some of my thoughts.

Being around horses used to be a social thing for me.  What I mean is that I would be at the barn grooming and riding horses, but at the same time socializing with the other people who were grooming and riding horses as well.  As we went about our horsey business, us humans would talk.  Blah blah blah.  I could be brushing a horse while I was listening to Mary complain about her husband.  Blah blah blah.  I could be riding a horse while telling Susan about my trip to the mountains.  The subject didn't really matter, the main point was that while we were talking, we were also interacting with an animal.  Or rather, we weren't interacting.

Then I met Little Love.  It didn't take me long to realize that so many things went better between us when I was alone with her.  At first I thought it was because she didn't like people.  It wasn't until later that I realized  it wasn't about how many people were around us, it was about my own focus.  If I was distracted by a friend, Little Love made it loud and clear that it was not alright; she forced me to pay attention by escalating her own behavior.  And sometimes even my own focus wasn't enough; she would pick up emotions from anyone who was in the same space with us.  So many times I had to leave the arena because the energy in the space was too much for her or me. 

I have, however, slowly become aware of her wish to teach.  At first I thought it was my own wish reflecting back to me, as teaching is one of my favorite things to do, but lately I have realized that perhaps this is Lilo's wish, too.  When I first met her five years ago, she was aggressive and hostile, but I was drawn to her, nevertheless.  She has taught me more than any horse before.  Perhaps this is a classic example of the saying "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear"?  But how to help this anti-social horse become the teacher she obviously wants to be? 

Sunday an old friend visited with her horse-crazy daughter.  This friend and I go back over 30 years when we first started riding. She stopped as a teenager, but I kept going.  Her visit to see Little Love was fueled by her growing interest in horses; she is looking to be reconnected after decades of separation.  I was a bit nervous about her coming to the barn, knowing that Little Love would most likely not exactly be the picture of a "traditional perfect horse" that you can just pet and groom until you are blue in the face.  But, I was also very curious to see how it would all pan out.  Would the teacher in Little Love appear?  Or would she simply be irritated that I invited "a stranger" to see her?  Were we ready to partner up in teaching?

I'm sure you already guessed... the teacher appeared.  I have to say that it probably worked because I was in teacher mode as well.  Which meant I was fairly focused.  My friend and her young daughter had so many questions and observations, it was nearly overwhelming.  But, at the same time, it was highly rewarding.  Why doesn't she have shoes?  Who is the leader in the herd?  Do horses make friends? 

When I was grooming Little Love outside, both mother and daughter were watching her intently.  The little girl rides in a riding school twice a week and the riding school environment is the only place either one of them had seen horses.  Little Love stood calmly under the trees, but her eyes were constantly watching the surroundings and she was interacting with me by turning her head, touching my arm etc.  My friend was blown away by Little Love's alertness.

"I can't believe how... alive she is," she said, searching for the words.  "Compared to the riding school horses, that is.  They just stand there as if they don't even see you.  Little Love is so present all the time.  It's not like she is nervous, she is just alert."

What a brilliant observation!  Wow.  Little Love licked and chewed.  I could see how much she appreciated the insight.  And it was only the first of many. 

"I watched you approach the horses in the pasture and put your hand out so they could sniff it.  What is that all about?"
"You are so respectful of Little Love and she is so respectful of you.  I've never seen that between a human and a horse."
"She seems to read your thoughts, it's like you two are a team."

I talked about learned helplessness, why animals "act out", animal communication, emotional awareness and what not.  We spent two and a half hours observing not only Little Love, but the other herd members as well.  The questions never stopped.  Do horses understand what we say to them?  Why do some of the ponies in the riding school bite humans?  Why do we keep horses in stalls? Why don't they teach this stuff in riding schools?????

In the end we stood watching the four horses interact in the paddock.  My friend sighed.

"I feel so peaceful.  Coming to this barn is like meditating, or like recharging your battery.  You are so lucky."
She had hit the nail on the head with those words.  I am so lucky.  I was also so very happy I had been able to share this world with my friend and her little daughter. I know it had opened their eyes to see horses in a new way, as sentient beings with emotional lives.  And I was so proud of Little Love who had made it possible by just being who she is.  When they drove home, the girl was very silent in the car, her mind obviously working on what she had seen and learned.  Her mother sent me an email the next morning with some of the questions that had come up on the way home.  I invited them to come and see Little Love again soon.

I saw the barn owner in the evening and told her about my visitors.  She said her daughter had had someone visit too over the weekend, a person who didn't know anything about horses.  This girl had watched the four horses do their dance in the paddock for a half an hour and declared that she hadn't felt that peaceful for years. 

I told the barn owner we should start selling tickets to this place.  LOL.         


  1. Lucky indeed. Thanks for posting this.

  2. A good experience for all concerned - thanks for sharing this with us.

  3. I believe I face similar concerns about the best way to introduce my journey with Griffin to my own niece (she's 12). You see- she began coming to the barn with me and riding Grif long before I ventured down this new path. Because of this, she is very much aware of the traditional forms of horses & riding. I have been mentally searching ways inside my own thoughts of how best to bring up my "new" ways of interacting with Grif without contradicting things I have taught her in the past.

    To make matters more complicated, she now rides a horse that belongs to the barn owner most of the time (She will still occasionally ride Grif briefly, but prefers the other horse because Grif is attached to me and will object to listening to her....and instead- follow me). Because she now rides a horse that is not mine -- I cannot teach her to "let the horse make his own "choices" because that would go against (WAY against) his owner's wishes. She has a lot of fun riding this horse and I am hesitant to just all of a sudden take that away from her.

    I have decided when I felt the time was right, I would start teaching her about the path that I am on with Grif. She would then have a chance to see both sides very clearly and be able to choose her own path for the future.

    I've started some things in small increments based on what I am allowed to do with the other horse (for example, I insist she ride bitless and that her cues are gentle and she "rewards" her horse often), I have been thinking a LOT how best to introduce this different path to her..... maybe I shouldn't -- perhaps I need to let Griffin do the teaching while I "help" her to understand the responses.... What a great idea you have given me :-)

    It's interesting on how you talk of the "teacher" appearing at the right time -- because just about the same time I began searching for a way to develop an even stronger bond with Griffin.....well that's about the same time I came accross your original blog....The concepts were unusual to me at first - but I found that I couldn't stop reading. Amazing. Thanks teacher!! :-)

  4. Oh- and that was the first thing I also noticed when I started letting Grif make choices. His expression really came "alive" and he lost that stone faced look. Of all the changes, it is this one that holds the most joy in my heart :-D

  5. Ooh this is so cool and amazing.

    I think George maybe wants to be a teacher or a healer. He still has a lot of healing himself to do, but thank for this post - I'm going to start listening really closely to what he might be inspired to do in the way of teaching/healing.

  6. Everyone who comes to our little farm says those exact words..." it's so peaceful here, I feel so grounded and alive at the same time..." Our horses ( 6 of them, each with a HUGE story and personal journey) have been such wonderful teachers. It has been just great being in a place to stop, breathe, observe, and listen. And you know what? It feels so good. How can something that feels so wonderful to the core be bad? I hope other folks can come to that place of understanding that when something feels so right, it just is. Horses are never wrong, and they never lie and they're trying to tell us something. I love that so many of us are ready to listen now. Thank you for this wonderful post today, K, it is just fantastic to see Little Love work her magic!! :)

  7. Carol, you have mentioned your niece before. It's tough... I also have niece who rides, but she seems sort of indifferent to what I'm doing. With indifferent I mean not curious. But her relationship with horses is definitely different than what mine was when I was her age (10). I was more like my friends little girl; genuinely intrigued with every little move horses made.
    I think it would be the best thing to let Grif do his magic and hope for your niece to see and feel it. It might happen, but it also might not lead anywhere. I'm thinking we aren't all made to go down the path, or perhaps it just takes some people longer. The only thing you can do is be a good example (with the help of Grif, of course) and hope for it to awaken something in her - one day. Good luck, I'll keep my fingers crossed for her!

    June: How cool that you feel this way about George! I have been reading your blog and you have some special horses, but George especially... there is something there, behind all that opinion.

    Shelby: Your farm is the most amazing place on earth! Can't wait to visit again in December... :-)

  8. Hey, K - they do touch one's arm, don't they? It's always the arm, and isn't it always the forearm? - do they seem to always touch on the same spot? It seems to me they do.

  9. Yep, it's always the arm and the same spot on the forearm. What is up with that?

  10. A quick survey on Google suggests that the point in question may be LI10 - the large intestine 10. Why? I can't say I have the foggiest idea.

  11. What a great post!

    When my horses were in a barn it used to bug me to have people come in and start talking to me. I was there to be with my horses after all!