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.